Peter J. Lamb (1947-2014) remembered.

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” – Maya Angelou


Pete Lamb, George Lynn Cross Research Professor in the School of Meteorology and Director of the University’s Cooperative Institute for Mesoscale Meteorological Studies, passed away suddenly at his home in Norman, Oklahoma last week. Professor Lamb was world-renowned, and so the grieving hasn’t been confined to the University and the Norman OK community. The internet already offers expressions of sorrow from his hometown of Nelson, New Zealand; his colleagues at DoE’s Atmospheric Radiation Program (ARM); and social media. (More encomiums are out there or will surely follow in the days and weeks ahead.)

Pete Lamb made significant research contributions to climate science and its applications. His curriculum vita and bio make for interesting, even inspiring reading in and of themselves. They hint at the extent and nature of his influence… the way he didn’t just teach, but brought out the very best, in generation after generation of students, graduate and undergraduate. His role in shaping the School Of Meteorology at Oklahoma… for years almost singlehandedly providing a balance in climatology to the school’s great strengths and depth in severe weather research. Today it’s hard to imagine our field without applied climatology, but early in Pete’s career, when he was at the University of Illinois and the Illinois State Water Survey, applied climatology was on the fringe. Pete worked with giants in the field such as Stan Changnon to change all that. As the direct result of Pete’s work and that of others, the OU School of Meteorology has helped shape the culture and values of the state of Oklahoma, in a way that other universities might well study and emulate. Pete also made important contributions to the American Meteorological Society. He served as an associate editor of the AMS Journal of Climate for its initial year in 1988, but was then Chief Editor from 1989-1995; more than any other individual, he can be credited for the stature of this journal today. In recent years he has served as editor of Meteorological Monographs, and on the AMS Council and on its Executive Committee, helping shape its direction for years to come.

Most particularly, the biographical material reveals Pete’s untiring work to build capacity at the international level… across Asia, but principally in Africa, especially West Africa. Many Earth scientists content themselves with a brief exposure to international work. They may play a role in a field experiment or two abroad or participate in short-term scientific exchanges and visits. But Pete kept returning to Africa again and again, working across the region, always with in-country scientists, and indeed bringing many of them to the University of Oklahoma for extended schooling and collaboration. He furthered their cause and their work at AMS meetings and in the hallways of federal agencies. He’s changed significantly the outlook for Africa’s ability to cope with coming climate variability and change. The ARM memorial speaks to this. Here’s an excerpt:

Lamb was a key member of the science team for the first and only deployment of the ARM Mobile Facility in Africa to date, for the RADAGAST field campaign, located in Niamey, Niger, in 2006. His research interest in North Africa’s Subsaharan rainfall was notable in securing the field campaign, and he continued to foster that progress through collaborations with the University of Niamey. He recently attended a kick-off meeting for a European Union project designed to complement continuing scientific interest in West African climate research, and was planning to return to Niamey, and nearby Burkina Faso, in June to pursue these research possibilities…

There’s so much more.

Ironically, Pete’s death coincided with that of the great African-American poet Maya Angelou (1928-2014). Her life’s-lesson as captured in today’s quote applies to him as well. We may not remember every detail of what Pete said or did, but we knew that to be around him was to recognize what a privilege it was to study the Earth sciences, and to harness that work in the service of mankind.

Pete, we miss you. You left too quickly, and we didn’t get a chance for a proper goodbye. But every day we’re passing along what you gave to us. Your influence lives on and is growing. You’re continuing to change the world for the better.

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