The story of the School of Meteorology begins in the late 1950s. At that time, Walter Saucier and Yoshi Sasaki, both then at Texas A&M, discussed the need for a meteorology program at the University of Oklahoma because of the richness in weather phenomena in Oklahoma. Sasaki had a special interest in mesoscale meteorology research and felt that his skills in variational analysis and numerical weather prediction could be useful in understanding the physics and dynamics of mesoscale features. They made a number of visits to the OU campus, and with support from Professors Robert Fowler of Physics, Cheddy Sliepcevich of Chemical Engineering, Van Henning, director of the OU Research Institute, Sherril Christian of Chemistry, and OU President George Lynn Cross, Saucier and Sasaki moved to Norman in 1960. Saucier began his tenure at OU as Professor while Sasaki began as a Research Scientist. With great success in his research, Sasaki became Professor of Meteorology in 1967.
In 1961, a number of Saucier’s and Sasaki’s doctoral students also moved to Norman. Among them were Rex Inman, Victor Whitehead, Stanley Barnes, and Samuel Hall, all of whom were appointed as Special Instructors. After 1961, increasing graduate student enrollment brought such students to OU as Eugene Wilkins, Robert Jones, John Lewis, Walter Bach, and Robert Sheets, all of whom became highly successful meteorologists, along with Joe Friday, who later became director of the National Weather Service. In 1963, Eugene Wilkins earned the first Ph.D. in Meteorology at the University of Oklahoma.
In 1963, the National Severe Storms Laboratory, the first government laboratory for meteorology, moved to OU’s North Base under director Ed Kessler. The working research relationships between the University and the Laboratory established a precedent for government-university collaboration and provided jobs for students.
Originally, the new meteorology program was administered through Engineering Physics and the Civil Engineering and Environmental Science programs. The Department of Meteorology came into existence in 1969 within the College of Engineering and offered BS degrees in both the College of Engineering and the College of Arts and Sciences. Beginning in the fall semester of that same year, there was a major change in meteorology faculty with the addition of new faculty members including Professors Duchon, Hall, Holyoke, and Inman. Professor Saucier left to establish a meteorology department at North Carolina State University and Amos Eddy became the new chair of the Department of Meteorology. With the infusion of new faculty came a new direction for the Department of Meteorology and changes were made to existing courses and new courses were added.
Important issues that occupied the faculty in the 1970s included designing an annual faculty evaluation as well as a department evaluation, establishing MS comprehensive and Ph.D. qualifying examinations, and improving the department computer system. The department became the School of Meteorology in 1977. In 1973, Jeff Kimpel began his career at OU which included becoming the Director of the School of Meteorology, then Dean of the College of Geosciences, and then Provost of the University. He later became the Director of the National Severe Storms Laboratory. Howard Bluestein and Fred Carr were added to the faculty in 1976 and 1979, respectively.
Through the efforts of Professor Amos Eddy, the Oklahoma Climatological Survey was created in the 1970s and initially funded through the Provost’s Office. The Cooperative Institute for Mesoscale Meteorological Studies was established in 1978 through the work of Rex Inman, who became its first director. At the end of the decade there were 52 graduate and 115 undergraduate students.
During this period the School of Meteorology grew from adolescence to maturity. After considerable discussion in 1980, the School decided to become a member of the new College of Geosciences along with the School of Geology and Geophysics and the Department of Geography. The first steps in forming the Oklahoma Weather Center were taken by creating the Applied Systems Institute and bringing the Weather Service Forecast Office from Oklahoma City to OU.s North Campus, a move which had the endorsement of the entire congressional delegation from Oklahoma.
Everyone was saddened by the death of Rex Inman in 1983, who had been the longest serving chair to date from 1971-1981. Jeff Kimpel succeeded Inman and developed a plan for increasing the strength of the School of Meteorology by hiring excellent faculty in spite of tough economic times. Through his plan, Doug Lilly and Tzvi Gal-Chen, two very highly regarded scientists, were hired in 1982. They set the standard for a new level of rigor in student and faculty research and helped initiate the desire to push the School to national prominence in meteorology. Brian Fiedler and former OU meteorology graduate Kelvin Droegemeier were hired as assistant professors and Fred Brock, Bill Beasley, and Ken Crawford were brought in at the associate professor level.
The most important event of the decade occurred in December 1988 with the success of the proposal written by Doug Lilly and Kelvin Droegemeier for establishing an 11-year National Science Foundation Science and Technology Center at OU. This was a massive undertaking that involved many of the faculty, other areas of the University, and the NSSL. The result was the creation of the Center for Analysis and Prediction of Storms which completed its 11th and final year as an NSF Center in 2000 and went on to re-invent itself as a stand-alone, self-funding research center.
A successful 25th Anniversary celebration was held in November 1985 with many of the faculty who played a role in organizing meteorology at OU in attendance. Professor Eddy retired at the end of 1987 and Ken Crawford succeeded him as director. In these 10 years, the student population rose to 68 graduate and 160 undergraduate students and regular faculty grew to 12.
The fourth decade of meteorology at OU began with the move to Sarkeys Energy Center in May 1991. There were two major developments during the early 1990s. The first was Ken Crawford.s leadership in creating the Oklahoma Mesonet, a premier meteorological network comprising some 115 stations. In addition, Crawford restructured the Oklahoma Climatological Survey to provide more effective climatological service to the people of Oklahoma. The second was Peter Lamb.s leadership in expanding the Cooperative Institute for Mesoscale Meteorological Studies and developing the Southern Great Plains Cloud and Radiation Testbed, one of three world-wide sites in the Atmospheric Radiation Measurement program sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy.
Yoshi Sasaki retired in 1993 after 33 years at OU and Doug Lilly retired in 1995. Sasaki and Lilly were both George Lynn Cross research professors and Lilly occupied the Robert E. Lowry Chair, the first endowed chair dedicated to meteorology in the United States. The 35th Anniversary was held in December 1995 and especially honored the work of those two great professors.
New University-wide general education requirements were phased in during the early 1990s and the School of Meteorology undergraduate curriculum was appropriately adjusted. A new required course, the senior Capstone course, was taught for the first time in spring semester of 1994. Two areas of concentration, one with the College of Business and another with Computer Science, allowed meteorology students to trade 12 hours of science and math electives for 12 hours in another area of concentration. In addition, a minor option in Broadcast Journalism and a minor in Hydrologic Sciences were established. At the graduate level, Jeff Kimpel developed a Master of Professional Meteorology program, a degree designed to provide graduate students with the skills needed by employers engaged in weather related business.
Eleven new faculty were hired in the 1990s, namely, Jerry Straka, Peter Lamb, Susan Postawko, Bob Crane, Mike Richman, Josh Wurman, Al Shapiro, Ming Xue, and Evgeni Fedorovich, Eugenia Kalnay, who was the second holder of the Lowry chair holder, and John Snow, who became Dean of the College of Geosciences and Director of Weather Center Programs. During the 1990s, the first faculty endowed positions were established including the Robert E. Lowry Chair, the American Airlines Professorship, the Williams Companies Chair, and the Weathernews Inc. Chair. Supercomputing capability was greatly expanded through the introduction of the new Cray and Hitachi supercomputers. Professor Doug Lilly became the first resident of Oklahoma to be selected for membership in the National Academy of Sciences.
In 1996, serious discussion began with respect to the .Norman Consolidation,. a community effort to bring all state and federal meteorology groups in the Norman area under one roof. OU President David Boren was a strong advocate of the consolidation effort and by the end of the decade, President Boren had obtained initial funding for a facility which would become the National Weather Center at the intersection of State Highway 9 and Jenkins Street. At the end of the fourth decade the School of Meteorology had 305 undergraduate students, 68 graduate students, and 18 faculty members.
The fifth decade of the School of Meteorology opened with the School housed (or more exactly, crammed) into the top floors of the Sarkeys Energy Center tower. However, a major effort, guided by Dean John Snow with support from OU President Boren, led to the construction of the National Weather Center, named by President Clinton during his visit to examine the damage from the May 3, 1999 tornado outbreak. On January 1, 2006, the School became part of the new College of Atmospheric and Geographic Sciences. Seven months later, the School moved into the $67M, 247,000 sq. ft. NWC building, challenged to become the best atmospheric science program in the country to match having the nation’s finest facility. The NWC concept was implemented in partnership with NOAA, and the School’s co-location with NOAA has led to a new era of enhanced cooperation. For example, motivated by NSSL’s Phased Array Radar project, the successful NSF ERC proposal for CASA (Collaborative, Adaptive Sensing of the Atmosphere), and thriving mobile radar efforts, President Boren requested and approved a strategic plan for a Radar Initiative (RI), which led to 10 new faculty hires in SoM, ECE, CS and CEES. Robert Palmer was recruited to lead this effort, and he became the inaugural director of the Advanced Radar Research Center. Other RI hires in Meteorology included Phillip Chilson, Guifu Zhang, and Xuguang Wang. The ARRC grew to more than 30 graduate students and postdocs by the end of the decade, built a Radar Innovations Laboratory and an Electromagnetics Microphysical Laboratory, and purchased a powerful C-band radar – the Polarimetric Radar for Innovations in Meteorology and Engineering (OU-PRIME) – the SoM’s first ground-based radar.
The number of endowed chairs and professorships grew remarkably. The Williams Chair enabled the School to hire David Karoly, a leading climate scientist. The Mark and Kandi McCasland Chair was established for the director of the School with Fred Carr as the initial holder of the chair. The Weathernews Chair was first held by Joe Friday, followed by Kelvin Droegemeier, followed by Ming Xue, who replaced Droegemeier as director of CAPS. Alan Shapiro was appointed to the American Airlines Professorship. The Craighead Professorship, awarded to Palmer, has been upgraded to a Chair. Finally, the School received two endowed positions from the Chesapeake Corporation in 2009, with Dean Berrien Moore appointed as the first Chesapeake Chair, and the Chesapeake Professorship to be filled at a later date. Lance Leslie was appointed as the SoM’s third Lowry Chair. Other new faculty hires during the decade were Mike Biggerstaff, Mark Morrissey, and Petra Klein, while Joe Friday and Kevin Kloesel served in term faculty positions. During 2010, Berrien Moore and Dave Parsons were recruited to replace John Snow as Dean, and Fred Carr as Director, respectively. Departures included Karoly, who returned to Australia; Ken Crawford, who retired to take a senior administrative position in the Korea Meteorological Administration; and Droegemeier, who became OU’s Vice-President for Research. At the end of the decade, the School had 23 regular faculty (3 female), 35 adjunct faculty, 110 graduate students and nearly 300 undergraduates.
The School’s faculty played a major role in the development of the new OU University Research Campus in the old “South Base” area. OU Vice Presidents Nick Hathaway and Lee Williams worked with Dean Snow and leaders of the School to encourage more partnerships with the private sector. Weathernews, Inc. established its North American headquarters on the URC in 2005, and WDT was established in 2000 as a spin off from NSSL and CAPS, and moved to the URC in 2007. There are now 13 companies on the URC, employing 350 people. The research units associated with the School thrived during this decade. CAPS became a successful “graduated” STC and is leading national storm-scale NWP efforts. The Oklahoma Climatological Survey won the prestigious Innovations in American Government award presented by the Ford Foundation and Harvard University. CIMMS nearly doubled in size, and partners with NSSL in National Radar Testbed and Hazardous Weather Testbed initiatives. A new organization, the Sasaki Institute, – led first by Friday and then Droegemeier – grew out of efforts to connect the talent residing in the NWC to the private sector. Although no longer in existence, it spawned OU’s Commercial Interests and Venture Opportunities and Corporate Engagement Offices, as well as the Office of Weather Programs and Projects in the NWC.
The School advanced academically as well, creating several new minors and a unique weather radar and instrumentation curriculum, and instituting scholarship, award, tutoring, mentoring, and campus weather service (Oklahoma Weather Lab) programs. Student exchange programs were created with the University of Reading in England, the University of Hamburg in Germany and Monash University in Australia; about 33 SoM students have spent a semester abroad, with over 85 students from those institutions coming to SoM. Strong relationships were also established with institutions in China and Japan, leading to a Sino-American symposium at Norman in 2008 and an OU-Kyoto University meeting on radar meteorology at Kyoto in 2009.
Accolades galore accrued to SoM faculty and students. Regents Professor Kelvin Droegemeier was appointed by President George W. Bush to the National Science Board as the first Oklahoman to ever serve on the board. Drs. Lamb, Bluestein and Leslie joined Sasaki and Lilly as George Lynn Cross Research Professors, while Snow was appointed a Regents Professor. Drs. Sasaki and Snow were inducted into the Oklahoma Higher Education Hall of Fame. Many other faculty received OU and AMS awards, and served on important committees for the National Academy of Sciences, NCAR, NSF, NOAA, and NASA . SoM graduate students have received more AMS Fellowships, and undergraduates have received more Hollings Scholarships than any other university in the country.
As the decade ends, and we celebrate our 50th anniversary, we look forward to even greater achievements under the new leadership of Berrien Moore and Dave Parsons.