Leader, engineer, and innovator in Doppler radar passes away

Richard “Dick” Doviak

Richard “Dick” Doviak, a renowned radar engineer and professor, passed away recently.

Research conducted by Doviak and others at the NOAA National Severe Storms Laboratory helped convince the NOAA National Weather Service of Doppler radar’s crucial use as a forecasting tool. Their work led to the installation of a network of NEXRAD Doppler radars across the United States in the early 1990s and still in use today. This Doppler technology ultimately revolutionized forecasters’ abilities to understand and track severe weather, saving lives and property.

Doviak’s list of accomplishments is long. He managed several research projects, was a Fellow with both the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers and the American Meteorological Society, and authored many articles published in more than 20 journals spanning interests in geosciences, engineering, physics, and meteorology. He also won a gold medal in the Oklahoma Senior Olympics for bicycling.

“Dick [Doviak] was always warm, generous, and friendly, the kind of person that we all enjoy having chance encounters with,” said Jack Kain, NOAA NSSL Director. “That part of his legacy will live on in all of us, and of course his contributions to science, engineering, and mentoring are legendary – at the lab, OU, and elsewhere. His work forms a large part of the foundation of NSSL, and indeed the national infrastructure, with the radar technology that he developed serving to protect lives and property across the nation every day. At NSSL we are all honored to have known Dick and worked with him.”

His career

Doviak received an invitation to join NOAA NSSL and lead the Doppler Radar Project in December 1971, almost 50 years ago.

“There were two priorities. One was using Doppler radar to study the dynamics of severe thunderstorms,” Doviak said during a “Radar Roundtable.” “The other priority was building a real-time display. I think NSSL had the very first real-time Doppler velocity display in 1972, as a matter of fact.”

Doviak led the radar project until 1987. NSSL spent nearly 30 years researching and developing Doppler radar technology.

However, Doviak considered polarimetric Doppler weather radar the most significant advancement in his field during his time at NOAA. Dual-polarization technology added to NEXRAD about 10 years ago provides National Weather Service forecasters a measure of the size and shape of precipitation and objects, like hail.

These early collaborations and discoveries impacted Doviak’s work and the advice he provided to students throughout his career.

A grayscale WSR-88 radar display from 1979. (NOAA)

His heart

Doviak transitioned as lead on the Doppler Radar Project and became a senior research scientist at NSSL, as well as an affiliate professor with the University of Oklahoma (OU) School of Meteorology and the College of Engineering. One of the main reasons he chose to work at OU was the opportunity to teach and mentor students. Once he arrived, he was instrumental in developing the OU meteorology course on Doppler Radar with fellow NSSL Senior Scientist Dusan Zrnic.

“One thing about Dick is that he was always available to help mentor students,” said Kurt Hondl, NSSL deputy director. “Back when I was a grad student, Dick was always willing to review and discuss my thesis, even though he wasn’t on my Master’s committee.”

Doviak and Zrnic co-authored the book, “Doppler Radar and Weather Observations,” based on their OU course. The book is considered a necessary meteorology text by many in the weather community.

“For a young grad student, it was such a seemingly unreal experience to be discussing my results with Dick and Dusan [Zrnic] who had literally written the book on Doppler Weather Radar Observations. Of all my textbooks over the years, it is the one that I have cracked open time and time again throughout my career,” Hondl said.

Doviak enjoyed sharing his passion for research with those around him. He wanted to see everyone succeed. Researcher Sebastian Torres recalls one of his first projects as a Cooperative Institute for Mesoscale Meteorological Studies (CIMMS) researcher. In the late 1990s, Torres was working with Doviak to measure radiation patterns of the local KOUN Weather Surveillance Radar antenna. This research would serve as a proof-of-concept for the eventual upgrade of the entire NEXRAD network in the early 2010s.

“As a very inexperienced researcher, Dick caringly held my hand through complex data analysis processes and, with his characteristic humbleness, mentored me on the production of figures for formal publications,” Torres said. “Throughout this process, Dick taught me a very valuable lesson that has served me well in my scientific career: pay attention to every detail and leave no stone unturned. You never know where the key that opens the next big discovery will be.”

Sebastian said he will always remember Doviak’s inspiring enthusiasm and contagious joy for inquiry and discovery.

Doviak practiced the art of being good at your work, enjoying life, and being kind to everyone. Mass of Christian Burial will be celebrated and live-streamed from St. Thomas More University Parish, Norman, Oklahoma, at 11:00 am CT on March 23, 2021. A celebration of life is planned once everything is safer. Donations are encouraged to the American Cancer Society.

Staff photo of NSSL employees in 2012
Dick Doviak, top left laying on the concrete barrier, at an NOAA NSSL staff photo in 2012. (Photo by James Murnan/NOAA)

Richard “Dick” Doviak’s Awards

  • 1980 NOAA Outstanding Scientific Paper
  • 1981 NASA Group Achievement Award for distinguished scientific contributions to the definition, planning, and execution of the Doppler Lidar 1981 Flight Experiment.
  • 1982 NOAA Outstanding Scientific Paper
  • 1988 IEEE Fellow
  • 1988 IEEE Harry Diamon Memorial Award for outstanding technical contributions in the field of government services in any country.
  • 1993 IEEE Geoscience and Remote Sensing Society Outstanding Service Award
  • 1999 AMS Fellow
  • 2014 NOAA Distinguished Career Award “for development of breakthrough radar methods that have greatly enhanced operational severe weather detection and advanced meteorological research.”
  • 2016 Remote Sensing Prize for “fundamental contributions to weather radar science and technology, with applications to observations of severe storms and tropospheric winds.”
Dick Doviak receiving an award from former NSSL Director Steve Koch. (Photo by James Murnan/NSSL)

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NSSL mourns innovator and idealist Doug Forsyth

The weather community lost a caring innovator and leader this month when retired NOAA National Severe Storms Laboratory employee Doug Forsyth passed away.

Forsyth left his fingerprints on many people and projects, most notably the creation of the National Weather Center in Norman, Oklahoma. As a leader at NSSL from 1985 to 2012, he was involved in Doppler radar research and development. He was also the visionary and director behind the formation of the National Weather Museum and Science Center, also in Norman.

Forsyth worked tirelessly as the program manager on behalf of NOAA during the planning, design, and construction of the NWC. He had the honor of planting the American flag on top of the completed building with co-worker Bob Staples, something Forsyth described as a once in a lifetime experience. From the building’s completion in 2006 to his retirement from NSSL, he had a tremendous sense of satisfaction when he was in his office on the fourth floor of the NWC, surrounded by prestigious weather organizations.

Doug Forsyth on top of the National Weather Center while it was under construction. The photo is a selfie.
Doug Forsyth at the National Weather Center during its construction.

“I perceived him as one of the first true ‘servant leaders’ I have ever known,” said Jack Kain, director of the NOAA NSSL. “He didn’t seem to like being the person leading from out front, but to me, he was a huge part of the heart and soul of NSSL.” 

“Doug was hard working and persistent, but self-effacing. He was never interested in self-promotion. It was like he had nothing to hide,” Kain added. “With Doug, there never seemed to be ulterior motives. You always knew what was driving him and it was almost always something for the greater good, not just for Doug.”

Forsyth joined the NOAA National Severe Storms Laboratory in 1985 following a career in the United States Air Force. He wore many hats during his time — special projects manager, division director, deputy director, and acting director before retiring in 2012 as the Chief of the Radar Research and Development Division.

His team explored the potential of Phased Array Radar, or PAR, and its rapid-scanning abilities. Forsyth loved his job and the freedom allowed to do, in his words, “what you think needs to be done.”

“We’re seeing things we’ve never seen before,” Forsyth said during a 2012 interview.  “It’s a better radar.  NSSL is state of the art – pushing the envelope of new horizons of knowledge – it is fun to be a part of something that benefits the nation.”

Kain said Forsyth accomplished great things for NSSL’s radar program, a sentiment echoed by many, including NSSL Deputy Director Kurt Hondl.

“Doug was always willing to jump in and get involved in the research, including running the radar or looking at the data, even if he may have had more important things to do,” Hondl said. Hondl served as the MPAR program manager after Forsyth and recalls many times Forsyth returned to work the radar.

Doug Forsyth surrounded by five other people in a group photo.
Doug Forsyth retired from NOAA NSSL in 2012 and celebrated with peers during a ceremony at the National Weather Center.
From left to right: Allen Zahari, Kurt Hondl, Doug Forsyth, Pam Heinselman, Mike Jain, and Sebastian Torres.

Forsyth invested not only in Doppler radar but in people, and his leadership inspired several people to continue to work at NSSL. 

“Doug understood that people are the foundation of an organization,” said David Stensrud, former NSSL researcher and head of the Department of Meteorology at Pennsylvania State University.

“He was always looking for opportunities to help people grow in their professional careers and to build collaborations across NSSL divisions, with the NWS, and universities,” Stensrud added. “Doug also was an effective leader and over the years he taught me a lot about servant leadership and ways to build community. He was a wonderful colleague and friend, a man of strong faith, and is greatly missed.”

Forsyth’s passion to serve never stopped. His plans for retirement quickly changed from lake-side relaxing to building the National Weather Museum and Science Center in Norman.

Doug Forsyth holding a weather instrument during an outreach event. He is showing it to some one standing in front of him.
Doug Forsyth shared his passion for weather with the public whenever he could. After retirement, he started the National Weather Museum and Science Center in Norman.

The museum was one of Forsyth’s many dreams as a way to share his passion for weather and its importance with the community. The museum highlights the science behind the weather, tools used by forecasters, and Oklahoma’s severe weather history, and hosts several unique hands-on displays. 

Forsyth started his journey with severe weather in the United States Air Force. He earned his degree in meteorology from Penn State while in the Air Force, working on data models and flight simulators at the Air Force Global Weather Central in Nebraska. He then traveled to Hawaii, the Pentagon, and Massachusetts — becoming an expert in radar, algorithm development, and automation.

Landing in Oklahoma, Forsyth was the first Air Force representative for JDOP, the Joint Doppler Operation Project. The project aimed to prove the advantages of Doppler radar to the National Weather Service. He was part of the NEXRAD Interim Operational Test Facility in 1982, which was the beginning of the now NEXRAD Radar Operations Center, before joining NSSL three years later.

“He accomplished great things for NSSL’s radar program,” Kain said. “It was through his sheer will that the National Weather Center building came to fruition, and he was passionate about preserving the history of what he had seen by creating the National Weather Museum and Science Center. He was an inspiring man and we owe a lot to him.”

In addition to his many accomplishments, Forsyth was an avid racquetball competitor and was a dedicated amateur radio operator. Forsyth shared his passion for amateur radio with others in the NWC and they are the reason the NWC houses a two-position amateur radio station and an antenna on top of the building.

Forsyth has many lasting legacies, and those who interacted with him will always remember him saying, “Have a fine day.” A celebration of life is tentatively planned for spring 2021.

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Leader of early Doppler radar development passes away

An original founder of the National Severe Storms Laboratory and an instrumental leader of early Doppler radar development recently passed away. Kenneth “Ken” Wilk helped establish NOAA’s National Severe Storms Laboratory and its reputation as the leading federal laboratory focused on weather radar. 

He received his Bachelor of Science in physics and chemistry from the University of Illinois and a Bachelor of Science in meteorology from Penn State University. He served in the U.S. Air Force as a weather forecaster supporting fighter-bomber squadrons and then worked for the Illinois Water Survey in Champaign, Illinois, on thunderstorm research.

Wilk led the Weather Radar Laboratory in Norman from its inception in 1962, a component of the National Severe Storms Project, prior to the establishment of the NSSL. He was the manager of the NSSL’s Operations Groups in the 1960s, directing numerous projects to improve radar and radar displays. The Operations Group’s mission was to improve storm warnings with the then-operational, non-Doppler radars at the U.S. Weather Bureau Forecast Offices. The Operations Group was a forerunner of today’s Radar Operations Center in Norman, Oklahoma, which oversees NEXRAD Doppler radar maintenance and installations around the world.

Ken Wilk and Dave Zittel discussing Doppler weather radar equipment with two Congressional leaders
Former NSSL researchers, Ken Wilk (third from the left) and Dave Zittel (at the far right) present information to Congressional leaders and other influential members of the science community during a visit to NSSL to evaluate and recommend continued and more substantial support for Doppler weather radar research.

In 1977, he was involved with the Joint Doppler Operational Project (JDOP) to prove Doppler radar could improve the nation’s ability to warn for severe thunderstorms and tornadoes. This project and its researchers outlined specifications of a new generation of weather radar for national network use. As a result of the project, the NWS, U.S. Air Force’s Weather Service, and the Federal Aviation Administration decided to include Doppler capability in their future operational radar network, called NEXRAD.

The NSSL determined Doppler weather radar could detect not only thunderstorms but also dangerous gust-fronts, wind shear, and in-storm turbulence. The NEXRAD network was installed nationwide in the early 1990s and is still in use today.

Wilk’s research and management of the Interim Operational Test Facility in Norman was instrumental in ensuring the successful development of NEXRAD Doppler radars and the first operational deployments of the new radars, beginning in 1991.

Wilk was always thinking of new ideas. He excelled at writing proposals, test plans and final reports documenting results of NSSL’s tests to satisfy grant requirements, and collaborated on many technical reports.

Wilk retired in 1988 after many years of Federal service. His keen interest in thunderstorms and methods of their detection was a motivation to others throughout his later years.  

Wilk’s family will celebrate his life at a private mountainside ceremony.

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Creator of instrumental radar techniques passes away

A member of the meteorology community, Leslie “Les” Lemon, passed away in late May.

Lemon was an eminent radar meteorologist during his career and saw it as his mission to aid forecasters on the interpretation of what they saw before the formalization of forecaster training.

Lemon had an extensive resume. He worked for CIMMS, the NOAA Commissioned Corps, NOAA NSSL, NWS Warning Decision Training Division, and several private companies throughout his more than 40-year career.

Former CIMMS Research Associate and longtime radar expert Les Lemon and current CIMMS Researcher Dale Morris instructing a forecaster in the NWS WDTD lab in 2013. (Photo provided)

Lemon was monitoring the surveillance radar on May 24, 1973, when a tornado devastated Union City, Okla. He worked with Don Burgess and Rodger Brown, former NSSL researchers, to determine where to scan the storm to collect the data they needed. This event had a significant impact on tornado forecasting. For the first time, researchers were able to see signs of tornado formation on radar and document the entire life cycle of the tornado on film. Researchers compared the two and discovered a pattern known as the Tornado Vortex Signature.

Lemon was awarded the 1976 NOAA Special Achievement Award for his work on the Tornado Vortex Signature.

The University of Oklahoma graduate is best known for “the Lemon Technique” a method for radar operators to detect the characteristic of a developing tornado. The technique is a way for radar operators to determine the severity of a storm and is continually used by experts today.

“I want to be in a weather office and I’ve been blessed to have been there and the passion, it’s the passion that led me to do everything I’ve done. And it’s amazing to me to think back at the opportunities I’ve been given, the things I have done in my life,” Lemon said, upon receiving the 2010 National Weather Association Special Lifetime Achievement Award.

He enjoyed sharing his storm experiences — he would recount to colleagues his presence at the destructive Ruskin Heights tornado on May 20, 1957, which catapulted his career choice to meteorology.

In his honor, the family is suggesting contributions to Lifesong for Orphans and condolences may be made online.

 

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Severe weather luminary, former NOAA NSSL director passes away

James "Jeff" Kimpel
James “Jeff” Kimpel

The weather community mourns the loss of leader and luminary James “Jeff” Kimpel, who passed away early Saturday morning.

Kimpel served as the NOAA National Severe Storms Laboratory director for 13 years and was instrumental in creating NSSL’s legacy in severe weather research. As NSSL’s third director from 1997 to 2010 he had a vision for the lab — transitioning science and technology to NOAA National Weather Service operations, archiving publications and increasing education and outreach — and created programs to fulfill that vision.

His leadership

His passion for weather and improving forecasts was evident in all of his endeavors. He was instrumental in establishing support for new facilities for NSSL. His collaborative efforts led to the eventual construction of the magnificent National Weather Center building in Norman, Oklahoma, shared with the NWS and the University of Oklahoma.

“For those who knew Jeff, you know that words are inadequate to approximate this man and his achievements,” said Craig McLean, Assistant Administrator for NOAA Oceanic and Atmospheric Research. “As Director of NSSL, he was the architect for the unique research-university-operations relationship we enjoy today between the National Weather Center and the University of Oklahoma. He was among the most humble people I know yet had so much to be proud of.”

In 2006, Kimpel addressed the Norman Chamber of Commerce to give an overview of what the NWC and NOAA provide to Norman. He said the collaborative efforts between OU student interns and federal employees had a $55.3 million impact on the economy at that time.

“We’re all in the same building now. Nowhere else in the country is this done,” Kimpel said in a news article. “The agencies work together for the taxpayers of this country.”

“Weather affects one-third of the $10 trillion economy. We want to know how we can affect the economy in a positive way.”

Jeff Kimpel sitting on a desk with computer screens behind him talking to someone.
Former NOAA NSSL Director Jeff Kimpel in the former NOAA NWS SPC forecast area before it moved to the National Weather Center.

Along with the NWC, Kimpel was a leader in creating the NOAA Hazardous Weather Testbed in collaboration with the NOAA NWS Storm Prediction Center and the NWS Norman Forecast Office. Kimpel wanted to create a place to accelerate the transition of new science into operational warning and forecasting decision processes. He understood the value of forecasters and researchers collaborating in a hands-on environment. He would say he was doing his job and serving the public but he was creating a space researchers use every year to successfully advance the tools used by forecasters.

Kimpel supported scientists and equipment to participate in 17 national and international field studies, including the Verification of the ORigin of Tornadoes Experiment, or VORTEX2, that led to the Congressionally funded VORTEX-Southeast. Kimpel oversaw the scientific and technological research required to upgrade the NEXRAD radar network, the current radar. Such upgrades included improvements to dual-polarization, which significantly increased the accuracy of rainfall estimates, the ability to differentiate between rain, snow and provide an estimated hail size. He encouraged radar-based rainfall analyses for flash flood and river forecasting as well.

Kimpel championed for NSSL’s Multi-Function Phased Array Radar, or MPAR, and Phased Array Radar to demonstrate radar’s rapid scanning, dynamic capabilities, and potential. He supported the lab’s division chief’s vision to implement such revolutionary programs.

One of NSSL’s current research programs, Warn-on-Forecast Systems, was advocated by Kimpel. The program aims to increase tornado, severe thunderstorm and flash flood warning lead times. Kimpel was instrumental in advocating for funding of this important project.

His connections

Jami Boettcher met Kimpel in the early 1980s. She describes him as everyone’s champion.

“I remember he [Kimpel] made an impression on me at the University of Oklahoma — enough so I told my father about him,” said Boettcher, an OU Cooperative Institute for Mesoscale Meteorological researcher supporting NSSL. “A lot of OU administrators and faculty were customers of my father’s business and my father shared my story.”

An OU Dean was also a customer of her father’s and heard good things about Kimpel. Shortly after, Kimpel was having lunch with the Dean and Kimpel always told Boettcher that was the start of his administration career.

“Jeff taught me you always have opportunities and each conversation you have is a job interview,” she said. “He championed me into the National Weather Service [when Boettcher was a forecaster]. He singled me out to let me know the NWS was coming to recruit in Norman. I was hired right after I finished my undergraduate degree. Jeff had a powerful gift of knowing which people he needed to connect.”

Ten years later, Boettcher returned to Norman and reconnected with Kimpel. The two taught a course through OU where Boettcher learned more about Norman, the weather enterprise and saw his enthusiasm for encouraging the next generation.

“I’ll never forget he cared about me personally and wanted the best for me, whatever that may be,” Boettcher said. “I may not hold the most accolades in the building, but I felt like I mattered just as much. He had the ability to connect to everyone in a unique way. He treated me like I always mattered.”

“He was giving a tour once and said, ‘I came to Norman for a job but I stayed because of the people,’” Boettcher said. “That is not a one-way exchange and it was not an accident.”

His legacy

Kimpel credited his research start in part to the first NSSL Director Edwin Kessler. Kimpel’s first-ever research grant came from NSSL at Kessler’s coaching. Kimpel followed Kessler’s footsteps and counseled hundreds of students throughout his time at OU and in the NWC. He 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.

“Jeff always had pearls of wisdom and advice,” said NSSL Deputy Director Kurt Hondl. “The one that I remember most of all was to ‘hire people better/smarter than yourself.’ He was a real leader, a mentor to many, and an all-around good guy.”

Former NOAA NSSL Director Jeff Kimpel in front of the former lab and research vehicle in Norman, Oklahoma.
Former NOAA NSSL Director Jeff Kimpel in front of the former lab signage and research vehicle in Norman, Oklahoma.

After his retirement, Kimpel continued to maintain an office in the NWC and provided career advice to anyone fascinated by the science of weather. His personality warmed the hearts of his peers and his humor could brighten anyone’s day. He provided tours to incoming and prospective students, researchers and colleagues.

His service, passion and endless work to help save lives and property and encourage future researchers was noted by the United States Congress in 2010. Rep. Tom Cole, R-Ok, recognized Kimpel for his federal service, awards and impact to Norman, Oklahoma, in a Congressional Commendation.

“Dr. Kimpel has made a mark on weather forecasting that will be felt for decades to come,” read Cole. “Dr. Kimpel has been one of the main proponents of improving the connection of Doppler-radar systems, or NEXRAD, which would advance and improve radar resolution and increase the accuracy of rain, snow, and other weather predictions. This program, which was created under Dr. Kimpel, has also generated forecast models and has largely improved the ability to predict tornadoes, windstorms, lighting, and other types of severe precipitation. These programs are extremely vital and important to Oklahoma in particular, but Dr. Kimpel has brought them into other regions that also deal with inclement weather and specific weather storms.”

The list of professional publications with Kimpel’s name as author or co-author is formidable. The topics range from severe weather research to reducing the costs of natural disasters. He received his PhD in meteorology from the University of Wisconsin in Madison.

Former NOAA NSSL Director Jeff Kimpel receiving an award from NOAA Acting Chief Scientist Craig McLean at Kimpel's reitrement in 2010.
Former NOAA NSSL Director Jeff Kimpel and NOAA Acting Chief Scientist Craig McLean at Kimpel’s retirement in 2010.

 

James “Jeff” Kimpel’s Awards & Service

  • James “Jeff” Kimpel

    Vietnam Air Force – he received a Bronze Star Medal for his service

  • OU Associate Dean of the College of Engineering
  • OU Director of the School of Meteorology
  • OU Regents’ Award for Superior University and Professional Service
  • 1989 American Meteorological Society Fellow
  • OU Dean of the College of Geosciences
  • OU Director of Weather Center Programs
  • OU Senior Vice President & Provost of the Norman Campus
  • President of Applied Systems Institute, Inc.
  • Chaired the Board of Trustees of the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research
  • Chaired the National Science Foundation’s Advisory Committee for Atmospheric Sciences
  • Chaired the National Weather Service NCEP Advisory Panel
  • NOAA NSSL Director, 1997-2010
  • 1998 American Meteorological Councilor
  • 2000 American Meteorological Society President
  • OU Regents’ Alumni Award
  • Denison University’s Distinguished Alumni Citation
  • 2005 Presidential Rank Award
  • 2010 U.S. Congressional Commendation
  • 2016 Charles Franklin Brooks Award
  • Norman Regional Hospital Authority Board Member

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