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Obituaries

Meteorological 'Pioneer' Frederick G. Shuman Dies

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By Yvonne Shinhoster Lamb
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, August 21, 2005

Frederick Gale Shuman, 86, retired director of the National Meteorological Center whose early work with the U.S. Weather Bureau laid the foundation for how weather is predicted, died of congestive heart failure July 29 at Fort Washington Medical Center.

Dr. Shuman, who has been called a legendary scientist, worked for what was the U.S. Weather Bureau from 1941 until his retirement in 1981, and continued his research until 1986. He was director of the National Meteorological Center, now the National Centers for Environmental Prediction, from 1964 until 1981.

He was the lead person in the early 1950s doing work on numerical weather prediction models, searching for methods that would allow meteorologists to issue extended weather forecasts and to predict severe weather days in advance. Then, before the advent of more sophisticated computers, it was widely believed that such efforts would never be put into practical application. Today, with the evolution of the supercomputers used by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the models remain the basis on which modern forecasting is done.

While attending the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, N.J., from 1952 to 1954, Dr. Shuman further developed his mathematical models for weather prediction on one of the world's first computers, the Johnniac. He also took classes from, among others, noted physicists J. Robert Oppenheimer and Albert Einstein.

In 1954, Dr. Shuman became the first employee of the Joint Numerical Weather Prediction Unit, which brought together the interests and staffs of the U.S. Weather Bureau, the Air Force and the Navy.

"We will remember Fred Shuman as a true pioneer in the development of operational numerical weather prediction," retired Air Force Brig. Gen. D. L. Johnson, director of the National Weather Service, said recently in an agency newsletter. "He took part in major events that have brought it from academic concepts to its present role as the centerpiece of modern meteorology and the basis of today's forecast services."

Dr. Shuman, known as "Fred," was born July 13, 1919, in South Bend, Ind., where in high school he won first place in a statewide comprehensive mathematic competition. While at Ball State University, from which he graduated in 1941, he became a junior weather observer at the Indianapolis Airport -- the beginning of his long career with the Weather Bureau.

After college, he was commissioned a second lieutenant in the Army Air Corps. As part of his training, he went to MIT and received a master's degree in meteorology in 1942. During World War II, he served as a weather officer in North Africa and Italy.

He returned to the Weather Bureau after the war and worked as an airways forecaster at Wayne County Airport near Detroit. In 1951, he received a doctor of science in meteorology from MIT, then moved to Washington, where he engaged in the early stages of tornado forecasting as a research meteorologist. He was discharged from the Air Force Reserve as a major in 1956.

When the Weather Bureau set up the National Meteorological Center in 1958, Dr. Shuman became chief of the development division. He was named director in 1964.

In 2004, Dr. Shuman attended a symposium at the University of Maryland on the 50th anniversary of operational numerical weather prediction models. He was feted as one of the "legendary scientists" who helped "to transform numerical prediction from an idea to a functional reality."

Dr. Shuman was a fellow of the American Meteorological Society and, in 1980, shared the Second Half Century Award with Dr. Andre Robert in recognition of his pioneering efforts and contributions in the field of numerical weather prediction. He also received the Department of Commerce's Silver Medal in 1957 and its Gold Medal in 1967.

Survivors include his wife of 59 years, Helen Fragomeni Shuman of Fort Washington; three children, Frederick G. D. Shuman of Laurel, Marianne Ferrin of Philadelphia and Deborah J. Shuman of Silver Spring; a sister; a brother; and two grandchildren.


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