Colorado State University Appoints Atmospheric Scientist as New State Climatologist; Will Head Colorado Climate Center

Roger Pielke Sr., professor of atmospheric science at Colorado State University, has been named the new state climatologist for a four-year term.

As climatologist, Pielke will set policy and oversee the collection of data about climate. He intends to resume reporting on Colorado’s climate and expand the automated system of weather stations providing current information to farmers and agricultural areas.

"I plan to continue (state climatologist emeritus) Tom McKee’s work in monitoring long-term weather conditions in the state," Pielke said. However, he hopes to add new information about land and water surfaces to data already available. Pielke believes these surfaces can have extensive impacts on the atmosphere and recently spent an academic year at Colorado State’s Natural Resource Ecology Laboratory studying the role that soils and vegetation play in climate.

"I want to bring in hydrological and ecological effects since I think that’s as much a part of climate as what takes place in the atmosphere," he said. As an example, Pielke cited the greening of large portions of the state in spring, when plants begin growing by absorbing the sun’s energy (and heat) and in turn give off water vapor in a cooling process known as transpiration.

"The result is a moistening and cooling of the atmosphere," he said. "Natural grasslands begin to go brown in late June, and that’s a phenomenon we want to monitor. It clearly produces an effect on the state’s weather."

Pielke described weather as the current state of the atmosphere. In contrast, he said, climate provides a description of the statistics of the weather, including extremes, and results from the interactions between the atmosphere and the earth’s surface. Climate variables, for example, include temperature, precipitation, humidity, wind, solar radiation and the amount of transpiring vegetation.

The Colorado Climate Center issues information in a variety of formats for use by farmers, state officials and the public. Working with Nolan Doesken, assistant state climatologist since 1977, Pielke plans to expand the Colorado Agricultural Meteorological Network, a collection of automated weather-sampling stations located near agricultural areas around the state that can provide up-to-the-minute information for agricultural systems.

The state climatologist’s post is an official state position, but the researcher who assembles data on the state’s climate and heads the Colorado Climate Center at Colorado State is named by the university. Pielke’s appointment was announced by Stephen Cox, head of the atmospheric science department.

Pielke replaces McKee, now state climatologist emeritus, who held the post from 1974 until this year. McKee remains a professor of atmospheric science.

Pielke, who joined Colorado State in 1981, previously worked at the University of Virginia and the Experimental Meteorology Lab of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

His research interests have included climate change, air pollution and meteorological modeling on a regional scale. The author of more than 200 papers and 25 book chapters and co-editor of four books, Pielke also wrote a book on meteorological modeling, one on hurricanes and one called "Human Impacts on Weather and Climate." He has received numerous awards and was elected a fellow of the American Meteorological Society in 1982. He earned a doctorate in meteorology from Pennsylvania State University in 1973.

The Colorado Climate Center Web site can be accessed at