FORT COLLINS, Colo. (CBS4) – The establishment a new atmospheric science department at Colorado State University in Fort Collins more than 45 years ago was the move that eventually led to the school becoming a nationally respected forecast center for tropical storms and hurricanes. That’s when Dr. William Gray moved to the college as a graduate student.

CBS4 asked the Good Question: Why are hurricane predictions made in Colorado?

Gray was studying under a respected tropical researcher at the University of Chicago in 1961.

“I was at Chicago getting my graduate degrees and Herbert Riehl got mad at them back there, he was on the faculty,” he said. “He was a well known tropical meteorologist and he was offered a job, come out here, form a new department and get it started.”

Gray was one of five graduate students who signed on to move with Riehl. There plan was to study the atmosphere and help answer water issues in the west.

“The next year we had 10 or 12 and then the program’s been growing,” Gray said.

While he was teaching and learning, Gray started researching the warm and cool currents in the Pacific Ocean know as El Ninos and La Ninas.

“But they didn’t know both of them and I just happened to see both of them obvious, gee, when an El Nino occurred, the Atlantic hurricane didn’t have as much,” he said.

Gray looked back at 100 years of weather records to see which other factors spawned hurricanes, including the winds in the stratosphere.

“When they blew from the west, we had more hurricanes than when they blew from the east,” he said.

Gray made his first predictions in 1984 and suddenly Colorado was known as the place for hurricane forecasts.

Phil Klotzbach is now handling most of the hurricane prediction tasks at CSU. That’s likely to keep the tradition of tropical forecasts from CSU going for a long time.

The CSU Department of Atmospheric Science now includes 14 faculty members and has 90 graduate students. They study hurricanes, climate change and other aspects of teh weather.

— Written by Alan Gionet


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