Articles tagged as: John Nielsen-Gammon

September 10, 2013

Lessons We Learned From Hurricane Ike

Sept.13 marks the fifth anniversary of the landfall of Hurricane Ike on the Texas coast, a date for many that will live in infamy. Despite its Category 2 ranking when it hit, Ike caused more than $30 billion in damage and the lessons learned from it could be crucial ones for future preparedness, says a Texas A&M storm expert.

John Nielsen-Gammon, a professor of atmosphere sciences who also serves as State Climatologist, says Ike was not your normal storm.  It was far more powerful than many believed at the time.

Ike made landfall at 2:10 a.m. on Sept. 13 over Galveston.  Winds were clocked at 110 miles per hour, putting it into the Category 2 ranking, one reason why many people did not heed warnings to leave.

“Ike was a big storm that almost filled the entire Gulf of Mexico,” Nielsen-Gammon explains.

a neighborhood devasted by a storm

Hurricane Ike caused $30 billion in damages to Texas. Photo: Shutterstock

“But it was not especially an intense storm.  What made Ike so dangerous was the huge storm surge it created.  It was a Category 2 storm that produced Category 4 storm surge. The storm surge began earlier than forecasted, and it took a lot of people off guard.

“That has to be one big lesson we learned from Ike: a moderate storm can still pack a very big punch.”

Storm surge reached a record 22 feet at Sabine Pass and was 15-20 feet at numerous other locations.

More than 100,000 homes and businesses were flooded, most of them in the Galveston area. The small towns of Crystal Beach and Gilchrist were virtually destroyed.

Despite repeated warnings from officials to leave, it is estimated that as many as 40 percent of residents in the mandatory evacuation zone – most of them in Galveston – decided not to evacuate.  Even an unusually harsh statement from the National Weather Service that said people who remained “would face certain death” failed to motivate many residents from leaving.

“One reason many people probably decided not to leave was that they remembered Hurricane Rita a few years earlier in 2005,” Nielsen-Gammon said.

“Rita came just a few weeks after Katrina, and was also a major hurricane.  Many people evacuated who would have been safer staying put, and those that did evacuate were caught up in huge traffic jams. Close to 100 people were killed by the evacuation.

“With Ike, the pendulum swung the other way,” he recalls. “Many people stayed put who wished in retrospect they had evacuated. The storm took out power lines throughout the region, and lots of people were unprepared for several days without power. No electricity means no air conditioning, no functioning refrigerator or freezer, and no gasoline at the pump.”

In the final analysis, Ike did at least $30 billion in damages and killed 112 people in the U.S., at least 37 of those were Texans. It was the third costliest storm in U.S. history.

“As bad as Ike was, it could have been much worse,” Nielsen-Gammon adds.

“If the storm had tracked a little more to the west, Galveston would have been hit much harder than it was. We do have better evacuation plans today, such as contra-flow traffic and even our advance warnings have improved. Before Rita, the worst storm was Alicia in 1983, so the Houston-Galveston area went a long time before residents had to deal with one.

“But the bottom line is, be prepared. Know whether your home is vulnerable to storm surge, and expect that the next storm could be better or worse than the forecast.”

Media contact:  Keith Randall, News & Information Services, at (979) 845-4644 or John Nielsen-Gammon at (979) 862-2248

June 5, 2013

Don’t Seek Shelter From Tornado Under A Highway Overpass

Q: Is it really safer under a highway overpass during a tornado?

tornadoes forming over a city

Tornadoes forming over a city. Photo: Shutterstock

A: The answer is definitely not, says John Nielsen-Gammon of Texas A&M University. “This is a myth that has developed over the past few years,” Nielsen-Gammon explains.  “It may have arisen because there are several filmed incidents of people crouching by the girders of a highway overpass while a tornado passes overhead.  But several studies show that being under an overpass may be one of the very worst places to be in a tornado. One of the main concerns is that there is no protection from the flying debris associated with a tornado, and debris whirled around at up to 300 miles per hour is the main cause of injuries caused by a tornado.”

Q: So what’s the best thing to do?

A: “If you’re driving and see a tornado, evaluate your options,” Nielsen-Gammon says.  “If you’re in a rural area, it’s usually possible to get out of its way.  Stop and figure out if it’s going to pass in front of you or behind you, then go the other way, keeping a distance of at least three miles.  Usually the south side of the tornado is safest, because you avoid most of the hail and heavy rain and you can see the danger better.  In an urban area, traffic will limit your maneuverability, so often the best choice is to find a secure building and take refuge.  The walk-in freezers in restaurants and grocery stores can provide protection against even the strongest twisters.  In the worst-case scenario, if you’re out in the open with no escape, lie down in a ditch or low spot and cover your head.  The idea is to avoid being blown away or have other debris be blown into you.”

Weather Whys is a service of the Department of Atmospheric Sciences at Texas A&M University.

May 28, 2013

Wu and Nielsen-Gammon Receive 2013 Sigma Xi Awards

Guoyao Wu, Distinguished Professor in the Department of Animal Science, and John Nielsen-Gammon, Regents Professor in the Department of Atmospheric Sciences and Texas State Climatologist, have been recognized by the Texas A&M University Chapter of Sigma Xi, The Scientific Research Society as 2013 recipients of the chapter’s awards which celebrate scientific excellence. The awards were presented at Sigma Xi’s annual Induction and Awards Banquet held last Friday.

These awards are presented annually to recognize faculty members who have demonstrated research and teaching excellence, made significant contributions to their profession and general science, as well as exhibited superior skill and dedication to improving science education.

Guoyao Wu

Guoyao Wu

Wu received the 2013 Outstanding Distinguished Scientist Award. His research interests include the biochemistry, nutrition, and physiology of amino acids in animals at molecular, cellular and whole body levels. Wu has received numerous awards including the Association of Former Students’ Distinguished Research Achievement Award and the Vice Chancellor’s Award in Excellence for Team Research from The Texas A&M University System. He is a member and elected fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Wu has published 380 papers in peer-reviewed journals and authored 48 book chapters and one book entitled Amino Acids: Biochemistry and Nutrition.

John Nielsen-Gammon

John Nielsen-Gammon

Nielsen-Gammon received the 2013 Outstanding Science Communicator Award. His research includes drought monitoring and forecasting, air pollution meteorology and data assimilation. Nielsen-Gammon recently received Texas A&M’s College of Geosciences 2012 Dean’s Distinguished Achievement Award, the Distinguished Achievement Award for Service and the Texas A&M SEC Faculty Achievement Award. He is a fellow of the American Meteorological Society and past chair of the American Meteorological Society’s Board on Higher Education. Nielsen-Gammon has been published in over 50 pieces of literature and authored six book chapters and two books. Currently, he writes a column about weather and climate issues for the Houston Chronicle.

Awards to recognize the accomplishments of elementary and secondary educators were also presented at the banquet.

Mandy M. Mechura, fifth grade math teacher at Cypress Grove Intermediate in College Station received the 2013 Elementary School Award for Outstanding Math Teacher. In addition to teaching regular and advanced math classes, Mechura evaluates and assists new teachers, leads the school’s math club and mentors new teachers through a program called Texas A&M Mentoring.

Hudson Cody Blair, sixth grade science teacher at Cypress Grove Intermediate in College Station was the recipient of the 2013 Middle School Award for Outstanding Science Teacher Award. Blair is a member of the Technology Roundtable, which advises the College Station Independent School District on current and future technology decisions. He is also a member of the campus Advancement Via Individual Determination (AVID) team. This program helps students from disadvantaged backgrounds with advanced course work that puts them on track for college.

Denise Rothrock, physics and astronomy instructor at Madisonville High School in Madisonville received the 2013 High School Award for Outstanding Science Teacher. Rothrock was chosen to participate in a program at the Summer Astronomy Institute in Berkeley, CA. and spent three weeks studying astronomy education and conducting hands-on astronomy activities. Through this program, her students were able to discover two previously undocumented asteroids, one of which was named “Madisonville High” in honor of their school.

Sigma Xi is an international, multidisciplinary research society honoring scientists whose work promotes scientific enterprise and rewarding excellence in scientific research. Founded in 1886 at Cornell University, Sigma Xi has grown to include 500 chapters across North America and around the world at colleges and universities. To date, there are about 70,000 active members, more than 200 of which are Nobel Prize recipients.

The Texas A&M Chapter of Sigma Xi was chartered July 1, 1951, with a mission “to recognize, encourage and promote scientific research at Texas A&M University and to honor the community of science scholars.”

About research at Texas A&M University:  As one of the world’s leading research institutions, Texas A&M is in the vanguard in making significant contributions to the storehouse of knowledge, including that of science and technology. Research conducted at Texas A&M represents an annual investment of more than $700 million. That research creates new knowledge that provides basic, fundamental and applied contributions resulting in many cases in economic benefits to the state, nation and world. To learn more, visit


Media Contact: Dell Billings, 979.845.8369,


April 10, 2013

John Nielsen-Gammon Wins SEC Faculty Award

John Nielsen-Gammon

John Nielsen-Gammon

John Nielsen-Gammon, Regents Professor of Atmospheric Sciences at Texas A&M University who also serves as State Climatologist and is recognized as one of the leading climate experts in the world, has been named a winner of the 2013 Southeastern Conference Faculty Achievement Award.

Established by the SEC presidents, the SEC Faculty Achievement Award recognizes professors within the SEC for their accomplishments, scholarly contributions and discoveries. Each of the SEC’s 14 member schools selects a professor for the award, and one of them will be named SEC Professor of the Year later this spring.

Winners of the Faculty Achievement Award receive a $5,000 honorarium and the Professor of the Year winner receives an additional $15,000 honorarium and will be honored at the annual SEC awards dinner in Destin, Fla., and also at the SEC Symposium in Atlanta.

To be eligible for the SEC Faculty Achievement Award and SEC Professor of the Year Award, an individual must be a teacher or scholar at an SEC institution, have attained the rank of full professor at an SEC university, have a record of extraordinary teaching and have a record of scholarship that is recognized nationally or internationally.

The SEC is believed to be the first Division I NCAA conference to honor faculty for their achievements in research and scholarship that are completely unrelated to athletics or student-athletes.

The SEC Faculty Achievement and SEC Professor of the Year awards are both part of a set of non-athletically related programs and activities the SEC has undertaken through its SECU Academic Initiative.

Texas A&M Provost and Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs Karan Watson, in announcing that Nielsen-Gammon has won the 2013 SEC Faculty Achievement Award, said, “Texas A&M faculty ensure our excellence as a university through their reputation for outstanding teaching, research and service.  While known for athletic excellence, the SEC makes an investment in recognizing the role of all faculty in making great universities. I am proud to join the SEC in recognizing Dr. John Nielsen-Gammon as the recipient of our inaugural SEC Faculty Achievement Award.

“John’s scholarship in meteorology, climate change and air quality have enlightened our students and expanded the research in these fields. John engages his work with the people of Texas and beyond, through his publications, media and outreach, helping us all to understand the impacts and onset of the Texas drought and severe weather.”

Nielsen-Gammon, a native of California, earned three degrees from Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He joined Texas A&M in 1991 and has been active in teaching and research ever since. In 2000, he was appointed by then- Gov. George W. Bush to be Texas State Climatologist, and in that role, he provides a wealth of data to whomever needs it – businesses, government agencies, educational groups or farmer or ranchers wanting weather data.

He’s been honored with numerous teaching awards, including the Distinguished Teaching Award from The Association of Former Students and the Editor’s Award from the American Meteorological Society. Also, he has been named a Presidential Faculty Fellow by the National Science Foundation.

In 2011, he received the Newsmaker Image Award, presented by the Division of Marketing & Communications at Texas A&M. The award is presented annually to an individual or group who has gone “the extra mile” in assisting Texas A&M with its media efforts and for helping to create a positive image of the university by demonstrating the highest ideals and goals.

He is frequently interviewed by many of the country’s leading media outlets, such as the New York Times, CNN, FOX News and the Weather Channel, and also by international outlets in Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom and many others.

The SEC was established on Dec. 8, 1932 and is headquartered in Birmingham, Ala. Member schools include the University of Alabama, University of Arkansas, Auburn University, University of Florida, University of Georgia, University of Kentucky, Louisiana State University, University of Mississippi, Mississippi State University, University of Missouri, University of South Carolina, University of Tennessee, Texas A&M University and Vanderbilt University.

Media contact: Keith Randall, News & Information Services, at (979) 845-4644

February 14, 2013

Weather Expert Nielsen-Gammon: Have Maps, Will Travel

Keeping up with John Nielsen-Gammon could make for a good TV reality show – just make sure you have a 25-hour clock and a handful of Rand McNally maps to chart his many travels.

John Nielsen-Gammon

John Nielsen-Gammon

The Texas A&M University atmospheric sciences professor has, in addition to his teaching and research duties, served as the Texas State Climatologist since 2000. Until recently, most people in the state had never heard of the office, let alone knew what the state climatologist was doing. Fast forward to late 2010, when the state began to get really dry, and then on to 2011, when Texas was officially in its worst one-year drought in the state’s history and rain was something only seen in a science book.

Lakes dried up, streams went silent, ranchers were forced to sell off much of their herds and an estimated 300 million trees died in the state due to lack of water. All heads turned to Nielsen-Gammon, and a collective question of “what the heck is going on here” was asked of him on a daily basis.

Suddenly, the Texas A&M professor was everywhere – speaking at a cattlemen’s association meeting in Amarillo, a fire-weather workshop in Corpus Christi, a river planning meeting in Wichita Falls, a landowner’s meeting in Lufkin, along with interviews with national and international media outlets, and of course The Weather Channel. A news tracking service reveals that he is approached 1,000 media mentions during the past year alone.

The Texas drought may have abated some – at least for the time being – but Nielsen-Gammon’s daily schedule would still rival a head of state. A typical day in his life: testifying in Austin before the state legislature about the current Texas drought and prospects for rain in the next few months, then heading back to Aggieland to teach a laboratory class, then hopping on a plane to Florida a few hours later to brief livestock owners nationwide on the long-range forecast.

“It’s all part of the job, but things do get hectic sometimes,” Nielsen-Gammon says from his office, which not surprisingly, is usually covered with charts and graphs and stacks of data about Texas weather.

“When I became state climatologist years ago, I might give 3-4 interviews the entire year. Now, sometimes I give that many every week. The last few years have been a historic time for the state because of the drought, and it has affected millions of people, most of them not in a good way. It’s my job to let them know what’s going on and what they can expect.”

Texas A&M officials have formally submitted proposals asking that the state fully fund the State Climatologist office, which currently is internally supported by the university at about $50,000 per year. The additional funding would serve as seed money for research and provide for a consistently high level of climate services to all agencies, companies, groups and individuals.

Texas A&M graduate students Brent McRoberts, David Coates, Matt Raper and undergraduate Andrew Cook help Nielsen-Gammon part-time with reports and forecasts.

All but two states – Tennessee and Rhode Island – have a state climatologist office. The Office of the State Climatologist serves as the clearinghouse for climate information for the state of Texas. The OSC issues regular climate updates and conducts research on climate monitoring and climate prediction in Texas and the southern United States.

The two largest ongoing research projects in the OSC are funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, but they have particular relevance to Texas. One is devoted to accurately measuring drought severity on a community-by-community basis, while the other is a collaboration with Texas A&M AgriLife faculty to provide forecasts of future drought conditions and their impacts on crops.

“Because so many people in Texas make their living in agriculture and ranching, there is a tremendous amount of interest in the weather and weather patterns,” Nielsen-Gammon explains. “The last few years have been really hard on farmers and ranchers. We try to give them the best information possible so they can make hard decisions that affect their lives and businesses.”

Along those lines, he agreed a few years ago to write a monthly blog for the Houston Chronicle titled “Climate Abyss” that discusses Texas weather, and it invites reader exchanges that can be lively, to say the least. He was featured in an article in Texas Monthly magazine last summer about his role as the state’s chief climate person, and in 2012 he was named winner of Texas A&M’s Newsmaker Award that is presented annually to a faculty member who has made a positive impact on the school with his or her efforts in working with the media.

“I have to admit that now, I am much more aware of what a deadline means to the media. If I’m not giving them the information they need, they’re not passing it along to everyone else,” he says of his news exposure.

“Also, I have learned about sound bites, and how to keep things not too technical, and especially how to answer in short sentences. Interviews are part of this job, and if they can help people, I will gladly do them.”

John Nielsen-Gammon in 4 different poses




Media contact: Keith Randall, News & Information Services, at (979) 845-4644 or John Nielsen-Gammon at (979) 862-2248

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