(Inside Science Currents) -- When I heard the news that hurricane forecasting pioneer William Gray had died on Saturday, I couldn't help but remember how very important Dr. Gray was to my science writing career.
During my senior year of high school, my class was assigned to write a research term paper on a career that we were interested in pursuing. After careful thought, I chose meteorology. I loved science and had always been interested in how fast weather conditions can change. While investigating what exactly meteorologists do, I stumbled up an article that featured research by Gray about how dust from the sub-Saharan desert could spawn hurricanes half way around the globe – I was hooked! After more and more research, I ended up writing a paper titled "Breakthroughs in Hurricane Forecasting" showcasing all of the cool information that learned. I got an "A."
A few months later, I declared my major as meteorology at Pennsylvania State University where I plunged head first into learning about satellite meteorology and working for Penn State's campus weather service. Even though my interests broadened – I became fascinated with volcanoes too -- and I ended up changing my major to Geography, I never lost my fascination with hurricanes and severe weather.
After college, I became a science writer and was thrilled to learn that Gray would be attending an American Meteorological Society meeting that I was assigned to cover. I knew it would be a long shot but I took a chance that I would run into him and brought my term paper. I spotted him during a break in the sessions. I introduced myself and explained how I had written about his research in high school and it had inspired me to become a science writer. I asked for his autograph – like a science fangirl. He was gracious and kind and seemed to get a kick out of my enthusiasm. He encouraged me to keep learning and said that science writing was important in communicating science to the public. It was a brief encounter but such a thrill for me to talk personally with the man who inspired my career and a lifelong interest in hurricanes.
Dr. William Mason Gray died on April 16. This obituary from Colorado State University, where Gray was an emeritus professor of atmospheric science, offers more information about his life and research.