Tropical Paradise at the Foot of the Rockies

Herbert Riehl, founder of the atmospheric sciences department at Colorado State.

The July issue of BAMS features an article by John Lewis, Matthew Fearon, and Harold Klieforth on the legacy of Herbert Riehl, who has been known by his colleagues as “the father of tropical meteorology.”

For most of his career, the home base of Riehl’s great tropical legacy was not in the tropics, however, but first at the University of Chicago and then at Colorado State University, where he founded the Department of Atmospheric Science in 1962. Riehl had been eager to leave Chicago, where merger of departments represented a change to a philosophy less welcoming toward his traditional synoptic-based approach to meteorology. But he also cited personal reasons to want to resettle in Colorado: his daughter benefitted from the drier climate to recover from pneumonia. Riehl spent 1960-61 as a visiting professor in CSU’s civil engineering department, which he then joined initially before starting his own department.
The Department, which offers masters and doctoral degrees, has grown from an initial six faculty to nineteen today with academic and research programs in areas ranging from weather systems to climate dynamics to atmospheric chemistry.
This week (13-14 July 2012) the Department of Atmospheric Science at Colorado State University will celebrate its 50th anniversary with a conference, banquet, and open house in Fort Collins, Colorado.  Information about the anniversary celebration, along with a timeline of historical events, can be found at
The department’s 50th Anniversary Conference on July 13 will feature invited talks by alumni: Mark DeMaria, PhD ’83; Kevin Knupp, PhD ’85; Robert Rauber, PhD ’85; Steve Ackerman, PhD ’87; Thomas Peterson, PhD ’91; Susan van den Heever, PhD ’01; Timothy Lang, PhD ’01; Katherine Straub, PhD ’02; Kevin Gurney, PhD ’04; and Gavin McMeeking, PhD ’08. The luncheon program will be presented by Nolan Doesken, Colorado State Climatologist, and will be followed by a poster session featuring research by former and current students, staff, faculty, and friends of the Department. The 50th Anniversary Banquet in the evening will feature a presentation by alumnus James Fleming ’73, entitled “The Emergence of Atmospheric Science”. This presentation highlights the deep historical roots of atmospheric science — an interdisciplinary field that emerged in the 1960s at the confluence of new ideas, new technologies, and new ways of working together.  As Dr. Fleming notes, “Standing on the shoulders of giants can be enlightening, fun — and sometimes risky.”

CSU Atmospheric Sciences building, 1960s.

CSU Atmospheric Sciences building now.