Michio Yanai, 1934-2010

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 ([email protected]) for information. Readers are also encouraged to share their memories of Professor Yanai in the comments to this blog post.

6 thoughts on “Michio Yanai, 1934-2010”

  1. I fondly remember my visit to UCLA at the invitation of Michio in February 1999, not long after finishing my Ph.D. at the University of Colorado. Michio was a very gracious host, and took a keen interest in my work on equatorial waves. At about the same time Michio led an e-mail dicussion on tropical dynamics that involved a large portion of the most experienced tropical researchers. It was a great eye-opener for me as a relatively new scientist in the field. Thankyou Michio!

  2. Professor Yanai- thank you for thirty years of never stopping encouraging me to broaden my horizons, to develop deeper appreciation for cultures, and to have the courage to speak up for my thoughts. You enriched so many aspects of my life. It’s a great privilege to be your student. I am truly profoundly grateful for all the blessings! Thank you, Professor Yanai. Mong-Ming

  3. I am deeply shocked by the sudden news. Prof. Yanai had been continuously encouraging our studies with a global nonhydrostatic model, and I was looking forward to meeting him at the AMS Yanai simposium next January. He was planning to issue a newsletter (No.92) on cyclone Nargis which caused disaster in Myanmar 2008. We were communicating on this next issue of the newsletter last week. We cannot beleave we no longer receive the continuous and stimulus newsletters from Prof. Yanai.

  4. Prof. Yanai was the head of my masters committee at UCLA and I did my thesis under him way back in 1971 – of course, on Yanai waves. He was a patient, unassuming, and gracious man. I could not have asked for someone more helpful. So, I immediately get a job at NOAA and work on topics having nothing to do with large-scale tropical meteorology. Then, guess what? I am back dealing with large scale tropical meteorology more than 30 years later. He knew more than most, before it was popular, the importance of the tropics to global weather and climate.

  5. I was very fortunate to have met Professor Yanai for the first time when I just started as a graduate student at University of Washington. It was the Thanksgivings Day in 1969, when I went to Seattle Airport to pick up him in his first(?) visit to the U.S. I have learned so much and benefited so much from his work and friendship since then. After he retired from UCLA he sent me a photo that he took in that rainy day in 1969 at UW, with Professors Reed, Holton and Wallace, and Veron Kousky and myself, a most valuable reminder of a time when I had little idea of what I was getting into for my career life. How ironic that I last saw him last month (September 28, 2010) also at UW at the Wallace Symposium. In addition to his scientific contributions, his generousity and affection for people influence me just as much and will forever be in my memory.

  6. It was during my graduate course of the University of Tokyo that I first met Professor Yanai, who was there to give a seminar. We
    discussed my earlier Ph. D work on a theory of tropical large-
    scale convection. Insights from the great professor with wide-ranging observational backgrounds were more than instructive
    for the newcomer to the research scene. I was thrown into a sort
    of culture shock by learning his way to link model outputs to hard evidence of tropical convection. At the same, we happened
    to know that we shared keen interest in classical music, which
    triggered our years-long, e-mail conversations about music – as frequently, or more frequently than science. They had lasted until early this autumn. He sent me a package of LA Phil pamphlet every time after he watched the concert live in Walt Disney Hall. A piece of condensed research paper was always enclosed behind it – special article of the professor’s choice. I truly miss the wonderful scientific discussion we shared, and the excitement of opening the thick, orange manila envelope and browsing through the gorgeous music pamphlet. Thank you, Yanai-sensei.

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