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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7 Responses to Peter J. Lamb (1947-2014) remembered.

  1. Quyen Wickham says:

    Very nice obit. Thank you.

  2. Jon Malay says:

    I’m deeply touched by this beautiful piece by Bill Hooke, but I’m mostly terribly saddened by news of the loss of such a wonderful person and friend. Pete’s service on the AMS leadership team during my own term gave me a chance, however brief, to see what a truly great man he was. Let me simply say that whenever he quietly spoke up in any boisterous meeting, everyone would stop and listen. Such was his superb brilliance, quiet authority, and personal warmth. Our community and this Earth he loved so much will miss him dearly.

  3. Josh Foster says:

    Pete also laid the groundwork for the first regional Seasonal Climate Outlook Forum in Africa in Niamey, Nigeria in 1996. The guidelines at this meeting fortuitously set the stage for forecast of and organized global response to the 1997-98 El Nino mega-event a year later establishing broad awareness and legitimacy of seasonal and long-term forecasting as a policy tool for managing risks and impacts from climate variability and change. In the US, the legacy of these events includes establishment of a network of Federally supported (NOAA, DOI, and USDA) regional applied climate research centers dedicated to improving climate services, including two co-located at the University of Oklahoma, and one in El Reno, OK. We owe Pete a debt for helping us to be where we are today…

  4. Arlene Laing says:

    Dear Bill,

    It is a very sad time for many of us the world over. I was privileged to know Peter from his work on African climate, meeting him in Africa at conferences, and as his fellow lecturer at the 2010 summer school in Ghana, and most recently from working with him and others on the 2011 NCAR colloquium on African weather and climate. Here is what I shared on the page set up by the graduate students’ attendees,“>:

    The atmospheric science community has suffered a great loss. Peter’s research provided critical information about physical and dynamical processes that influence climate variability. This work was most critical to understanding climate in Africa, whose societies are vulnerable to climate extremes. Peter will be greatly missed by the generations of African students that he mentored. He was not only an excellent scientist; he also focused on the application of that science to the good of society. He led by example in demonstrating how to use scientific knowledge to help society prepare for climate related impacts with projects such as Rainwatch, a system that provides an alert for rainfall extremes in the Sahel.

    Others are better suited to speak of his contribution to international science programs and field projects. I will speak of my experiences with Peter in how he related to students. Peter was always willing to share his guidance and wisdom with students, e.g., advising and advocating for graduate students, teaching at the AMMA summer schools, and helping to organize and lecture at the NCAR colloquium on African weather and climate. The colloquium attendees appreciated not only his scientific lectures; they cited his panel discussion talk as outstanding. In that panel, on lessons learned for successful collaboration in Africa, he spoke of encouraging independence, forging personal relationships, and helping Africans to help themselves. He reminded the students that they were the future leaders of science in Africa and of their responsibility to use their science to benefit Africa and its development.

    On a personal level, Peter was friendly and easy to talk with. Although he was from the southern midlatitudes and I am from the northern tropics, we had some similar high school experiences from having attended British-styled boarding schools. He was also involved in organizing old school friends to help their old school, further exemplifying his friendship and service.

    His legacy and memory remain with us.

    On behalf of the 2011 NCAR ISP colloquium,
    Arlene Laing

  5. William H. Hooke says:

    Here’s a link to more material on the OU/National Weather Center website:

  6. Thank you Bill for your perfect words – a gentle giant in the world of African meteorology, Pete is so very deeply missed by us all.

    Determined not to disappoint, Aondover (Tarhule) and I stuck to our recent travel plans made with Pete and travelled to Burkina and Ghana. With the full support of DMN-Burkina and GMet, our NGO and in-country research partners, we have now extended the Rainwatch monitoring platform and are working together to ensure the poorest and most vulnerable communities in these countries not only have access to climate information but also have the ability to respond to that information. (Tarhule and Lamb, 2003). In all this deep sadness, let us work hard together to “take the torch left by Pete much further, to honor his work and dedication to African research.” (Filipe Lucio, Head Global Framework for Climate Services (GFCS) Office, WMO)

    Ros Cornforth

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