We build on the foundations established by our predecessors
Hello! I am very glad to have been invited to say more than a few words at this celebration of the National Severe Storms Laboratory, and thank you for this opportunity. I was somewhat astonished when Keli Tarp said that I might talk for 15 or 20 minutes! And I even heard a rumor about 25 minutes! Whichever, that is a long time, though it is entirely possible for me to do it! But I will have to stop if I see you starting to doze off. [I talked for longer than indicated.]
The presence of such a large and diverse audience indicates that respect for the Laboratory is high and that morale is good. And we should be very pleased with that and acknowledge the good work of Director Jeff Kimpel, for whom these qualities are an important responsibility. And the quality of the work, too, of course! Of course, these matters also reflect the presence and work of able colleagues.
In 1954, which was 50 years ago, I started to work on the summit of Great Blue Hill, Massachusetts, at the Weather Radar Branch of the Air Force Cambridge Research Laboratories. This group was then led by David Atlas. In 1961, I went to the Travelers Research Center, which had been conceived by Tom Malone, and was a subsidiary of the Travelers Insurance Company, headquartered in Hartford, Connecticut. Coincidentally, my father's father had been born in Hartford. At TRC, Jim Wilson, still now at NCAR, and I were in the same group. Also, there was Pieter Feteris, a good person who was fluent in five languages and played the piano well and also did good meteorology. He had a master of science in meteorology from Imperial College, under Frank Ludlam. Both Pieter and Frank have died.
I was further developing some concepts that had been first explored in the thesis I had prepared at MIT, and my work received most of its support through Helmut Weickmann, then with the US Army Signal Corps at Ft. Monmouth, New Jersey. Helmut, a kind man and an excellent scientist, was one of the "paperclip" scientists, i.e., those who had worked for the Third Reich only because they had to. Helmut has also since died.
The Travelers Research Center was led by Robert M. White, formerly a principal at the Air Force Cambridge Research Laboratories, and a couple of years after he went to TRC, he was tapped to succeed then Weather Bureau head Francis W. Reichelderfer. I think that White made that transition in 1963.
At that time, the United States Weather Bureau had a major research center in Washington, D.C. This was led by Harry Wexler and I think that its staff included such towering figures as Sigmund Fritz, Jerome Namias, Lester Machta, Robert Simpson, and Joe Smagorinsky, though my memory may be flawed here and dates somewhat jumbled. And the Weather Bureau had research units across the United States. Robert Simpson led three of them - the National Severe Storms Project in Kansas, City, Mo., the National Hurricane Research Project in Miami, Florida, and the Research Flight Facility, also based in Miami. Robert Simpson had already had a distinguished career with the Weather Bureau. He was once the leader of a high school band in Corpus Christi, Texas, where I have many relatives and where I went to high school in the early 1940s after he had already left, I think, for the position of Meteorologist-in-charge on Swan Island, a small and almost unknown place in the Gulf of Mexico. At any rate, I did not know him in Corpus Christi.
I worked on a small contract with the Weather Bureau while I was at Travelers. Robert Simpson monitored the contract. This study involved a hurricane hunter aircraft and its radar, which had, I think a primitive Doppler capability, and after I had a familiarization flight in that aircraft on a fair-weather day, I wrote a little report that spoke to the effect of sea spray on the velocity indications. Later, Simpson talked with me about the Kansas City project, which had two managers. Clayton F. Van Thullenar, a career Weather Bureau employee, had been in charge of administration at the unit and was about to retire, and Chester Newton, who had been in charge of the group's scientific mission, was leaving for the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado. Simpson pointed out that the NHRP had a Weather Radar Laboratory in Norman, Oklahoma, and that OU President George Cross was encouraging development of a fledgling meteorology group at that school, and it seemed to Simpson a good idea to move NSSP to Norman. And Simpson invited me to have a look and possibly to be its leader. Accordingly, during 1963, I traveled here several times and became involved in the local program, which was led by Kenneth Wilk. Also here at that time were meteorologist Neil Ward, technicians Eual Kelly and Charles Meeks, hydrologist Jack Teague, and administrative leader Dorothy Alexander, who has now retired from a second career as an attorney, and she lives in Sayre, Oklahoma, near her ancestral home in Reydon. Incidentally, Dorothy continues to be very active and effective in civic projects including a writers project and various activities concerning Native Americans. And now I have entered the minefield of naming names, because I want to give credit to the many good people who contributed in important ways to NSSL’s development, and there will be sins of omission of various kinds, including some important, inevitably. I hope that some of you will fill in the gaps.
The move to Oklahoma from Connecticut was a big deal for me and my family, and, of course, it probably would have been for anyone. But in my case there was the special situation represented by my spouse's reluctance. She was from Texas, and she married me to go east, not stay in the west. So much for images. Another less important problem was represented by a few friends in Connecticut who had hardly heard of Oklahoma or who had a poor perception of this place, and, Why would I want to go there? Well, the answer was clear. How could a meteorologist turn down an opportunity to lead the U.S. national effort in severe storm research? Especially a meteorologist who had experienced the amazing thunderstorm phenomena that occasionally visit south Texas? (That is another story.) The clear answer was, No way!! And my wife was a good wife, and we came with our two children, ages 5 and 10, and we set up housekeeping in Norman, Oklahoma. Incidentally, our older son, Austin, now lives in Austin, Texas, and Thomas lives in Guadalajara, Mexico, near his mother. Incidentally, while I am speaking of my family, I want to introduce my good friend Marjorie Bedell Greer, whose late husband, Keever Greer, was curator of the Stovall Museum of Natural History here in Norman, and that museum was the ancestor of the place where we are now.
The new laboratory was first augmented with well-qualified personnel from Kansas City. Jean Lee came and managed our aircraft program. Kathryn Gray came and led data processing, a function that was later very well managed by Bill Bumgarner. J. T. Dooley came and studied and interpreted data from FAA radars in relation to our WSR-57 radar, which had been earlier obtained from the U.S. Navy, and later worked with Kathryn Gray. Dale Sanders came and later monitored installation of meteorological sensors on the tall tower of Channel 4 that was instrumented by our engineers and technicians, which included John Carter, Leonard Johnson, Bob Ketchum, and Jesse Jennings. Kathryn Gray, Leonard Johnson, Bob Ketchum, and Dale Sanders are all deceased.
A strong imperative for NSSL at its start was its aircraft program, managed as noted above by J.T.Lee. There was growing concern about the safety of commercial aviation because of several crashes in thunderstorms. The relatively open skies of Oklahoma and excellent views of the horizon were and are a good physical environment for research toward improved knowledge of storms and their processes and toward means for coping with storm hazards.
In the 1960s, instrumented high performance U.S. military aircraft, including an F-100 and an F-4C were flown into thunderstorms that were continually monitored by the Norman-based WSR-57 radar. The program included visiting scientists from the United Kingdom who participated with a Canberra and a transport support aircraft. The program produced radar criteria for avoidance of storms by aircraft that were included in the FAA Advisory Circular 20, on thunderstorms.
Our concern and continued involvement with aviation safety issues led to a memorandum in 1976 to the FAA’s Wind Shear Program Office, suggesting a surface-based system of anemometers to give instant reports on winds around airports. Such winds are often highly variable and dangerous during thunderstorms, and this was probably the first memo from NOAA on this subject. It is significant that there was some difficulty in receiving endorsement from the Environmental Research Laboratories of which NSSL was and remains one part, because some scientists working on more advanced systems feared that their work could be jeopardized by implementation of a simpler system. And there may have been some truth in this; better systems are often enemies of systems that are simply good. Put another way, more complex and more expensive systems that are difficult to implement and costly to maintain are often political enemies of simpler systems that are easy to implement and inexpensive to maintain. Well, LLWAS systems were eventually implemented at major airports nationwide, with vital program management provided by Craig Goff, who was early at NSSL and later at the FAA.
Now I have mentioned the Environmental Research Laboratories, and that shows that I have skipped ahead a bit, and it is important to go back, because some fundamental management issues and effectiveness issues are involved in administrative arrangements. When NSSL started up, it was part of the United States Weather Bureau, and I perceived this as a rightfully proud organization with a very important history and with some tremendously respected components. And, of course, history always presents a mixed bag, but no matter here! I came to NSSL because I thought that there could be no more important position, no position where a meteorologist could do more for his country or for his self-image than to be the leader of the severe storm research program of the United States Weather Bureau. As a small boy in Corpus Christi, in the 1940s, I learned that the Head of the Weather Bureau there, J. P. McAuliffe, was one of Corpus’ most respected citizens. And this was the case elsewhere, too. I suggest that you read the somewhat autobiographical book by Isaac Monroe Cline, whose wife was lost in the Galveston hurricane when he was Galveston’s MIC. I think that book is called Clouds, fog, and sunshine, or something like that. You can find it in the History of Science collections at OU.
Well, again, and it is not repeating it too often to note again that at startup, NSSL was part of the United States Weather Bureau. Administratively, we were under Southern Region Headquarters in Fort Worth. The office there showed much respect for us, and treated us well. And we returned that view. But it wasn’t long after Robert White became head of the Weather Bureau that a change was proposed. ESSA was formed; this was the Environmental Sciences Services Administration. And I don’t recall if this was a simple renaming or if it involved some consolidations and changes of functions. I think that the Weather Bureau was renamed the National Weather Service at that time. But quick on the heels of ESSA came NOAA.
I have never liked the name “Weather Service” because it reminds me of mopping floors. Mopping floors is very important, but that is not what the Weather Bureau did and it is not what the Weather Service does. I liked and continue to like “Weather Bureau” much better. But large forces operated, and while I was not privy to the inner workings on this, I doubt that this was solely Bob White’s idea. Whatever, the word Service was inserted in the title because it was thought that funds would come to the agency more easily if its service nature were emphasized. I don’t remember whether we were ESSA or NOAA when I was queried concerning my thoughts on having NSSL in a new organization that would have research headquarters in Boulder, Colorado, or whether NSSL should remain part of the renamed Weather Bureau. There was considerable pressure to join with Boulder, and in the end I wrote a memo, either to George Cressman or Bob White, perhaps both, in which I indicated that either path would be acceptable. The result was that NSSL was transferred to the conglomerate known as the Environmental Research Laboratories, with about a dozen individual laboratories, about half at different places around the country and others in Boulder, Colorado, with their administrative headquarters and Director.
The result was entirely predictable. I was and still am reminded of the documentary movie about Captain Alfred Dreyfus of the French army, who was stripped of his insignia on the basis of false charges. Such a humiliation eventually reversed! So it was in an important way with the Weather Bureau, which lost control of its research facilities and promptly began to struggle to regain them. The best thing about this for NSSL was that many in the Weather Service did not realize for quite a few years that NSSL was administratively separate, and I certainly never did anything to emphasize our separation. But gradually the breach widened and competitive elements came between NSSL and the Weather Service. This was perhaps most significant in the case of NSSL vs. the NWS’ Techniques Development Laboratory, managed in Washington, D.C., by William S. Klein. Bill Klein was not at all a bad person, but we were all caught in the administrative and bureaucratic glue that had been created and that is frequently stirred and recreated.
Since I am talking administration, I have three other points to make. I had known Bob White fairly well, both in Massachusetts and at the Travelers Research Center in Connecticut. He was and is a very competent meteorologist, scientist, and political figure, and the combination was extremely important for the Weather Bureau, for ESSA, and for NOAA. I think that there was only one person in the line of authority between Bob White and me when I first came to NSSL. That would have been Bob Simpson. I felt free to call Bob White directly on the phone, but I did that only very rarely. I think that one occasion involved my perception that people around him were telling him more of what they thought he wanted to hear rather than more accurate assessments. I knew that Bob White wanted accurate assessments, and I recall that I told him my impressions of that situation. Another occasion involved the proposal to move NSSL out of the Weather Bureau, already mentioned, and still another involved the Monthly Weather Review.
The Monthly Weather Review had been the proud publication of the Weather Bureau for some hundred years, but it was decided to transfer that publication to the American Meteorological Society. The reason for the transfer was given as budgetary. I hadn’t known about this and was thunderstruck when I heard it after the fact. I was both angry and nonplussed and I called Bob White and told him that had I known that this was in the works, I would have offered $10 thousand from NSSL’s budget to help keep it going. Well, I’m not sure, but I think that Bob White was somewhat thunderstruck by my call! The result of the transfer was to create a hegemony of the AMS and the response of NWS meteorologists was to form the National Weather Association. In essence, entirely predictable, and not so good. I don’t well recall, actually, whether NWA came before or after the MWR transfer, but the seeds of the NWA had been firmly planted with the formation of ERL and by some arrogance of people in the major research part of AMS. .
Now I do not say that all of this was bad, but I do think that some of it was, and I think that such matters were not appropriately thought about in advance. That is my opinion and others may differ.
It is also significant that I called Bob Simpson from time to time especially when I thought that a particularly weighty decision was involved. I was quite nervous at my start, but this nervousness gradually disappeared, partly because Bob Simpson almost always declined to make decisions for the Laboratory and always reminded me that I was the Director.
Finally in the administrative area, it is important to understand that it is not practical to discuss details of all the reasons for certain administrative decisions because they can be quite personal. In such cases an outside person may simply have to look at results, often in the long term.
Returning now to the science, the Laboratory was deeply concerned with radar from the start. There were two areas - one was to develop Doppler radar and the other was to make better use of the radar we had, since it would be decades before we had another to replace the 10 cm WSR-57 that was in operational use by the National Weather Service. The Laboratory got a boost when Roger Lhermitte joined us at the end of 1964, and he promptly set to work using state of the art technology to develop Doppler radar. I recall that his first work was with a 3-cm system in a trailer, and I think that Roger Brown had used the same or similar system when he was at the Cornell Aeronautical Laboratory in upstate New York. But we soon got into 10-cm work both because attenuation is much less at 10-cm, and velocity-measuring capability is more than three times greater at 10-cm than at 3-cm. In this work, Dale Sirmans, who had been with the FAA, was critical. It is very safe to say that if we hadn’t had Dale Sirmans or an unknown equivalent, we would not have developed the prototype NEXRAD radar. Dale worked closely with Allen Zahrai, who applied state of the art hardware and developed much of the data processing software. And it was always very difficult to gain recognition for our engineers and technicians from our Boulder Headquarters. Our Headquarters tended to appreciate much more the papers that resulted from use of the equipment produced by our engineers and technicians.
Roger Lhermitte did excellent work at the Laboratory and he also greatly enhanced our image. And image is important, especially with the administrative higher-ups. When Lhermitte left NSSL and went to the Wave Propagation Laboratory in Boulder (and ultimately to the University of Miami, Florida, where he works today) our image suffered and we lost some supporting funds, but Dale Sirmans and his associates pulled us through. An important event was a visit by Mel Stone and James Meyers of the Lincoln Laboratory. I had invited them to have a look at our program and their highly favorable report was a big boost to our credibility and was probably important to continuation of support to us.
As the NEXRAD prototype was developed, we also developed advanced signal processing techniques, both for the raw signal and echoes as displayed. Dale Sirmans developed much improved contour mapping, and Dave Zittel working with Ken Wilk demonstrated important capabilities in the processing of displayed data, and we enabled transmission of WSR-57 radar information much more efficiently than before to forecast centers in Oklahoma City and Ft. Worth. There was also much tightly related work on measuring rainfall with radar, to which Ed Brandes and Al Koscielny contributed. This program helped us to extend strong relationships with the National Weather Service and increased the usefulness of the WSR-57, which was a good weather radar.
Gilbert Kinzer was Director of NOAA’s Atmospheric Physics and Chemistry Laboratory just before he came to NSSL in 1966 and started our lightning program, which was, in a sense, a continuation of some spherics studies by Doug Kohl that were supported by contract from the Laboratory at its start. Dr. Kinzer built radio equipment to receive lightning signals that had been reflected from the ionosphere, he developed theory, he made measurements, and wrote an important paper that summarized his work. And in the background Gilbert helped other scientists and was an important aid to the administration of the Laboratory. He was augmented in the 1970s by Bill Taylor and David Rust who came to NSSL from Boulder and by Don MacGorman, and these three have written an important book on atmospheric electricity. Vlad Mazur came to NSSL in 1978 and was part of this program that enabled improved measurements of lightning parameters. Vlad worked also with NASA and contributed knowledge of lightning-aircraft relationships. E. T. Pierce, an internationally renowned figure in atmospheric electricity, was also with us for several years. Dr. Pierce died in San Francisco after leaving NSSL; Dr. Kinzer lived in Norman after his retirement from NSSL in 1972, and died in the year 2000.
Returning to our Doppler program, the first NEXRAD prototype was commissioned on Norman’s Westheimer Field in 1969, and a second Doppler radar was installed a year or so later at Cimarron, Oklahoma. Glenn Anderson was the lead technician at Cimarron - he reported to Dale Sirmans. The radar pair at Norman and Cimarron facilitated depiction of the wind field in three dimensions. Twenty years of intense studies in partnership with other government agencies and scientists from around the world led to advanced methods for processing and displaying the radar data, to radar indicators of storm severity and tornado presence, to knowledge of storm processes, and in the end NEXRAD radars were produced and installed throughout our country and overseas. Dick Doviak and Dusan Zrnic` were and continue to be our world class radar scientists and they wrote the leading text on advanced Doppler radar meteorology.
We lost control of the Doppler development as the manufacturing process was entered - this involved interactions with the operating agencies - the FAA, the Air Weather Service, the National Weather Service - that were different from those to which we had become accustomed. Each agency claimed need for a somewhat different agenda, but we saw the involvement of many political matters. That is another story.
Rodger Brown, Bob Davies-Jones, Carl Hane, and Conrad Ziegler of our storm morphology and dynamics section, were primarily concerned with analysis and interpretation of Doppler radar data and with the melding of radar data with other data on thunderstorms. Rex Inman was also with that group for a while, having transferred here from a faculty position at OU, which he later rejoined. Leaders of that group were successively Ron Alberty, Stan Barnes, and Peter Ray. Ron Alberty left NSSL to take a supervisory position with the Weather Service in Arizona, Stan Barnes, well known for the objective “Barnes Analysis” continued his research at our Hqs. in Boulder, and Peter Ray went to Florida State University. One of many highlights of the work of this group was Rodger Brown’s discovery of the tornado vortex signature in observations of the Union City tornado.
Our Operations Group was headed by Ken Wilk, and with Don Burgess and Dave Zittel and others, that group was concerned with improvement of storm warnings. That was a forerunner of today’s Radar Operations Center in Norman, which oversees NEXRAD installations around the world. The forerunner Operations Support Facility was directed by Ken Wilk for a couple of years before his retirement.
I’m sure that I am leaving out important names, and my apologies for that! There are certainly sins of both commission and omission here.
It is probably past time for me to hang up, but I’ll highlight some other achievements of the Laboratory. For several years, NSSL operated the tallest meteorologically instrumented tower in the world, on the Channel 4 tower in Oklahoma City. Resulting data summarized in an important paper by Ken Crawford and Horace Hudson revealed statistical properties of low-level winds on our Great Plains, important for the generation of power from the wind, and revealed characteristics of thunderstorm outflows. Ken was the prime mover in development of the Oklahoma Mesonet, whose precursors were at the NSSP in Kansas City, before NSSL was formed, and in NSSL’s extended work with closely spaced surface stations. I remember the particularly important transition when we were able to move network stations off of utility power by using solar panels. This greatly reduced data outages, which tended to occur at the height of thunderstorms with loss of utility power. This and many other developments, especially in the area of computations and communications, illustrate how advances in meteorology were intricately wed to technological advances in other fields. John Carter and Sherman Fredrickson were much involved in the instrumentation and its use, and John Carter had also been much involved in the Cimarron Doppler installation..
The Laboratory developed documents used nationwide for training storm spotters and emergency management personnel in a program of the NWS’ Warning Decision Training Branch based in Norman.
Six leading books resulted from Laboratory programs, and more than a thousand publications in the peer-reviewed literature have been produced under auspices of the Laboratory.
During all of this, the Laboratory built relationships with academic groups and government employees around the world. Students from more than 10 countries spent months at the Laboratory and we had a significant program of contracts and grants. Two people who had participated in our programs at a graduate student level later became directors of national weather services in Japan and India, and others who had worked at the Lab or had been helped by small grants at their schools became chairs of meteorology departments at academic institutions or leaders of other important programs. For examples, there is Tom Schroeder, now Chair at the University of Hawaii, John Snow, who is Director of OU’s School of Geosciences, and Kelvin Droegemeier, Director of CAPS at OU.
Finally, there have been important organizational transitions and creations here, necessary for appropriate sharing of the work of the developing program. The Storm Prediction Center at Kansas City that remained after the restructuring of NSSP in 1964 moved to Norman. The Cooperative Institute for Mesoscale Meteorological Studies at OU was spun off from NSSL and still receives important funding support from NSSL. The Center for Applications and Prediction of Storms at OU has received much recognition internationally and important funding support from both public and private entities.
The role of the University was equally important to NSSL’s toward establishment of Norman as a center of meteorology R&D. Our presence together here has helped greatly to attract well qualified meteorologists, physicists, engineers, and teachers to Norman, since those with most interest in academia have fine opportunities to work with a federal agency, and employees of the federal agency have opportunities to participate in various ways in the life of academia, and even to teach classes.
Before stopping this chatter, I want to mention my retirement from NSSL. When I first came to NSSL, I think that I had a good grasp of program details and was able to contribute technically while also doing personal research and administrative work. It was a really fun job, I had wonderful secretaries, early on for a while there was Dorothy Alexander and later Evelyn Horwitz, Barbara Franklin, and Joy Walton, and my closest boss was about 700 miles away. But as time went on, several important changes occurred gradually. First, as the Laboratory program expanded, it became increasingly difficult and eventually impossible for the Director to know all of its details and even more impossible to make technical contributions. It was a case of knowing less and less about more and more. Second, that process was augmented by the increasing temporal distance from school. I was falling behind the learning curve represented by the education of new staff at NSSL. Finally, there was an important trend in the United States, which I think is also a global trend, to increase the administrative qualities of jobs like NSSL Director and to reduce the scientific component of that job. As earlier noted, when I came to NSSL, there was my boss Simpson, his boss White, White’s boss, the Secretary of Commerce, and then the President of the United States. When I retired, there were many more people in the chain of command. Furthermore, only a few of these people were scientists, I think that a majority were lawyers and MBA’s. They had and perhaps continue to have little technical knowledge, and, more important, they know very little about a good research environment and how to foster it. The task of NSSL directing under these conditions became the job of defending its scientific program against the imposition of impeding administrative burdens. Travel to meetings with endless discussions about budget, justifications for this and that through endless demands for documentation and endless demands for planning the substantially unplannable.
I saw myself as usually reasonably competent in my job, but I felt sure that if I were ever promoted, it would be to a job in which I was disinterested and not competent to do. There is a book on this subject that is fun to read - it is about the Peter Principle. In line with my concept of that principle, I did not hesitate to disagree with my boss or bosses when I thought that disagreement was called for. This attitude helped to ensure that I would not be promoted and had a secondary purpose in that I would not have to make the difficult decision to turn some offer down. It did contribute to one occasion when one of my bosses wanted to remove me in favor of a person whom I believed would not be a good leader for NSSL, and I resisted that and, fortunately, was successful. I made one very serious effort to move over for a person whom I thought was better qualified than I to take over management of the Lab, but he went elsewhere and is a very important figure on the meteorological scene today. In 1986 the job of NSSL Director was perceived by others very differently from my perception of it and experience with it in 1964. I think that NSSL is very fortunate today to have Jeff Kimpel at the helm. He is willing and able to buck the large forces, political and administrative, that would actually hinder the creation of new science and applications.
I have one more item to address. I was asked several times if I have a power point presentation. No, I don’t. But I refer you to the picture on one of the announcements. See that building! Some of NSSL’s best work was done in that building, which was replaced after the similar building that housed the Dept. of Meteorology burned to the ground. And we did need a building that could house a good computer, i.e., that could produce the proper air-conditioned environment demanded by modern computers. But no one of the outstanding scientists and engineers who have come to NSSL came because of the building and the best won’t come for any new buildings, however grand. And, with somewhat lesser emphasis, they won’t come for the salary either. It’s not the building that makes the Lab and, with lesser emphasis, it is not the salaries, it is the people in the building and the people drawing the salaries. And it is very important to remember that, so that it can be honestly said that the political environment is helpful to the quality of our science and its applications and that our progress is not made in spite of the political environment.
The Laboratory has helped to create in Norman a center of weather research and applications that is well recognized around the world, and we should be very proud of that.