Robert Simpson (meteorologist)

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Robert Simpson
Simpson in 1956.
Robert H. Simpson

(1912-11-19)November 19, 1912
DiedDecember 18, 2014(2014-12-18) (aged 102)
EducationSouthwestern University (B.S., 1933)
Emory University (M.S., 1935)
University of Chicago (Ph.D., 1962)
Known forTropical cyclone research, Saffir–Simpson Hurricane Scale, NHC director
SpouseJoanne Simpson
AwardsDepartment of Commerce Gold Medal, Cleveland Abbe Award
Scientific career
InstitutionsDirector of the National Hurricane Research Project
Director of the National Hurricane Center
  • A Study of Piezo-electricity  (1935)
  • Analysis of a Large Scale Atmospheric Disturbance in the Lower Mesosphere  (1962)
Doctoral advisorHerbert Riehl
Other academic advisorsW. S. Nelms

Robert H. Simpson[1] (November 19, 1912 – December 18, 2014) was an American meteorologist, hurricane specialist, first director of the National Hurricane Research Project (NHRP) from 1955 to 1959, and a former director (1967–1974) of the National Hurricane Center (NHC). 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, Robert Simpson survived the devastating landfall of the 1919 Florida Keys hurricane at age six; one of his family members drowned. Simpson graduated with honors from the Corpus Christi high school in 1929. Fascinated by the weather, he went on to get a Bachelor of Science degree in physics from Southwestern University in 1933, and a Master 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 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 in 1962, 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. 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 (SSHS) 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 (then ESSA) to improve their hurricane research aircraft.[3]


Simpson in 2013 at the age of 101.[9]

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,[10] and recently was senior editor and contributing author to "HURRICANE! Coping with Disaster."[11]

He was 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. and from France, and of the Cleveland Abbe Award from the AMS. Simpson turned 100 in 2012. Simpson, whose wife died in 2010, resided in Washington, D.C. until his death at the age of 102 after a stroke on December 18, 2014.[12][13][14]


  • 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.
  • Robert Simpson and Neal Dorst, Hurricane Pioneer: Memoirs of Bob Simpson (2014), Boston: American Meteorological Society. ISBN 978-1-935704-75-1


  1. ^ "Directors of the National Hurricane Center 1943 to present" (PDF). National Hurricane Center. 2024. Retrieved 2024-02-01.
  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 Archived 2008-08-29 at the Wayback Machine
  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. ^ "101st Birthday of Bob Simpson". Press Release. NOAA Press. November 19, 2013. Retrieved 2022-03-04.
  10. ^ Herbert Riehl and Robert Simpson, The Hurricane and Its Impact (1981): 'LSU Press: Baton Rouge, LA', 398 pp.
  11. ^ Robert Simpson, R. Anthes, M. Garstang, J. Simpson (eds.), Hurricane! Coping with Disaster (2003): 'AGU: Washington, DC', 399 pp.
  12. ^ Emily Langer (2014-12-20). "Robert Simpson, co-creator of 1-to-5 hurricane model, dies at 102". The Washington Post. Washington, D.C. ISSN 0190-8286. OCLC 1330888409. Retrieved 2024-02-01.
  13. ^ "HRD wishes a happy 100th birthday to its founder, Dr. Robert Simpson". Hurricane Research Division. 2012-11-19. Retrieved 2012-12-05.
  14. ^ "Robert Simpson, co-developer of hurricane scale, dies at 102". The Washington Post. Retrieved 19 December 2014.

External links[edit]

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