Category Archives: Joanne Simpson


I was so excited…

 My trip, and the analysis of the data that came out of it,  was the first published report that something was not right with Prof. Gagin’s cloud reports.  My publication appeared in the Quart. J. Roy. Meteor. Soc., Rangno 1988, “Rain from Clouds with Tops Warmer than -10°C in Israel,” hereafter, “R88,” found here).  My manuscript was “communicated” to the Quart. J. Roy. Meteor. Soc. by the director of our airborne research group,  Prof. Peter V. Hobbs, a member of the Royal Society eligible to submit papers to that journal.  (I was not).

Neither Prof. Hobbs nor I believed that my paper refuting the many published descriptions of Israeli clouds by Prof. Gagin could be published in an American Meteorological Society journal.  Too many potential reviewers had heard Prof. Gagin’s presentations on too many occasions, or read his journal papers,  to believe that what he was saying could be so much in error.

R88 was based on rawinsonde-indicated cloud tops when it was raining at the launch site or within an hour and a half, so it was fairly primitive.  Why I had only rawinsonde data and not data from Prof. Gagin’s 5-cm modern radar data as was explained in Chapter 4.

Nevertheless, my “primitive” findings were confirmed several years later in independent airborne studies (e.g., Levin 1992, 1994, preprints; Levin et al. 1996, J. Appl. Meteor.) and on several occasions since then (e.g., Freud et al. 2015).  Spiking football now!

Why Prof. Gagin’s cloud reports were likely in error and how much they deviated from comparable clouds was shown in Rangno and Hobbs 1988, Atmos. Res.

I had experienced cloud seeding “delusionaries” in Colorado during the CRBPP, namely, credentialed “scientists” who believed things that weren’t true and even published things they knew weren’t true (as Grant and Elliott had done in 1974, J. Appl. Meteor.).  I sensed that Prof. Gagin might be one of those.  He and his staff also had a lot to lose if the clouds of Israel weren’t so ripe for seeding as his descriptions painted them.

I reprised my 1988 published findings from my trip to Israel in a University of Washington Atmos. Sci. colloquium in February 1990. I was motivated by the J. Appl. Meteor. memorial issue to Prof. Gagin in October 1989.  Here’s the flyer for that talk, intended to draw interest with some topical humor concerning the Iran-Contra affair that was in progress while I was in Israel in 1986 (unknown to me at the time):

End of life story.  I consider this episode concerning Israeli clouds my greatest, costliest, volunteer science contribution of the several reanalyses that I did on my own time and dime.




By the end of the 1970s, Prof. Gagin and his work had become of interest to me.  After all, as I learned in Durango, nothing could be taken at face value in the cloud seeding literature unless I had personally validated that literature by scrutinizing every detail of the published claims in it, looking for omissions and exaggerated claims, something reviewers of manuscripts certainly did NOT do.

I had a lot of experience by this time.  I had reanalyzed the previous published reports of cloud seeding successes in the Wolf Creek Pass experiment (Rangno 1979, J. Appl. Meteor.);  the Skagit Project (Hobbs and Rangno 19781, J. Appl. Meteor.), and had authored comments critical of the published foundations of the Climax and Wolf Creek Pass experiments in Colorado (Hobbs and Rangno1 1979, J. Appl. Meteor.) and others.

What was to transpire was that the person Joanne Malkus Simpson suggested to give up meteorology, me, helped eliminate the reasons why anyone, let alone her, would continue to believe that “statues” should be raised to honor Prof. A. Gagin’s contributions to cloud seeding.  Here’s what happened.

The Israel chapter of my cloud seeding life begins

In about 1979, the Director of my group at the University of Washington, Prof. Peter V. Hobbs, challenged me to look into the Israeli cloud seeding experiments:  “if you really want to have an impact, you should look into the Israeli experiments.”  I guess he thought I had a knack seeing through mirages of cloud seeding successes.

I did begin to look at them at that time.  Prof. Hobbs asked me to prepare a list of the questions I had come up with after I started reading the literature about the Israeli experiments.  He wanted to ask questions of Prof. Gagin at the latter’s talk at the 1980 Clermont-Ferrand International Weather Modification conference in France.  Those at the conference said that he did ask Prof. Gagin questions but it wouldn’t have been like Prof. Hobbs, as I began to learn over the years in his group, to have said, “My staff member has some questions for you, Abe.”  Maybe he thought that wasn’t important.

I already knew something of the rain climate of Israel long before reading about the Israeli cloud seeding experiments.  This was due to a climate paper I was working on when I arrived in Durango, CO, as a potential master’s thesis for SJS.  My study was about “decadal” rainfall shifts in central and southern California and I wanted to know if what I observed in California had also been observed in Israel, a country with long term, high quality rainfall records and one having a Mediterranean climate like California.  I received several publications from the Foreign Data Collections group at the National Climatic Center in those days, such as Dove Rosnan’s 1955 publication, “100 years of Rainfall at Jerusalem.”

So, I was not coming into the Israel cloud seeding literature “blind” to its surprisingly copious winter rain climate.  Jerusalem averages about 24 inches of rain between October and May, something akin to San Francisco despite being much farther south than SFO.

My interest in the Israeli cloud seeding experiments, however, ebbed and flowed in a hobby fashion until the summer of 1983 when I decided to plot some balloon soundings when rain was falling, or had fallen within the hour, at Bet Dagan, Israel, and Beirut, Lebanon, balloon launch sites. Anyone could have done this.

The plots were stunning!

Dashed line is the pseudoadiabatic lapse rate; solid line, the adiabatic lapse rate.   The synoptic station data are those at the launch time or within 90 min.  

Rain was clearly falling from clouds with much warmer tops at both sites than was being indicated in the descriptions of the clouds necessary for rain formation in Israel  by Prof. Gagin, descriptions that made them look plump with seeding potential.  His descriptions were of clouds having to be much deeper, 1-2 km,  before they formed rain.   And those descriptions were key in supporting statistical cloud seeding results that gave the first two experiments, referred to as Israel-1 and Israel-2,  so much credibility in the scientific community (Kerr 19821, Science magazine).    The deeper clouds described meant that there was a load of water in the upper parts of the clouds that wasn’t coming out as rain.  

Shallower clouds that were raining meant that there wasn’t going to be so much water in deeper clouds that could be tapped by cloud seeding; much of it would have fallen out as rain before they reached the heights thought to be needed for cloud seeding.

I also scrutinized Prof. Gagin’s airborne Cumulus cloud reports that appeared in the early and mid-1970s.  I found several anomalies in them when compared to other Cumulus cloud studies and our own measurements of Cumulus clouds.  One example:

While the 3rd quartile droplets became larger above cloud base as expected, droplets >24 um diameter were nil until suddenly increasing above the riming-splintering temperature zone of -3° to -8°C.  Those larger drops should have increased in a nearly linearly way as did the 3rd quartile drop diameters. If appreciable concentrations of  >24 um diameter droplets had been reported in this temperature zone, cloud experts would have deemed them ripe for an explosion of natural ice, not for cloud seeding.  So this odd graph left questions.

Too, the temperature at which ice first appeared in Israeli clouds, according to Prof. Gagin’s reports, was much lower than similar clouds as seen by data point 8 in the figure below constructed in 1984 (published  in  1988,  Rangno  and  Hobbs,  Atmos.  Res.)

When I read about how seeding was carried out in the first experiment, Israel-1,  I learned to my astonishment that only about 70 h of seeding was done during whole winter seasons upwind of each of the two targets by a single aircraft.  I concluded that there could not possibly have been a statistically significant effect on rainfall from seeding clouds given the true precipitating nature of Israeli clouds, the number of days with showers,  and the small amount of seeding carried out.  In Israel-2, the experimenters added a second aircraft and 42 ground cloud seeding generators (NAS 1973).  They, too,  must have realized they hadn’t seeded enough in Israel-1, I though.

Another red flag jumped out in the first peer-reviewed paper that evaluated Israel-1 by Wurtele (1971, J. Appl. Meteor.),   She found that the greatest statistical significance in Israel-1 was not in either one of the “cross-over” targets, but in the Buffer Zone (BZ) between them that the seeding aircraft was told to avoid.  This BZ anomaly had occurred on days when southernmost target was being seeded.   In her paper, Wurtele quoted the chief meteorologist of Israel-1, Mr. Karl Rosner, who stated that the high statistical significance in the BZ could hardly have been produced by inadvertent cloud seeding by the single aircraft that flew seeding missions.

The original experimenters, Gagin and Neumann (1974) addressed this statistical anomaly in the BZ  but did attribute it to cloud seeding based on their own wind analysis.

A Hasty 1983 Submission

Armed with all these findings, I decided to see how fast I could write up my findings and submit them to the J. Appl. Meteor.;  I came into the University of Washington on July 4th, 1983, and wrote the entire manuscript that day. I submitted it to the J. Appl. Meteor. the next day.    (Prof. Hobbs was on sabbatical in Europe at this time.)

I was sure it would be accepted, though likely with revisions required.  No reviewer could not see, I thought, that there was a problem with the existing published cloud reports from Israel.

My conclusions were against everything that had been written about those experiments at that time, that the clouds were not ripe for cloud seeding, but the opposite of “ripe” for that purpose.

In retrospect, it wasn’t surprising that I was informed six months later that my manuscript was rejected by three of four reviewers: “Too much contrary evidence.  You can’t be right” was the general tone of the message.

Nevertheless, I was surprised by the rejection, thinking my evidence was too strong for an outright rejection.  I tried to make the best of it in a humorous way to the journal editor, Dr.  Bernard A. Silverman, passed the news along.  I hope you, the reader, if any,  smile when you read this: In 1984 at the Park City, UT, Weather Modification Conference, I had my first personal interaction with Prof. Gagin.   I was giving an invited talk with an assigned title at that conference about the wintertime clouds of the Rockies, “How Good Are Our Conceptual Models of Orographic Cloud Seeding?”

Prof. Gagin  informed me that he had been one of the four reviewers of my 1983 rejected manuscript.  He “lectured” me sternly between conference presentations about how wrong I was about his published descriptions of Israeli clouds that had a hard time raining naturally until they got deep and cold at the top.

Rejection and Lecture Have No Effect

The rejection of my 1983 paper and Prof. Gagin’s “lecture” about how wrong I was about Israeli clouds, however, had no effect whatsoever on what I thought about them. 

I felt I could interpret balloon soundings just fine after the hundreds and hundreds I examined in Durango with the CRBPP while looking out the window to see what those soundings were depicting.  I marveled, instead, that reviewers couldn’t detect the obvious, especially Dr. Bernard A. Silverman, the Editor of the J. Appl. Meteor.

After that rejection that moved on to studies of secondary ice formation in clouds in Peter Hobbs group, published in Hobbs and Rangno 1985, J. Atmos. Sci.), but the thought of going to Israel began to surface.    Someone has to do something!

It was about this time that I read about American physicist, R. W. Wood, going to France to expose what he believed to be the delusion of N-Ray radiation reported by Prosper René Blondlot (Broad and Wade 1982, Betrayers of the Truth).  I thought, “I bet I could do that same kind of thing,” thinking that  Prof. Gagin might well be similarly deluded about his clouds.  

A Resignation Followed by the Cloud Investigation Trip to Israel 

And so, following the historical precedent that R. W. Wood set, I hopped on a plane to Israel at the beginning of January 1986 following my resignation from Prof. Hobbs’ Cloud and Aerosol Research Group.

Resigning from the Job I Loved .

My resignation was in protest over issues of credit here and there that had been building up for nearly a decade in Peter Hobbs group2.  Peter had lost several good researchers over this same issue.  In a late December 1985 meeting with Prof. Hobbs prior to my January 1986 trip,  he described me as “arrogant” for thinking I knew more about the clouds of Israel than those who studied them “in their own backyard.”

“Confident” would have been more appropriate than the word, “arrogant” Prof. Hobbs had used.  I smirked when he said that; I couldn’t help myself.  I had done my homework in the process of writing that short paper in 1983 critical of those cloud reports when Peter was on sabbatical.  In fact, I was so confident about my assessment of Israeli clouds that I told Prof.  Peter Hobbs,  Prof. Robert G. Fleagle (also with the University of Washington) and Roscoe R. Braham, Jr.3,  North Carolina State University, and others, that I was about “80 % sure” of my assessment of Israeli clouds from 7,000 miles away even before I went.

My Agenda

It was true, however, that I wanted to show the world by going to Israel that I was the best at “outing” mistaken or fraudulent cloud and or cloud seeding reports, ones that were considered credible by the  entire scientific community, including Prof. Hobbs4.  However, virtually any low-level forecasting meteorologist could do what I did, especially storm chasing types like me, that was the fun of it.

And, here was a chance to do something that would be considered, “historic,” just like Wood’s trip to France was!

Another intriguing factor contributing to the idea of going to Israel was the statement expressed by Peter Hobbs to me a few years earlier; “No one’s been able to get a plane in there.”  He told me that British meteorologist and cloud physics expert, Sir B. J. Mason, had said the same thing to him.  I wasn’t a plane, but by god, I was going to “get in there.”   The view of Prof. Hobbs and Sir B. J. Mason  was later to be confirmed in a letter to me in Israel by Prof. Gabor Vali, University of Wyoming cloud researcher who wrote of six attempts to do airborne research of Israeli clouds, all denied.

Too, I looked forward to going to Israel and seeing what that country was like, too, with all of its biblical history.

And, if it was a case of delusion, as American physicist, R. W. Wood, encountered with the N-Ray episode, Prof. Gagin would be happy to cooperate with me and let me see radar tops of precipitating clouds. Prosper-René Blondlot had cooperated with Dr. Wood, allowing him to watch an N-Ray experiment.

But if Prof. Gagin didn’t cooperate with me, I could just hop on the next plane back to America.  I would “know” I was right about those clouds without even seeing them!


1Corrections to Kerr’s 1982 Science article were published by Prof. Hobbs in Science in October 1982.  In the original article, Prof. Hobbs inadvertently led Kerr to believe that he himself, and not me, had conducted the reanalysis and other work that undermined the Climax cloud seeding experiments.  Prof. Hobbs apologized to me as soon as he saw Kerr’s article. Still…..

2Authorship sequences on publications under Prof. Hobbs’ stewardship sometimes did not represent the progenitor of a work; i.e., that person who should be first author;  the person who originated the research, wrote the drafts describing results,  the person who had done all the analysis that went into it, as in these footnoted cases of authorship where  Prof. Hobbs had placed himself as lead author.    Prof. Hobbs was a wonderful science editor and made great improvements to drafts that he received.   The authorship sequence problem was to mostly go away after I resigned.

3My resignation letter was 27 single spaced pages!

4Prof. Braham kept the letters I wrote to him and they can be found in his archive at North Carolina State University.

5See Prof. Hobbs 1975 “Personal Viewpoint” comment in Sax et al. 1975, J. Appl. Meteor., “Where Are We Now and Where Should We Be Going?” weather modification review.


This story begins with my first full-time job after graduating from San Jose State College.  I was hired as a weather forecaster by E. G. & G., Inc.,  in Durango, Colorado in support of a massive randomized cloud seeding experiment called the Colorado River Basin Pilot Project (CRBPP).  It was intended to prove that seeding wintertime mountain storms was a viable way of adding water to western rivers over a large area.   I was to work under lead forecaster, J. Owen Rhea, an expert on wintertime mountain storm forecasting.  Paul Willis was the Project Manager.  The project was intended to replicate stunning cloud seeding successes reported in Colorado by Colorado State University (CSU) scientists, but in the CRBPP, over a much larger area than in the CSU experiments.

The Durango job was to change my life forever, and eventually lead me to Israel as a skeptic of reports of cloud seeding successes.  Ironically, that change was to involve North American Weather Consultants,  and it’s president, Mr. Robert D. Elliott, for whom I had worked in 1968 in Goleta, CA,  as a summer hire between semesters at San Jose State, and again when on loan from the CRBPP  in the summer of 1972 in statewide cloud seeding program in South Dakota.

By time the Colorado River Basin Project (CRBPP), the nation’s largest, most costly ever mountain randomized cloud seeding experiment  ended after five winter seasons,   I had become an orographic cloud seeding “apostate. ”

What caused this epiphany?

This metamorphosis from  an idealistic and naive forecaster  coming right out of college happened due to seeing what I think most scientists would term “misconduct” in the journal literature during the CRBPP in 1974 combined with misleading news releases from the BuRec sponsor of the CRBPP.  In the journal article,  the two authors were asserting things they knew weren’t true.  I personally knew that they knew this.  I decided that  I was going to do something about this deplorable situation after the CRBPP ended.

I then had come to believe that the cloud seeding successes reported by CSU researchers couldn’t possibly have been real ones  due to the many seeding impediments that turned up during the CRBPP (clouds not ripe for seeding as had been described, inversions that blocked the seeding material in the wintertime,  cloud tops not at the heights they were supposed to be, etc.)

It was very troubling to me that the many published scientists that were associated with the CRBPP and knew that false claims had been published in the 1974 journal cloud seeding paper  did nothing.  In that 1974 paper, for example, one reads that the temperature at 490 mb in the atmosphere (about 18,000 feet above sea level) above Wolf Creek Pass, a central target of the CRBPP, was representative of cloud top temperatures during storms.   Both authors, due to the hundreds of rawinsondes launched during CRBPP storms, knew this was untrue.  Robert D. Elliott was one of the two authors.

I  waited years for a correction by the authors, or a journal “Comment” by a knowledgeable, published scientist pointing out that at least this one claim in that article was untrue.  The silence on the part of those many scientists I expected to do SOMETHING was deafening.   I, too,  was part of that “silence.”

Talk Sounds of Silence slide:  a pptx that after hours of investigation I am not able to insert, thanks to changes in WP.  It downloads and then you can play the slide.  In the meantime, this poor substitute for the real thing:

The false claim/misconduct I am referring to appeared in one of the most cited cloud seeding articles of all time, entitled, “The Cloud Seeding Temperature Window.”

Robert D. Elliott, one of the two authors of that 1974 paper was intimate with the CRBPP data as the official evaluator of the CRBPP.  That CRBPP data demonstrated that the claim in his paper that cloud top temperatures over Wolf Creek Pass averaged 490 mb  was false.  In his next visit to Durango I asked him,  “How could you write that (claim)?”   He replied that he had, “just sort of gone along with Lew” (Lewis O. Grant) his co-author.

I thought of Shoeless Joe Jackson and the little kid that said to him, “Tell me it ain’t so, Joe!”, that he had cheated in the Black Sox World Series scandal.  I felt just like that little kid must have.  This was the same Bob Elliott that I had worked for in Goleta  and admired so much.

So, that was the epiphany for me.   I then thought that nothing might be true in the cloud seeding literature no matter how highly regarded that literature or experiment was by the scientific community.

I had come into CRBPP a little too naïve and idealistic, and  when the CRBPP ended, that idealism was nearly gone and replaced by suspicion of any orographic cloud seeding success unless I had personally validated it. Over the next two decades, I was to reanalyze six prior cloud seeding successes in the peer-reviewed literature and not ONE was the success it was deemed to be by the experimenters who conducted it.

This ephiphany set the stage for what was to happen a few years later concerning the scientist in Israel whose work in clouds and cloud seeding Prof. Joanne Malkus Simpson admired so much.

After the CRBPP had ended, I was asked to do an interview about it in November 1975 in the local newspaper, the Durango Herald.   In that interview, I stated exactly what I planned to do; reanalyze all the Colorado State University cloud seeding work that had led to the massive funding of the CRBPP since I now deemed that literature highly unreliable.

After living the winter of 1975-76 in Durango, living off my savings while gathering runoff and CRBPP precipitation data, I was hired for a May-August seeding project in South Dakota by Atmospherics, Inc.  I had worked for them in the summer and fall of 1975  as a radar meteorologist in Madras (now Chennai), Tamil Nadu, India.  While mountain cloud seeding was suspect, Joanne Malkus Simpson and co-authors were published results of successful cloud seeding of tropical Cumulus clouds like those in India.  That’s why I had no qualms about taking that job in India in 1975,  Joanne had influenced me again.

Near the end of the 1976 project in SD, I was interviewed for a job at  the University of Washington by Prof. Larry Radke and Prof. Peter V. Hobbs.  I joined Prof. Hobbs, Cloud Physics Group, as it was known then, in September 1976.

After unraveling bogus cloud seeding successes in Washington State (Hobbs and Rangno 19781 and in Colorado (Rangno 1979, Hobbs and Rangno 19791),  Prof. Peter V. Hobbs who saw I had an interest and skill in examining the cloud seeding literature, said to me that “if you really wanted to have an impact, you should look into the Israeli experiments.”  It wasn’t long before I began reading critically about them.

1Authorship sequences in Prof. Hobbs group, as in these cases, do not reflect who initiated the work, carried out the analyses and wrote the drafts that Prof. Hobbs improved with his great editing skills.



This is a story about Joanne (Malkus) Simpson and our mutual study interest, Prof. Avraham “Abe” Gagin of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, the leader of the world famed Israeli cloud seeding experiments that took place in the 1960s to 1970s.  This is a story having irony.  For more about Joanne Simpson and her major contributions to meteorology, see J. R. Fleming’s, “First Woman: Joanne Simpson and the Tropical Atmosphere”.  She was a real superstar.


My own modest claim to fame,  partly for the work reported here:…/two-uw-researchers-honored-by-un-for-excellence-in-weather-modification

Following the untimely passing of Professor Abe Gagin[1], Joanne Simpson stated that, “statues will be raised in many towns and halls of fame” in his memory due to his contributions to cloud seeding. Her testimonial appeared in the 1988 memorial issue to A. Gagin of the J. Weather Modification and is shown at the end of this account.  The memorial issue of that journal is here:


As a measure of Prof. Gagin’s stature when he passed and why statue building might be considered for him, the October 1989 J. of Appl. Meteor. also issued a memorial volume to Prof. Gagin in due to his work in cloud seeding.  The preface to that memorial issue, written by Arnett S. Dennis, a former co-author of Joanne’s, is also shown at the end of this account.  Hardly any scientists are tributed by memorial issues of journals, much less, two!  Prof. Gagin’s frequent co-author in describing the results of the Israeli cloud seeding experiments, Prof. Jehuda Neumann, was ALSO tributed with a memorial issue of the J. Appl. Meteor. when he passed ten years later.

Prof. Gagin passed in September 1987 at the untimely age of 54, a few months after learning in a letter from Prof. Peter Hobbs that my manuscript, “Rain from clouds with tops warmer than -10°C in Israel,” had been accepted for publication by the Quart. J. Roy. Meteor. Soc.  This paper showed that the clouds of Israel were completely different than the ones Prof. Gagin was repeatedly describing in the literature and at conference.

At the same time of his passing, Prof. Gagin was also being pressured by his own chief meteorologist, Mr. Karl Rosner, to publish the previously omitted data for the south target of Israel-2.  This was the 2nd randomized cloud seeding experiment that was conducted from the 1969/70 through 1974/75 Israeli rain seasons.  The reporting of Israel-2 had been confined to the north target where there was an appearance that cloud there had pretty much replicated what had been reported in ALL of Israel-1.

The testimonials to A. Gagin by many leading scientists in the cloud seeding domain were omitted in the digital version of the 1988 JWM volume when digitizing  was done many years later but can be found at the end of this story.

My one and only in-person interaction with Joanne Malkus Simpson:  “Go into journalism not meteorology.”

I met with Joanne (Malkus) Simpson in January 1963 at UCLA.  She had been brought to my attention when she had been named, Los Angeles Times “Woman of the Year.”  I was meeting with her, a professor of meteorology, to try and convince her that as a 20-year old junior college student, I was worthy of getting into the UCLA meteorology program even though I did not have a high enough grade point average to do so.  UCLA required a minimum of 2.4 and mine was barely above 2.0000x.  And I had to repeat all but one of my calculus and physics classes at Pierce Junior College.  I had spent too much time playing and practicing for intercollegiate baseball, but I also had no natural aptitude for physics and calculus.

UCLA was the only school offering courses for a degree in meteorology in California in 1963, and that’s why I went there to meet with Dr. Malkus, as she was known as then.  It seemed like UCLA offered the only hope of achieving my dream to become a meteorologist.   I thought explaining my fanaticism about weather would do the trick.  For example I had gone to Louisiana and ended up near Galveston, Texas, chasing Hurricane Carla in September 1961, and chased numerous thunderstorms in the Southern California desert during the summers.

Some early background that if told to Joanne, would convince her I was worthy of UCLA’s program

I began collecting weather maps out of the Los Angeles Daily News when I was in the 4th grade.  (Thank you, Mr. Borders and Mr. De la Gega, my 4th and 5th grade teachers, for encouraging my budding interest!).  Below a sample of a real weather map with isobars from the Los Angeles Daily News for December 26, 1951.  How exciting is this?

Too, I was subscribing to the “Daily Weather Map” by the time I was ten years old.   By the time I was 13 years old, I  was subscribing to the Monthly Weather Review and several states’ government, “Climatological Data” from NOAA.   (Well, my mom subscribed for me.)

I crazily thought that telling Joanne about all this would get me in to UCLA sans the grade requirement.

“The Meeting”

The first thing Joanne Malkus asked me when she kindly took a minute out of her busy schedule (I had made no appointment) was how my grades were in math and physics.   I told her I got “Cs” but did not reveal to her that those “Cs” were on the second try!   She then asked me, “How are your grades in the humanities?” “B’s.”   With my answers to but two questions, Prof. Malkus then advised me to give up the thought of becoming a meteorologist, and become, perhaps,, “a journalist and write about weather.”  And that was the end of the meeting; in less than five minutes I was advised to give up a life-long dream.

Yes, I “held myself back,” to repeat courses in math and physics, and in doing so lost my collegiate baseball eligibility.  Who would do this?But.. that stubbornness, to keep at it, not giving up  my dream, turned out to be key to my whole life.  But perhaps it could be seen as a character flaw, too?

Joanne Malkus assessment of my potential as a student in the UCLA meteorology program was, in fact, “spot on.”

Thank you, Joanne (Malkus) Simpson.


In retrospect, I never could have gotten through the highly theoretical program at UCLA in those days, a program that featured Morton Wurtele, Yale Mintz, Morris Neiburger, Jörgen Holmboe, Zdenek Sekera, James Edinger, and Jacob Bjerknes, the latter who had founded the Department in 1940.  Fjørtoft, a visiting Norwegian professor of meteorology, or possibly Holmboe, was slinging vector equations across a blackboard as I walked down the hall following my meeting with Prof.  Malkus.  At UCLA in those days, one would have walked the halls with giants. A few years earlier I had tried to get the autograph of Prof. Bjerknes at UCLA since meteorologists like him were to me,  like baseball superstars to other, “normal” kids.  Prof. Bjerknes was not in his office that day, but rather there was a sign said he was, “emeritus,” which I took to mean he was especially good as a scientist, not that he was retired.

After my 1963 meeting with Joanne Malkus I was angry and hurt and promptly went to the UCLA bookstore and bought one of the books they were using in their meteorology program, I was that mad.  The book?  “Introduction to Theoretical Meteorology” by Seymour Hess.  I stopped reading it after a day or two.  It had too many equations. 

It took me more than 25 years to realize that Joanne Malkus Simpson had saved me from myself.   I wrote her a note thanking her  for her keen assessment in the early 1990s.   She did not reply.  

Life After “The Meeting”

In  the spring of 1963 I had lucked out and gotten a job as a “research analyst” at Rocketdyne in their H-1 rocket group in the Simi Hills above the San Fernando Valley.  Rocketdyne was a division of North American Aviation.  By mid-1964, I was “suddenly” married and had a son.  Becoming a meteorologist was slowly slipping off the radar, but I loved my job at Rocketdyne (about Rocketdyne)  and the young, great engineers that led my group, like Wayne Littles  who later became the 8th director of the NASA Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville.  They set great examples as engineers and leaders.

Rocketdyne’s Simi Hills test division where I worked, had a weather forecast office and I bugged the guys there, Joe Glantz (former State Climatologist for California) and Hank Weiss, virtually EVERY lunch time during the winter rain season.  We talked “progs” such as they were then.

I also started on another path toward being a meteorologist while married, still not giving up on my goal.  I took two correspondence courses in meteorology from Penn State University (graded by A. K. Blackadar and F. B. Stephens).

When my marriage was going on the rocks in the mid -1960s due to my immaturity, I learned that San José State College had started a program in meteorology.  I applied and got accepted even with my crummy grade point average from junior college.  It was an exciting time for me to meet, for the first time in my life, other weather-centric guys like me when I arrived at SJS in the spring of 1967.  One of them, Bill Hall, was to become something of a modeling superstar at the National Center for Atmospheric Research.  Byron Marler, who ended up with PG&E,  became a life long friend.

I also became friends with the chair of the Meteorology Department in those days, Dr. Albert Miller.  He helped me tremendously by hiring me as a student assistant while I was an undergraduate, and later, as a graduate assistant in the synoptic lab.  Dr. Miller was like a 2nd dad to me.  Also key to being able to continue at San Jose State  was my former Rocketdyne supervisor, A. Dan Lucci, who re-hired me as a summer employee at Rocketdyne in 1967 after my first semester at San Jose State.

Another person whom I became good friends with at SJS due to working together, was C. Donald Ahrens, who was to go on and write the most popular meteorology book for 101 college classes in the nation, “Meteorology Today” and several other books.    His wife was to type the first chapter of his Meteorology Today book on my very own Hermes 3000 manual typewriter!

Don and I also worked together on tetroon (constant level balloon) paths in the Bay Area that disclosed where the onshore maritime air was going.  We worked in a corrugated metal building next to the football stadium far from the meteorology department.  To pass the otherwise tedious time, we had KGO-FM’s no commercials, top 40 radio station with DJ “Brother John” blaring.  And, we would break into song!  We really liked the Four Seasons, Western Union, by the Five Americans, and so many others that  we sang to many of them, harmonizing,  while our heads were down plotting tetroon paths.  I still smile thinking of those days.

In the summer of 1968, I worked for non-other than North American Weather Consultants under CEO, Robert D. Elliott.  That  summer Tor Bergeron came to visit!  For those readers who remember NAWC in Goleta, California, here’s the photo I took of the whole gang, Elliott, Bergeron, Keith Brown, Russ and Elona Shaefer, John Walter and others whose names I  can’t bring to the “surface:”

I’ve never had a job I loved as much as that summer one at NAWC, or people I had so much in common with there.   I also had a chance to meet the head of NAWC, the famous Robert D. Elliott, whom I came to admire so much while at NAWC.  My assignment at NAWC was mainly to draw weather maps of frontal systems coming into southern California and “lake effects” for the Great Salt Lake in winter.  I was in heaven.

Back at San Jose State in the fall of 1968, I started a tiny forecast blurb on the front page of the Spartan Daily.  It devolved into political satire at the suggestion of the Daily’s editor after one my forecasts, “…with the stratus, not the campus, burning off by noon.”  There had been some fires set in trash cans by protestors the day before on the San Jose State campus.   The Daily editor said I should do more of that, and off I went into some pretty lame stuff.  Oh, well; “let’s move along now, nothing to see here.”

I also began to write opinion pieces in the San Jose State Daily, mostly due to the encouragement of Prof.  Phil Wander, my speech teacher.  I deem him one of the most important influences in my life. He thought I had something to say, such as this from a talk I gave in his class:

I was also writing articles for the college paper on ending student funding of intercollegiate athletics due to Governor Reagan’s budget cuts, pollution and the effects on minorities (above), suggesting parking costs be based on the number of people in the car, and on the war in Vietnam, the latter as many others were.  My SJS experience is pretty much reprised in the “friendly” article below, miniaturized for the sake of humility, of which, I probably don’t have enough of:

I graduated from modest San José State College, as it was known then, with a Bachelor of Arts degree in meteorology in January 1969.   My grades, for so much effort I put into my meteorology classes with lots of math were,  nevertheless, mostly mediocre except in synoptic classes.  However,  I was a good weather map drawer and getting A’s in synoptic classes really helped raise my grade point average.

Perhaps due to writing topical articles in the SJS Spartan Daily,   I received the Meteorology Department’s Achievement Award when I graduated in January 1969.  Egad.   I was never sure I deserved it with big hitters and great students like future NCAR cloud modeler, Bill Hall, and other top students like Norm Hoffman, Chris Fontana, in my class getting “A’s.”

An example of over valuing my satirical talent that were on display in the Spartan Daily weather forecasts,  in the summer of 1969, I went to KRLA-AM in Los Angeles to suggest that I could be a weather forecaster for them.  KRLA was a top 40 station whose news team suddenly began doing news satire in 1968, and they dared to offend.   What they did was astounding to me and was even noted in Time magazine!

I wondered if I could be their weather forecaster, and maybe chip in to the their comedy team,  later called,  “The Credibility Gap”.  I showed a page of my Spartan Daily forecasts to a young Harry Shearer, a member of the KRLA satirical news team.  He quickly glanced across them and summarized his thoughts on them like this; “They’re not that funny, are they?”  End of interview.

I hung around San Jose State attending graduate classes until the spring of 1970.   At that time I was offered a job as an assistant weather forecaster with the nation’s largest ever randomized mountain cloud seeding experiment headquartered in Durango, CO,.  Funded by the Bureau of Reclamation, it was called the Colorado River Basin Pilot Project (CRBPP).   I was hired after being interviewed by J. Owen Rhea of E. G. & G, Inc.  in San Jose!  E. G. & G., Inc. had just been selected over North American Weather Consultants (NAWC) as the seeding contractor for the CRBPP.  Owen was going to be the lead forecaster under Paul T. Willis, the E. G. & G., Inc., Project Manager.

I really didn’t belong in grad school, either; too many equations.  Nevertheless,  it was hard to leave the excitement of SJS of those days.  SJS track stars, Tommy Smith and John Carlos had just drawn national attention to SJS,  that season’s NCAA track champion,  at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City with their raised, “black power” fists.

I also received a job offer from NAWC in Goleta, CA, at that time, too.  I did not know until decades later that they were finalists in bidding on the same contract that E. G. & G., Inc. had won from the Bureau of Reclamation for the seeding and forecasting operations for the Colorado River Basin Pilot Project.

But the job in Durango seemed so important and exciting; I was going to be a part of a giant scientific experiment to see if cloud seeding worked and so that’s where I went.  The thought that it was exciting that I would also be living in a new climate after a lifetime in California’s.

1970:  It was now seven years since Joanne had advised me to give up the idea of being a meteorologist.  And now I was going to enter a field that she was a top expert in; weather modification by cloud seeding.


On a clear day you can see Flagstaff

Of course, you can’t see the TOWN of Flagstaff, you silly person, the title was just a hook to get you here to read about clouds!  The earth curves too much for you to see Flagstaff, for Pete’s Sake. How could you even imagine that such a title could be true?

But, you CAN see the tops of Cumulonimbus clouds boiling upward OVER Flagstaff, maybe there is someone you know there and you could call them about it, find out how much it has rained.  Those Cumulonimbus tops stick up above the horizon in that direction about a quarter of an inch if you were to take a ruler out and hold it out in front of you.  Thought you’d like to know this.

Here’s the scene I am describing from yesterday afternoon.  In case you wouldn’t know what to say to your Flagstaff friend, I’ve tried to help you out in the caption for the second photo.  Maybe its your mom you haven’t called in a while….  Who knows who it might be that you know up there?

1:27 PM. The scene. Cumulonimbus tops, likely above 40,000 feet above sea level, lined the higher terrain of the Rim to the NW-NE from Catalina yesterday afternoon.  BTW, I really like Catalina.  Who would have dreamed I would end up HERE coming from Seattle!

1:27 PM. Arrow points to a top right by Flagstaff!  If you have a friend or a relative up there because its too hot here, you could have called from Catalina yesterday and said, “Hi, I see its raining up there.  Are you getting much?  Friend:  “How do you know its raining? Did you look at some radar?”  You reply, “No, I can see the cloud over you from here, I really didn’t need to look at the radar.”

Finishing off today’s lesson: The tops you see are ALMOST always completely composed of ICE crystals and snowflakes because they too damn cold at 40,000 feet or so (temperature less than -40 C, less than -40 F; they are the same numeric at that temperature, yet another piece of knowledge for you) for anything but ice we think.

Some embarrassed people have reported liquid water at temperatures below -50 C such as Robert H. Simpson, former head of the National Hurricane Center and also husband of the late Joanne Simpson, famed Cumulus researcher and FIRST WOMAN TO EVER RECEIVE A PH. D. in meteorology1.  Must’ve have been an especially great marriage because they both loved weather and clouds and hurricanes and probably talked about ’em all day.

Continuing with something relevant, once when Bob (Simpson) was in Seattle giving a talk, after the talk I said to him, smiling, “You must be pretty embarrassed about reporting liquid water at -62 C”, as he did in 1962 in a conference paper, and again in 1963 in the peer-reviewed journal, the Monthly Weather Review.

He smiled and said, “The theoreticians don’t think its there, but its there.”


The weather today and the next few days into August?

Scattered rains, lightning thunder EVERY day into August! I am so happy. More rain is on the doorstep.  Take a look below at what this extra rain we’ve had so far in July has already done to our desert as of three days ago, July 25th.  Its incredible, isn’t it?  I call it, the “re-jungle-ation” of Arizona accompanied by the appearance of new life forms; see last photo.

1Joanne Simpson, after reviewing my grades, advised me to give up meteorology. She was a professor at UCLA then (1963), and I wanted to “walk on” as a met student in their program. In effect, though I didn’t realize it then, she saved me from myself since UCLA was WAY too theoretical for me in the approach to weather. Later I attended San Jose State2, a program much more suited to me with my weak math skills.  (Can you put a footnote in a footnote?)”

2While at SJS in the later 1960s, I was forecasting weather for the college paper, forecasts that devolved into silly, juvenile, lame topical humor, much like the “humor” here.  To drop another name in this blog, I loved what KRLA-AM, a top 40 station in Los Angeles, where I grew up,  was doing in those turbulent days of the late 1960s. They had dared to start a news parody program, recreating news events that they would first report in a serious manner.  It was bold and courageous for a mainstream media station; they dared to offend. I wanted to be a part of it, and went down to apply for summer work there in 1968.

My interviewer?  A young Harry Shearer.  The “Credibility Gap“,  the KRLA news parody team in those days, consisted mainly of Harry, Richard Beebe, and David L. Lander.  An example of their work, “Dawn of New Era for Man”,  KRLA’s 1969 Apollo 11 counter coverage to the major networks; its 8 min long, Arizona’s Papago Indians mentioned.  You can’t find this on the internet!

Back to the interview:  Harry briefly examined my topical forecasts for the SJS paper, ones I presented to him pasted on a blank sheet of paper.  After just a minute or two, he said, “I don’t think they’re that funny.”   It was painful to hear, but upon later reflection, oh, so true!  I left immediately.

I had some low moments in the 1960s, but here I am!