Hurricane Science Legend Dr. Robert Simpson Dies at Age 102

By: Dr. Jeff Masters , 11:29 PM GMT on December 19, 2014

Dr. Robert Simpson, one of the originators of the familiar Saffir-Simpson scale, passed away peacefully in his sleep today at the age of 102. Dr. Simpson began his meteorology career in 1940. During the early 1950s, he urged the U.S. Weather Bureau management to fund modest levels of hurricane research, but budgets didn't allow this. However, the devastating 1954 Atlantic hurricane season changed the minds of several New England congressmen. A special appropriation was passed to improve the Weather Bureau's hurricane warning system, and Bob Simpson was appointed to head up the National Hurricane Research Project in 1955. He held that post until 1959, when he left the Project to finish his doctorate in meteorology at the University of Chicago. Bob led Project Stormfury in the early 1960s, which explored the use of cloud seeding to modify hurricanes. Although Stormfury failed in its goal of reducing the destructiveness of hurricanes, the observational data and storm lifecycle research helped improve hurricane track and intensity forecasts. Bob went on to become the director of the National Hurricane Center (NHC) from 1967 - 1974.


Figure 1. Bob Simpson (seated) with (from left to right) NHC hurricane specialists Dan Brown, John Cangialosi, Eric Blake, Todd Kimberlain; hurricane scientist Dr. Bill Gray of Colorado State; and former NHC director Max Mayfield. Photo taken by Bill Thorson in April 2012 at the 30th Conference on Hurricanes and Tropical Meteorology of the American Meteorological Society in Ponte Verda Beach, Florida.

My experience hearing Dr. Simpson speak
I had the opportunity to hear Dr. Simpson speak back in April 2012, when he gave the opening talk at the 30th Conference on Hurricanes and Tropical Meteorology of the American Meteorological Society in Ponte Verda Beach, Florida. He was in amazing shape for a 99 year-old! He described his work with civil engineer Herb Saffir, who worked for the United Nations to develop low-cost housing all over the world that could withstand strong winds. Saffir and Simpson worked together, using data from aerial surveys of hurricane damage that began with Hurricane Audrey in 1957, to help develop their famous scale, which assigns a Category 1 through 5 rating to a storm based on its winds. The Saffir-Simpson scale was finally published in 1973, and gained widespread popularity after Neil Frank replaced Simpson as the director of NHC in 1974. The audience gave Dr. Simpson a standing ovation for making the effort to travel to the conference and give a talk.


Figure 2. Dr. Robert Simpson addresses the 30th Conference on Hurricanes and Tropical Meteorology of the American Meteorological Society on April 15, 2012, assisted by session chair Dr. Greg Holland.

Dr. Simpson and the Great 1919 Atlantic-Gulf Hurricane
In a remarkable 1989 interview conducted by hurricane scientist Dr. Ed Zipser of the University of Utah, Dr. Simpson related his experience with the great 1919 Atlantic-Gulf Hurricane, the year that he entered elementary school, which led to his life-long interest in hurricanes:

”I was attending the David Hirsh School on North Beach in Corpus Christi when the great 1919 hurricane struck— the worst Corpus Christi has ever experienced. As luck would have it, the hurricane arrived on a Sunday morning. If it had been on a school day, I would probably have been among the several hundred casualties, because the school building, which was sought out by residents as a shelter, was destroyed. In this hurricane we were all less impressed with the wind than with the spectacular rise of water. The storm surge, as viewed from our near-shoreline residence, arrived in two sudden rises. The first put water about two feet over downtown street levels and occurred in a matter of ten to fifteen minutes at most. The second came one to two hours later when, in a matter of minutes, flood levels rose 6-8 feet over street level. This began to flood the interior of our house which was built quite high. The family had to swim—with me on my father’s back—three blocks in near hurricane force winds to safe shelter in the courthouse— the only high building in the downtown area. A lot of what I saw frightened me, but also supplied a fascination that left me with a lifelong interest in hurricanes.”



Bob Simpson had a huge impact on hurricane science, and he will be greatly missed.

Jeff Masters


The views of the author are his/her own and do not necessarily represent the position of The Weather Company or its parent, IBM.

Reader Comments

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Quoting 314. DonnieBwkGA:



Those zones will change once the 1983, 1985, 1986 and 1989 freezes drop out of the 30 year average don't you think?

You are absolutely right. Metro Orlando is definitely a solid zone 10a and Metro Miami is zone 11a(though rural extreme S Fl west of Miami is 10b or in many cases 10a). I attribute this to increasing urbanization, and while natural multi-decade fluctuations will continue as they have since before man kind, such as the cold 1980s, the warming effects of urbanization will continue and increase (for as long as organized human civilization continues in a given area at least). The most recent version of the USDA hardiness zones map for FL looked pretty close to spot on, excluding the urban heat islands around the state.
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49ers 28, Chargers 7
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Quoting 321. DonnieBwkGA:



I am further south than you :) 31.3 N

Was supposed to be 64 today, only made it to 60.1F....
Now the temps will go up slowly to 80 then dip for Xmas.
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Quoting 310. DonnieBwkGA:

Cloudy and cool today. Occasional spits of light rain. 52/61 and 0.01" of rain today, first rain in 24 days!


Warmer there than here....
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Quoting 308. TropicalAnalystwx13:

Meanwhile, in the North Atlantic southwest of the Azores.



It's frontal characteristics keep this from being a named system. If it were to become more of a independent feature, then it could stand a chance at being a brief satellite storm. There's not much time before its absorbed by the encroaching trough to the immediate west, so odds are close to 0% for development.

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Quoting 239. Sfloridacat5:



Seeing that this map is a little old, these dates may need to be adjusted a bit.

It's missing places like West Palm Beach
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Quoting 294. sar2401:

No, we're not going to see a megafreeze, especially in Seattle, where it's not going to get much below freezing, even at night. It's one of the reasons I just refuse to take 10 day models seriously now. If those models would have been right, I should have about 6 inches of rain instead of the measly 0.77" I actually have.

So you're saying that no one really has a handle on the weather 10 days out? That won't do, that just won't do .
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Quoting 315. DonnieBwkGA:

So detach to develop, right?

It would have to, yeah, but the time for that has come and gone. It was less frontal yesterday:



Just something to look at.
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Quoting 311. DonnieBwkGA:

TropicalAnalystwx13 that picture is very pretty. It looks like a comet. But doesn't the streak to the north from the storm indicate strong shear?

Attached to a front.
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Quoting 308. TropicalAnalystwx13:

Meanwhile, in the North Atlantic southwest of the Azores.




Don't Beg... It is Wintertime
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Meanwhile, in the North Atlantic southwest of the Azores.

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@ Dr. Simpson - who co-developed the scale we all use today which means pretty much everything
May you rest in peace and thank you for your major contributions to today's world
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@ 285. Neapolitan

Cool pictures you got there... especially the first one looks so artistic
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NOAA forecasters estimate a 60% to 65% chance of minor geomagnetic storms this weekend when a pair of CMEs is expected to sideswipe Earth's magnetic field. High-latitude sky watchers should be alert for auroras after nightfall.
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302. Skyepony (Mod)
The 00Z GEOS-5 is finally out. They run it real late anyways, things are initialized right, but if it get delayed it's really late.



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Quoting 256. Sfloridacat5:

18Z GFS at 54 hours
The GFS is showing two moisture feeds moving into Florida and the S.E.

I'll give Scott some credit for calling the moisture feed from the Caribbean. He did call that several days ago.
It also showing some rain for my location on Monday. The main batch of rain will come later (Wednesday/Thursday).


yeah scott is fairly good at these winter time storms. he gets a few wrong but don't we all.
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Redskins 27, Eagles 24 .... what's up with that?

Chargers-49ers coming up soon. Go Chargers....
Member Since: December 31, 1969 Posts: Comments:
Ped, the high of day was 21F - back down to 17F at the moment. No precip., but a thick layer of frost is over everything.

Could be in the single digits tonight.
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Quoting 295. PedleyCA:


Just dreary here this afternoon, Sun was out a bit this AM, high 60.1F
we had bright sunshine cool just above freezing gonna be in the 40's by Monday
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Just dreary here this afternoon, Sun was out a bit this AM, high 60.1F
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Quoting DeepSouthUS:
Just saw the temperature anomalies for the US. Every state except Florida (Of course, Florida is the only place where real winter happens only 0.01% of the time) is going to be in below average temperatures.





Of course this cold weather will be 10 days away (The magic number 10). The forecast can change during those 10 days.

Further along the timeframe, even Florida (North and Central) will be in below average temperatures, while South Florida has above average temperatures.

Notice that they've backed down on the megafreeze? Did you know that Seattle's high temperatures were forecast to be at 9 degrees and it's lows would be at -10 degrees at 12z. On the 18z, it looks like they've backed down on the megafreeze. It'll still be cold, but not as bitterly cold as what they forecasted this far out.
No, we're not going to see a megafreeze, especially in Seattle, where it's not going to get much below freezing, even at night. It's one of the reasons I just refuse to take 10 day models seriously now. If those models would have been right, I should have about 6 inches of rain instead of the measly 0.77" I actually have.
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Quoting 291. TropicalAnalystwx13:


Although the shortwave is stronger on Wednesday, the best day for severe weather looks to be on Tuesday. The GFS suggests we might be able to muster 500-750j/kg of CAPE across southern Mississippi despite widespread cloudiness and rain. There's not much in the way of directional shear, so it looks like damaging winds might be the main threat.



Yeah i'm thinking over south MS/AL will be best. As the surface low deepens however, I'm not sure what happens toward AL/GA. Last time in November more activity than expected formed towards our WFO (we really didn't think much was coming because it seemed so stable). You never know what to expect with such a rapidly deepening low. Seems to be even more dynamic than last time. There is still plenty of time to see what happens. I expect with that front powering through so rapidly that at least a few storms may contain gusty winds and maybe a couple spinups as the afternoon goes on.


The latest ECMWF didn't look nearly as strong, but the GFS keeps increasing the size of the warm sector. I'd like to see the NAM's take and some more ECMWF runs. Hopefully by tomorrow night/early monday we'll have a better idea of who may get what.
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Quoting 287. GeorgiaStormz:

That Placement <3




Although the shortwave is stronger on Wednesday, the best day for severe weather looks to be on Tuesday. The GFS suggests we might be able to muster 500-750j/kg of CAPE across southern Mississippi despite widespread cloudiness and rain. There's not much in the way of directional shear, so it looks like damaging winds might be the main threat.
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Quoting 289. DeepSouthUS:

Just saw the temperature anomalies for the US. Every state except Florida (Of course, Florida is the only place where real winter happens only 0.01% of the time) is going to be in below average temperatures.





Of course this cold weather will be 10 days away (The magic number 10). The forecast can change during those 10 days.

Further along the timeframe, even Florida (North and Central) will be in below average temperatures, while South Florida has above average temperatures.

Notice that they've backed down on the megafreeze? Did you know that Seattle's high temperatures were forecast to be at 9 degrees and it's lows would be at -10 degrees at 12z. On the 18z, it looks like they've backed down on the megafreeze. It'll still be cold, but not as bitterly cold as what they forecasted this far out.
Yep...The Negative AO and NAO cometh..

Member Since: December 31, 1969 Posts: Comments:
Just saw the temperature anomalies for the US. Every state except Florida (Of course, Florida is the only place where real winter happens only 0.01% of the time) is going to be in below average temperatures.





Of course this cold weather will be 10 days away (The magic number 10). The forecast can change during those 10 days.

Further along the timeframe, even Florida (North and Central) will be in below average temperatures, while South Florida has above average temperatures.

Notice that they've backed down on the megafreeze? Did you know that Seattle's high temperatures were forecast to be at 9 degrees and it's lows would be at -10 degrees at 12z. On the 18z, it looks like they've backed down on the megafreeze. It'll still be cold, but not as bitterly cold as what they forecasted this far out.
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That Placement <3


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Looks similar to the late November severe weather event, hopefully the 200mb divergence can again overcome the lack of instability. Last event created a 118 mile semi-continuous tornado in Georgia.

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The very talented Marko Korošec over at 500px.com has posted some beautiful photgraphs of amazing rime ice formations (fog + wind + cold) near the ski area on Slovenia's Mount Javornik. Here are a pair:

awesome!

awesome!

Check out Marko's gallery for all his weather images, including this sprite-filled beauty from Italy:

awesome!
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Quoting 230. LAbonbon:



I do as well, but frankly I think in English units. I'm guessing that's the case for many Americans, even if we learned both systems throughout our schooling.


The only "English" unit I prefer is the degree F and that's just for precision. 34F tells me more than 1C about melting potential and 32F tells me it's pretty close to freezing; 0C not as precise. It's not a false precision. We can easily measure to this level.
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Quoting sar2401:
Unfortunately for you and me, I suspect that map is going to turn out to be fairly accurate. The low is going to transit too far south of me and too far north of you, leaving us with pretty minimal rainfall. It's almost impossible to get heavy rain here unless the low goes inland just to the west or gets on land in the Panhandle. For you, the convective blob needs a low focused more at central Florida for you to get heavy rain. We shall see, since the low is still four days out, and there's still some significant timing and path issues, but the chance of us getting more than about a half inch of rain for either of us isn't looking hopeful.


I agree. Based on the models, along with December climatology, the heavier rain should fall across northern Florida.

20 days with only .01" of rain here. We are one of the areas in Florida that would really benefit from several inches of rain.
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Quoting georgevandenberghe:


I just picture the standard inch as determined by three barleycorns laid end to end in the 16'th century (probably the standard was planted the following spring). In reality it's more precise than that, exactly 25.4mm now.
The standard meter in turn is the distance traveled by light in a vacuum in 1/299,792,458 of a second. THe original less precise definition was one ten millionth of the distance from the pole to the equator in the 18'th century which still made much more sense than the length of three barleycorns laid end to end.

A more colloquial english unit is the "butt" commonly referred to in slang as "buttload" by most people who don't realize it's a real unit of volume.. about 133 gallons

And the english unit of mass is NOT the pound (that's a force) It is the slug.. that mass which accelerates one fps**2 from a force of one pound. A slug of stuff weighs about 32 pounds.



I've never even seen a barleycorn, so that wouldn't do me much good. :-)
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Cat 6 lead authors: WU cofounder Dr. Jeff Masters (right), who flew w/NOAA Hurricane Hunters 1986-1990, & WU meteorologist Bob Henson, @bhensonweather