Articles tagged as: 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
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.
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.
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.”
Most of Texas is still in a moderate-to-severe drought, but a storm forming 2,000 miles northwest of Hawaii may be the key to drought relief for the state, says a Texas A&M University professor who also serves as the state climatologist.
John Nielsen-Gammon, professor of atmospheric sciences, says that precipitation everywhere in the state has been running below normal since Oct. 1.
“So far, this has been one of the five driest October-Novembers on record statewide and the driest since 1950,” he explains.
“Most major metropolitan areas of the state received ample rainfall this summer, but it’s been a different story to the south and west. For more than half of the state, the drought of 2011 never went away, and Texas is now into its third year of drought.
“I’m expecting a wet weather pattern to develop next week. The seeds for that pattern are being planted right now, as a storm system intensifies way out in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.”
Nielsen-Gammon says that the storm will cause a wave to develop in the jet stream, driving it northward toward Alaska. Downstream, over the western United States, the jet stream will overshoot to the south, causing a stationary trough to form over the Southwest.
“For wet weather in the wintertime, we need the jet stream to dip southward across the southwest United States so that upper-level winds over Texas are strong and from the southwest,” he notes.
Such a weather pattern allows moisture to be drawn into the state from the Atlantic, while at the same time providing the weather disturbances that convert that moisture into clouds and precipitation.
“When that trough forms over the weekend, we’ll have the necessary ingredients in place for at least one widespread rain event across Texas, and hopefully several of them,” Nielsen-Gammon predicts.
If the storm does develop, it wouldn’t end the drought statewide, but it would improve reservoir levels and provide some last-minute hope for the winter wheat crop, he says.
“Much of the state is bone-dry,” Nielsen-Gammon says. “We really need this wet weather pattern in order for reservoir levels to start moving in the right direction.”
Drought conditions have rapidly expanded across the state. According to the U.S. Drought Monitor, more than 80 percent of the state is in drought, the highest total since March 2012.
Last summer, there had been widespread hope among forecasters that a developing El Nino event in the tropical Pacific would lead to above-normal rainfall across Texas this winter, but the El Nino never materialized, he points out.
“This year’s neutral conditions in the Pacific favor neither an unusually wet winter nor an unusually dry winter,” Nielsen-Gammon explains. “That’s why the dry weather so far has been a surprise.”
To contradict Shakespeare, 2012 was not the winter of discontent — it may go down as the year without a winter at all in many parts of the country, and you can blame — or praise — the jet stream, says a Texas A&M University climate expert.
John Nielsen-Gammon, professor of atmospheric sciences who also serves as state climatologist, says upper level dynamics this year were unusual and the resulting change in the jet stream — a river of air that influences weather patterns — is the likely culprit.
“The jet stream follows a different average course each year, and the end results this time were warmer temperatures,” he explains.
“This is a La Niña year (when water temperatures in the central Pacific Ocean are lower than normal), but the atmosphere did not respond to La Niña in the normal way,” adds the Texas A&M professor who has studied weather patterns for years.
Nielsen-Gammon points to another, less well-known factor, the North Atlantic Oscillation, as an important cause of the unusual weather.
“The jet stream in the North Atlantic often gets locked into either a southern route or a northern route,” Nielsen-Gammon explains. “The last two winters, it was the southern route. This year, it was the northern route, bringing the central and eastern United States warm air masses as the air traveled from south to north.”
One key question might be: Does this mean we should expect another warmer- than- normal summer?
“Not necessarily,” Nielsen-Gammon reports.
“Right now, the Climate Prediction Center’s outlooks show a tendency towards a warmer than usual summer across much of the United States, but a lot depends on the rain between now and then. More rain would mean cooler weather because the moisture keeps temperatures lower. We should know more about the summer outlook in the next few weeks. Certainly March has already had some very warm temperatures all over the country.”
Last week, more than 1,700 records were set for high temperatures from coast to coast, with many cities, such as Chicago, Boston and Washington, D.C., posting readings almost 20 degrees above normal.
“The good news locally is that rains in central and eastern Texas have eased the drought situation considerably, and lakes and reservoirs and filling back up,” the Texas A&M researcher reports. “More and more of the state is getting out of extreme drought status. But there are still large parts of west and south Texas that are very dry.”
The bad news is that the warmer weather means many people are suffering from allergies sooner than ever because pollen from plants and trees is out sooner, and there is more of it, he adds. Also, the warmer weather could mean more insects in the weeks to come.
“But I think it’s worth all that just to get to experience the beauty of Texas wildflowers,” says Nielsen-Gammon.
Despite recent rains, much of Texas is still in a severe drought and the long-term outlook is mixed, according to a Texas A&M University expert with a long track record of studying the state’s often mysterious weather conditions.
John Nielsen-Gammon, Regents Professor of Atmospheric Sciences who also serves as the state climatologist, says recent rains have helped to alleviate conditions over parts of the state, with some areas reporting the wettest February ever. But much of Texas still needs a lot of rainfall to break a year-long drought that has been one of the worst in history, he contends.
“Both December and January were above normal for Texas rainfall, and combined, October through January were near normal,” Nielsen-Gammon reports.
“But despite recent rains at the end of the year, when the final numbers are in, calendar year 2011 rainfall will probably come in second to 1917 for the driest year on record.
“A few counties in the Dallas area are now drought-free, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor, but in most of the rest of the state, the recent rains have only partly improved conditions.”
Many of the state’s lakes and reservoirs have yet to recover, says Nielsen-Gammon. Some lakes are still down 10 to 20 feet or more.
“Most reservoirs in the Dallas area are full, and some in Northeast and East Texas have shown substantial improvement since last fall,” he notes. “At the same time, most major reservoirs in western and southern Texas have yet to show much improvement.
“It takes time for reservoirs to fill,” he adds. “The first rains simply make the top of the soil moist. The next storms will allow water to penetrate deeper into the soil and to start producing runoff as the soil cannot absorb much more water. Lakes and reservoirs are typically the last to respond to changing drought conditions.”
Nielsen-Gammon says the soil situation can be compared to what he calls the “dunked biscotti” model named after the Italian hard biscuit. “Like a dunked biscotti, the outer layer of the ground is moist and loose, while deeper layers are still dry and crunchy,” he says.
Long-range forecasts are not especially rosy, he adds.
The 2011 drought set records all over the state, and summer temperatures hit all-time highs in several locations, adding to the drought misery. The drought caused dozens of wildfires, and the Texas Forest Service has estimated that dry conditions have killed tens of millions of trees in Texas.
“Although this La Niña year has been relatively wet, the Climate Prediction Center is still calling for below-normal rainfall through June,” Nielsen-Gammon says. “Still, though, Texas is set up for a major rain event Friday and Saturday, with more rain likely during the middle of next week. At this rate, we might end up with one of those rare wet La Niña years, which would be great.
“A large portion of our rain typically falls in May, and this spring will make the difference for reservoirs in drier portions of the state. By summertime, the odds have evened out and it could easily be wet or dry. But the bad news is that the summer forecast calls for enhanced chance of above-normal temperatures, which would increase evaporation and water demands.”