Michio Yanai, 1934-2010

October 20, 2010 · 6 comments

by Robert Fovell, UCLA, and Wen-Wen Tung, Purdue Univ.

Professor Michio Yanai passed away suddenly at his home in Santa Monica on October 13th, at the age of 76.

A seminal figure in tropical meteorology, Professor Yanai grew up in Chigasaki, Japan. He received a D. Sc. in geophysics at the University of Tokyo in 1961 and was an assistant professor at the same university from 1965-1970 before being appointed to a full professorship at UCLA in 1970.

Professor Yanai published a 1964 review paper on the formation of tropical cyclones that served as the most comprehensive reference on the topic for more than a decade. Much of his groundbreaking work continues to guide research even today, including his observations of the mixed Rossby-gravity wave (also known as the Yanai wave), his systematic approach of estimating apparent heat sources (Q1) and moisture sinks (Q2) and associating them with the bulk properties of convective systems, and his diagnostic studies of the Asian monsoon, in particular his pioneering works on the impacts of the Tibetan Plateau on the Asian Monsoon. In 1986, the American Meteorological Society honored him with the Charney Award. In 1993, he received the Fujiwara Award from the Meteorological Society of Japan. His UCLA Tropical Meteorology and Climate Newsletter has been an invaluable resource to the community since its founding in 1996.

This year, Professor Yanai was selected by the AMS to be honored at a special symposium dedicated to his life and career at the 2011 annual meeting in Seattle (Thursday, 27 January).    Professor Yanai was thrilled by this selection, which certainly helped maintain his passion and energy as his health declined, and was a very enthusiastic contributor as the symposium program took shape.  He was scheduled to deliver the closing remarks at the symposium.

The occasion led Professor Yanai to reminisce not only about his life and career but also about the histories and contributions of his colleagues, especially his fellow meteorologists who emerged from post-war Japan.   He also recently embarked on a project to document the evolution of the Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences program at UCLA, which was still called the Department of Meteorology when he joined in 1970.  Professor Yanai was in the midst of collecting oral histories of the department from past and present members of the UCLA family when he passed away. The last UCLA Tropical Meteorology and Climate Newsletter was issued on October 8th.

Although we will greatly miss his presence at the Michio Yanai Symposium, we know he will be there in spirit when we gather to honor his accomplishments, his legacy and his memory.  No one who is so fondly remembered can ever truly be lost.

Professor Yanai is survived by his wife, Yoko; two sons, Takashi and Satoshi; four grandchildren, and a sibling, Tetsuo Yanai of Japan. The family requests that memorial donations may be made to the Professor Emeritus Michio Yanai Memorial Fund in Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences at UCLA. E-mail Dawn M. Zelmanowitz (dawnz@atmos.ucla.edu) for information. Readers are also encouraged to share their memories of Professor Yanai in the comments to this blog post.