Robert Simpson (meteorologist)

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Robert H. Simpson
Simpson & Gentry at ROB.jpg
Simpson on left
Born (1912-11-19) November 19, 1912 (age 101)[1]
Corpus Christi, Texas
Alma mater Southwestern University
Emory University
Occupation Former director of the National Hurricane Center

Robert Homer Simpson (born November 19, 1912) is a meteorologist, hurricane specialist, first director of the National Hurricane Research Project (1955–1959), and a former director (1967–1974) of the National Hurricane Center. He was the co-developer of the Saffir–Simpson Hurricane Scale with Herbert Saffir. His wife was Joanne Simpson.

Early life[edit]

Born in Corpus Christi, Texas, he survived the devastating landfall of a hurricane at age six, in which one of his family members drowned. Bob graduated with honors from the Corpus Christi high school in 1929. Fascinated by the weather, he went on to get a bachelors of science degree in physics from Southwestern University in 1933, and a masters of science degree in physics from Emory University in 1935.[2] Finding no work as a physicist during the Great Depression, he taught music in Texas high schools.[3]

Early career[edit]

On April 16, 1940, he was hired by the United States Weather Bureau. First assigned as a junior observer of meteorology at Brownsville, Texas,[2] he was then temporarily assigned to Swan Island. After the Pearl Harbor attack, he was promoted to forecaster at the New Orleans office. As part of a United States Weather Bureau scholarship, he did graduate work at the University of Chicago in 1943 and 1944.[2] After a stint as a hurricane forecaster in Miami under Grady Norton, he was assigned to help create the Army Air Force weather school in Panama. There he had his first flight into a tropical cyclone. After the war, he persuaded Air Force Hurricane Hunters to allow him to fly along on what he called 'piggy back missions', where he would take scientific observations using the primitive instruments.

Following VJ day and the dissolution of the weather school, Simpson returned to Miami. He was then assigned to Weather Bureau headquarters, working directly for Dr. Francis Reichelderfer. In 1949, Reichelderfer assigned Simpson to Hawaii to be in charge of consolidating the Weather Bureau's Pacific operations. There he founded a weather observation station on Mauna Loa,[4] studied Kona lows,[5] and flew a research mission into Typhoon Marge[6] aboard a specifically equipped Air Force weather plane. He continually urged Weather Bureau management to fund modest levels of hurricane research, but budgets during the early 1950s didn't allow this. Then the devastating 1954 Atlantic hurricane season changed the minds of several New England congressmen, and a special appropriation was passed to improve the Weather Bureau's hurricane warning system. Reichelderfer appointed Bob Simpson to head up the National Hurricane Research Project (NHRP) in 1955.

Late career[edit]

For the next four years, Simpson navigated NHRP through the shoals of bureaucratic uncertainty. Once NHRP was assured longevity in 1959, Simpson left the Project to finish his doctorate in meteorology at the University of Chicago, studying under his friend Dr. Herbert Riehl. On completing his degree, he returned to Washington to become the Weather Bureau's Deputy Director of Research (Severe Storms), where he helped establish the National Severe Storms Project (later to become the National Severe Storms Laboratory). In 1961, he obtained a National Science Foundation grant to study seeding hurricanes with silver iodide. He put together an experiment using NHRP and United States Navy aircraft to seed Hurricane Esther. The encouraging results led the Weather Bureau and the Navy to start Project STORMFURY in 1962, with Simpson as Director. He headed up the Project for the next three years, including the seeding of Hurricane Beulah in 1963. He married Joanne Malkus in 1965 and persuaded her to take over as Director of STORMFURY for the next two years as he became Director of Operations for the Weather Bureau.[7]

In 1967, Simpson became Deputy Director of the National Hurricane Center (NHC). Simpson reorganized NHC, making it separate from the Miami Weather Bureau office, and established the position of 'hurricane specialist' for NHC's senior forecasters. He directed NHC from 1968 to 1974, during which time he co-developed the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Scale with Herbert Saffir,[8] established a dedicated satellite unit at NHC, studied neutercanes, and began issuing advisories on subtropical storms. His controversial remarks to Vice President Spiro Agnew in the wake of Hurricane Camille led to an upgrade of the Air Force and Navy Hurricane Hunter squadrons, and persuaded NOAA to improve their hurricane research aircraft.[3]


He retired from government service in 1974, turning NHC over to his Deputy Director Neil Frank. The Simpsons returned to Washington, where they established a weather consulting firm, Simpson Weather Associates in Charlottesville, Virginia. At this time he became a Certified Consulting Meteorologist. Both he and his wife joined the faculty of the University of Virginia in the Environmental Sciences department. In that capacity, he participated in several international scientific experiments, such as GATE, MONEX, ITEX, and Toga COARE. He co-authored the book "The Hurricane and Its Impacts" with Herbert Riehl,[9] and recently was senior editor and contributing author to "HURRICANE! Coping with Disaster."[10]

He is an Honorary Member of the American Meteorological Society (AMS) and a Fellow of the Explorers Club of New York. He is the recipient of Gold Medals from both the U.S. Department of Commerce and from France, and of the Cleveland Abbe Award from the AMS. Simpson, whose wife died in 2010, turned 101 in November 2013 and resides in Washington, DC.[11]


  • Robert Simpson, “Structure of an Immature Hurricane,” Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society Vol. 35 No. 8 (October 1954): 335-350.
  • Robert Simpson, “Hurricanes,” Scientific American (1954): 32-37.
  • Robert Simpson, “Liquid Water in Squall Lines and Hurricanes at air temperatures lower than -40°C,” Mon. Wea. Rev. (1963): v.91 687-693.
  • Robert Simpson and Joanne Malkus, “Why Experiment on Tropical Hurricanes?,” Trans. NY Acad of Sci (1966): v.28 n.8.


  1. ^ "Who's who in Pacific Coast"
  2. ^ a b c Staff (September 1958). "Director of NHRP: Robert H. Simpson". Weather Bureau Topics (United States Weather Bureau). 
  3. ^ a b An interview of Dr. Simpson by Ed Zipser
  4. ^ Mauna Loa Observatory.
  5. ^ Robert Simpson, “Evolution of the Kona Storm; a Subtropical Cyclone,” Journal of Meteorology Vol. 9 (February 1952): 24-35.
  6. ^ Robert H. Simpson, “Exploring Eye of Typhoon Marge 1951,” Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society Vol. 33 No. 7 (September 1952): 286-298.
  7. ^ Rob Gutro (1 June 2005). "Meet Dr. Joanne Simpson: Chief Scientist Emeritus for Meteorology, Earth Sun Exploration Division". Goddard Space Flight Center. Archived from the original on 17 June 2008. 
  8. ^ Robert Simpson, “The Disaster Potential Scale,” Weatherwise (1963): v.27 169-180.
  9. ^ Herbert Riehl and Robert Simpson, The Hurricane and Its Impact (1981): 'LSU Press: Baton Rouge, LA', 398 pp.
  10. ^ Robert Simpson, R. Anthes, M. Garstang, J. Simpson (eds.), Hurricane! Coping with Disaster (2003): 'AGU: Washington, DC', 399 pp.
  11. ^ "HRD wishes a happy 100th birthday to its founder, Dr. Robert Simpson". Hurricane Research Division. 2012-11-19. Retrieved 2012-12-05. 

External links[edit]

Preceded by
Gordon Dunn
Director of the National Hurricane Center
Succeeded by
Neil Frank