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
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.
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.
Sad news for the meteorological world today as Bob Simpson, co-creator of the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale, has died at age of 102.
— The Weather Channel (@weatherchannel) December 19, 2014
RIP Bob Simpson…the Simpson of the Saffir-Simpson scale. I had the pleasure to know and collaborate with him and Joanne. 100+ full years
— Marshall Shepherd (@DrShepherd2013) December 19, 2014
Most of us in meteo could only dream to have careers that have a fraction of the impact Bob and Joanne Simpson had. Incredible lives.
— Matt Lanza (@mattlanza) December 19, 2014
RIP Bob Simpson and thank you for your incredible contributions & willingness to share your knowledge in our science.
— Bryan Wood (@bryanwx) December 19, 2014
The Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale was co-founded by pioneering meteorologist Bob Simpson who sadly died today aged 102.
— Met Office Storms (@metofficestorms) December 19, 2014
Weather community lost an icon: Bob Simpson, co-creator of Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale(used for hurricane categories)died at 102.
— NWS Jackson MS (@NWSJacksonMS) December 19, 2014
Dr. Simpson is best known for the scale that bears his name, but he was a HUGE contributor to the entire field. pic.twitter.com/wjjfRUs5BW
— Matthew Sitkowski (@MattSitkowski) December 19, 2014