3:35 p.m. update: This post has been updated with statement from Louis Uccellini, director of the National Weather Service, on Simpson’s passing (scroll down to reactions towards bottom of post), as well some comments from his daughter Peg.

Original post from noon

Via NOAA: "Robert Simpson, original director of the Hurricane Research Project, and his wife Joanne Simpson, head of Project STORMFURY, in Roosevelt Roads NAS, Puerto Rico in 1964. STORMFURY was a government project that investigated the effect of silver iodide to "seed" hurricanes and decrease their intensity. Hurricane modification studies dominated NHRL research for many years."
Robert Simpson (left) with his wife Joanne Simpson (right) in 1964 (NOAA)

Robert (Bob) Simpson, a giant in the field of meteorology, died peacefully in his sleep last night at the age of 102.  He is best known for working with engineer Herbert Saffir to develop the 1-5 scale for hurricane intensity, the Saffir-Simpson scale.

I was fortunate enough to meet Simpson at a birthday celebration this past winter, and learn about his career and legacy from several of his colleagues, highly influential meteorologists themselves.

Robert Simpson, 101, on March 8, 2013 at Washington, D.C. luncheon celebrating his life and career. (Darlene Shields)
Robert Simpson, 101, on March 8, 2013 at Washington, D.C. luncheon celebrating his life and career. (Darlene Shields)

Following the event, I wrote a blog post summarizing Simpson’s contributions to the field, excerpted here:

[H]e championed and led hurricane research over several decades, served as director of the National Hurricane Center (NHC) from 1968-1974, and was on faculty at the University of Virginia in the late 1970s, among many other accomplishments.

His life story is fascinating.  His interest in meteorology was kindled at the age of 6 in his hometown of Corpus Christi, Texas when a hurricane’s storm surge interrupted his family’s afternoon supper, and was forced to flee to higher ground mid-course.  He studied physics in college and graduate school, but took a job as a high school band instructor in the midst of the Great Depression before gaining employment as a weather observer for the U.S. Weather Bureau in 1940.  He then spent decades in hurricane research and forecasting, earning his Ph.D. in meteorology at the University of Chicago along the way, before being appointed  director of the National Hurricane CEnter.

“No meteorologist in the 20th century has done more to advance hurricane science than Bob Simpson,” says Jeff Halverson, who served as a post-doc under Joanne Simpson, Simpson’s wife, at NASA. “He was a powerful, motivating force who worked steadily behind the scenes to establish major hurricane research and forecast agencies, including the National Hurricane Research Program (NHRP) in 1955 and a dedicated hurricane prediction office, Miami’s National Hurricane Center, in 1968.  He directed the nation’s only hurricane modification experiment, Project Stormfury, starting in 1962.  Few people realize that Bob established a tropical weather observatory at Mauna Loa, Hawaii, from which the world-famous Keeling Curve of CO2 concentration is derived.”

As accomplished as Simpson was a scientist and leader, he was equally admired for his character and commitment to mentoring countless professionals in meteorology.  His wife Joanne Simpson, who died in 2010, is also renowned for her contributions to the field.

Bob’s daughter, Peg Simpson, stressed to me in addition to his love for weather, he had many other passions including sports, traveling, and politics.  He sailed for over 45 years, and had also been a great musician, she said.  He frequently attended the opera and musical productions.  Up into the last year, he was a regular at the Kennedy Center and other performing arts venues in Washington. He also enjoyed entertaining guests at the Cosmos Club, where he was a member.

Simpson lived in Washington, D.C.

Some reactions from meteorologists, institutions, and those who knew Bob:

 Louis Uccellini, director of the National Weather Service: I’m deeply saddened by the news that Bob Simpson has passed away. On behalf of the National Weather Service, I extend condolences to his family, friends and the entire meteorological community, which has been deeply enriched by his work. Bob was an esteemed colleague and a close friend. From his leadership in hurricane research to his successful effort to establish the Mauna Loa Observatory, Bob was always a force in meteorology. We were privileged to have him serve as director of the National Hurricane Center, during which time he co-developed the Saffir-Simpson hurricane intensity scale. Bob’s legacy also includes his support of young scientists and active interest in recent hurricane forecasting advances. He will be sorely missed.

Jack Williams, Capital Weather Gang contributor and former USA Today weather editor: Bob and his late wife Joanne were the most fascinating, and helpful, of the many meteorologists I interviewed  over the years. They had great talents for explaining things and  made informing the public about science a part of their careers.

Bob Ryan, former chief meteorologist at NBC4 in Washington, D.C.: Another giant has left us. Quite a scientist and gentle man.