Andy Rieger mug

Andy Rieger

“This is what is happening to our earth,” Dr. Ed Kessler told me one summer morning in the late 1990s. “This is not sustainable.”

The retired meteorologist and former head of the National Severe Storms Laboratory couldn’t understand why the newspaper didn’t do something to wake up the world to global warming. The press, I explained, doesn’t react well to slow-moving catastrophes. Give us a plane crash, a tornado or hurricane and we’ll chase it and give the story all the legs it deserves. But an incremental crisis doesn’t get much ink.

He didn’t buy that and kept coming to see me. That was my introduction to Dr. Kessler, a giant in the local, national and international weather industry.

He earned his doctorate at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and moved to Oklahoma in 1964 to become the first director of the National Severe Storms Laboratory. He retired in 1984 and added another passionate cause: Oklahoma politics. He tilted at multiple windmills and lead Oklahoma’s chapter of Common Cause.

Dr. Kessler never shied away from a fight because it was bigger than life. He died in February of 2017, but the industry he and others left behind still thrives in Norman and beyond.

The legacies of Dr. Kessler and his colleague, OU meteorology professor Dr. Yoshi Sasaki, came to mind during a recent visit to the National Weather Museum. The building on Rock Creek Road west of Norman North High School is full of early weather artifacts: radar equipment, parts of airplanes flown through storms, early computers and other devices used to predict and forecast weather.

Doug Forsyth, who died in 2020, was the driving force behind starting the museum. His photo greets museum visitors.

Most observers credit the local weather industry’s early beginnings to Dr. Kessler and Dr. Sasaki. It has grown to more than 500 workers. It’s one of the largest clusters of academic, government and private weather workers in the country. The Norman Chamber of Commerce even has a weather committee.

Dr. Sasaki, who died in 2015, was educated in his native Japan. He was recruited to Texas A&M University in the late 1950s and came to OU in 1960 along with Dr. Walter Saucier to begin the meteorology program here. Dr. Saucier left to begin a similar program at North Carolina State University in 1969.

Later, Dr. Sasaki became the director of the Cooperative Institute for Mesoscale Meteorological Studies. That group links local academics with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Like Dr. Kessler, he had other interests. He was passionate about the Japan Oklahoma Society and helped bring several industries to the state.

The museum chronicling the local weather industry’s growth needs a permanent home besides its rented space at 1200 W. Rock Creek Road. It relies on volunteers and donations. They are open Saturdays by reservation only [www.nationalweathermuseum.com].

A larger, permanent space would be a fitting memorial to the pioneers who put Norman on the weather map.

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