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Chester Newton's Subtle Ways Leave Positive Impact on His Colleagues

Photo of Chester Newton
Chester Newton receives the 1995 Rossby Medal from CGD's Warren Washington, outgoing AMS president. (Photo by Bob Bumpas.)

If there ever was a trait universally valued by one's colleagues, "his subtle sense of humor" accurately describes a trait Chester Newton possesses to bring about positive accomplishments by those around him. Chester, a scientist for more than 30 years in what is now the Climate and Global Dynamics Division (CGD), is the 1995 recipient of the Carl-Gustaf Rossby Research Medal, the highest honor that the American Meteorological Society (AMS) bestows on a member.

Chester, a former president of the AMS, was recently honored at the society's annual meeting in Dallas, Texas, "for fundamental research contributions in the areas of the structure and dynamics of jet streams, fronts, cyclones, severe storms, and mesoconvective systems; and the behavior of the general circulation of the atmosphere." Rossby, the medal's namesake, is widely recognized in the meteorological and oceanographic communities for his many contributions to the principles governing the dynamics and thermodynamics of the atmosphere and ocean. The medal is presented annually for outstanding contributions to the understanding of the structure or behavior of the atmosphere.

"I am very glad to have my name linked with Carl-Gustaf Rossby," says Chester, who first saw Rossby when he was lecturing at the University of Chicago during Chester's aviation cadet training in 1942. Following his return to Chicago as a graduate student in 1946, he knew Rossby for 20 years as one of his two principal mentors and a close friend.

Chester was invited to join NCAR in 1963 as head of the Synoptic Meteorology Group (now CGD's Climate Analysis Section). "My group has been the greatest pleasure of my career because they were all self- starters," Chester relates. "Both Harry van Loon and Rol Madden have developed themselves into stars. I had nothing to do with it. They and others who have been in our group are terrific scientists. They all thrived in the atmosphere of Phil Thompson's philosophy of getting good people and letting them follow subjects along their own interests. Thompson firmly believed that 'small science' had its place, although 'big science' is important. They could coexist."

Chester began his career as a weather observer with the U.S. Weather Bureau in Phoenix, Arizona, and later served in the U.S. Army Air Corps as a weather officer from 1943 to 1946. "After I graduated as a second lieutenant from the Aviation Cadet Program to become a weather forecaster, I was sent to India and Burma. I didn't have the faintest idea what I was doing," he recalls. "We were educated on midlatitude meteorology and that part of the world didn't have any frontal cyclones. So we just fed back pilot reports of the weather. To my knowledge, I never killed anyone!"

After receiving his bachelor's, master's, and doctoral degrees in meteorology from the University of Chicago in 1946, 1947, and 1951 respectively, Chester served as a synoptic analyst with the University of Stockholm, Sweden, from 1951 to 1953 and with the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in 1953. From 1953 to 1961 he was a research associate and later assistant professor with the Department of Meteorology at the University of Chicago. Immediately prior to joining NCAR, he was chief scientist of the National Severe Storms Project, U.S. Weather Bureau, from 1961 to 1963.

"It's not easy to select one out of so many positive effects of my association with Chester," says Harry van Loon (CGD). "Not only I but the whole synoptic group benefited from his management. First, he shielded us from administration, which allowed us to pursue our work in peace. Second, Chester always found time to read our manuscripts and offer wise comments on the contents and style, which always led to improvements. Show me a group leader who has time to or is willing to do that."

A gifted editor, Newton served as the first editor of the Monthly Weather Review when the AMS took over its publication and as an associate editor of three of its other scientific journals. Chester feels that his greatest contribution to the field of meteorology was the publication of the text that he and his other mentor, Erik Palmen of the Academy of Finland, coauthored. Atmospheric Circulation Systems was published in Russian and Chinese as well as English. Palmen was Chester's adviser for both his master's and doctoral theses at the University of Chicago and remained a close friend until Palmˇn died nine years ago.

Jim Fankhauser (Mesoscale and Microscale Meteorology Division, or MMM) first worked with Chester as a student at the University of Chicago. Later, Chester hired Jim at both the National Severe Storms Project and at NCAR. "Chester contributed to the fundamental understanding of convective processes," says Jim, "and I was extremely privileged to work with him during this time. Aside from Chester's scientific contribution, his self-effacing attitude and his fair dealings with his fellow scientists were most exemplified by his editorship of the Monthly Weather Review. He gave the journal a new level of credibility."

Another colleague of Chester's from MMM is Peggy LeMone. "When going over my career, I realize how much of an impact Chester has had on my field," she says. "In the course of my research on clouds and convective lines, I was continuously amazed that Chester had done it first and with far less information than was available to those who have followed. He really deserves credit for describing how clouds propagate. He is really a fatherly, humble type of guy."

For his many years of service to the AMS as journal editor, society president, and chair or participant on numerous committees and boards, Newton was awarded the Society's Charles Franklin Brooks Award in 1983. He has also received editor's awards from the AMS and the American Geophysical Union. --Joan Vandiver Frisch, Media Relations

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Edited by Bob Henson, bhenson@ucar.edu
Last revised: Wed Mar 29 12:41:55 MST 2000