Colorado State University Atmospheric Science Department Celebrates 50 Years of Major Discoveries, Impact on the Globe

The Department of Atmospheric Science at Colorado State University has sent two satellites into space with NASA, created a $40 million NSF multi-institutional center for cloud modeling and built three new buildings.

And that’s just in the last 20 years.

Starting from small beginnings 50 years ago, Colorado State’s atmospheric science department has grown into an international powerhouse. In 1960, CSU President William Morgan lured Herbert Riehl from the University of Chicago to create a new atmospheric science department at Colorado State. Since the first graduate student joined the department in 1962, the program has risen into the top in the nation with 19 faculty, including one National Academy of Engineering member, and 60 research associates and staff members.

The department, which is designated by the university as a Program of Research and Scholarly Excellence, celebrated its 50th anniversary July 13-14 in Fort Collins with a conference, banquet and open house.

Nearly 300 students have graduated with doctoral degrees, with more than 25 percent of those from the past three decades now serving as faculty members in universities in the U.S. and abroad, as well many others taking on leading positions in national laboratories.

Most recently, a 2010 assessment of research-doctorate programs by the National Research Council ranked the department as the nation’s top program in several categories among Oceanography, Atmospheric Sciences and Meteorology departments.

A few historical highlights:

• Department first formed as a subprogram in Civil Engineering in 1960; Riehl hired five new faculty in 1961; department formally established in 1962
• Ph.D. program established in 1964
• First M.S. degree 1963; first Ph.D. 1966
• 1963: department moved out to the CSU Foothills Campus into newly constructed Engineering Research Center adjacent to Horsetooth Reservoir, and then in 1967 into a new, dedicated 3-story building on the hill just to its east.
• 1974: Colorado Climate Center established; Professor Thomas McKee appointed first Colorado State Climatologist
• 1980: NOAA-CSU Cooperative Institute for Research in the Atmosphere (CIRA) established; Professor Thomas Vonder Haar founding director
• 1984: Earth Radiation Budget Satellite launched; Professor Thomas Vonder Haar principal investigator
• 1990: CHILL radar, NSF National Facility, transferred from Illinois to CSU; Professor Steven Rutledge chief scientist
• 1994: Fourth floor added to main Atmospheric Science Building
• 2002: New Atmospheric Science-CIRA Research Center (ACRC) dedicated
• 2005: New Atmospheric Chemistry Building dedicated
• 2006: NASA CloudSat mission launched; Professor Graeme Stephens principal investigator
• 2006: NSF Science and Technology Center, CMMAP (Center for Multiscale Modeling of Atmospheric Processes) established; Professor David Randall principal investigator
• 2009: New ATS West Building, to house CMMAP team, dedicated
• 2012: Department celebrates 50th anniversary

The last decade has been a period of unprecedented change for the department as nine new faculty have joined its ranks to help address the many grand challenges the world faces with respect to weather, climate, and air quality.

For more information about the Department of Atmospheric Science and its 50-year history, go to