My personal tribute to a great man

Nikolai Dotzek


Chuck Doswell

Posted: 11 July 2010 Updated whenever.

Whenever a great man passes, the world is left with a void that can never be filled. The worst part of becoming older is the loss of your friends and family members, and that sense of loss is heightened when their death is untimely. But we need to remember that our grief should be tempered by the joy at the time we had with our friends and family. Nikolai's loss hurts a great deal but I have so many wonderful memories to cherish and we all have the benefit of the things he did for us, either professionally or personally. I lift my glass of German beer in tribute to a great scientist and a great man!! Let us strive to keep not only his memory alive, but also to keep his dreams from passing. They were great dreams and need our support if they're to become realities.

I can offer only words of condolence to his wife Birgit and his sons, Gregor and Armin. You're in my thoughts often and have my deepest sympathies for your loss.

While out storm chasing, on 31 May 2010, I received the sad news about the terribly untimely death of my friend, Dr. Nikolai Dotzek, from my friend and colleague, Johannes Dahl. It’s really difficult to accept the loss of someone so young, so full of enthusiasm for life, and with so much of the promise of his life still ahead of him. His passing represents an enormous loss to us all. Most especially, of course, to his family: his wife Birgit, and sons Gregor and Armin. It wasn’t that long ago I was enjoying their company while in Germany for the 2009 European Severe Storms Conference in Landshut, Germany, so ably put together by Nikolai and his assistants. I first met Nikolai while in Bermuda for a conference on natural hazards. We became friends quickly because of our shared passion for meteorology and for the fun parts of being alive and human.

Nikolai was deeply committed to raising severe weather awareness throughout Europe, something that Harold Brooks and I were attempting to encourage. Nikolai and I had many discussions on this topic over the years, and Nikolai's input had a big influence on my thinking along these lines. We both hoped to see the formation of European equivalents to the National Severe Storms Laboratory and Storm Prediction Center. Nikolai took these abstract ideas and did what he could to make them real. The European Severe Storms Laboratory (ESSL) Nikolai created in late 2006 is not yet what either of us hoped it eventually would become, but a start had to be made by someone, and that someone turned out to be Nikolai. A moving memorial to Nikolai can be found at the ESSL website, which provides many details about Nikolai's professional life.

He also inspired a group of young severe weather enthusiasts at various locations around Europe, leading to the formation in 2002 of the European Storm Forecast Experiment (ESTOFEX). Despite the handicap that this organization has no support from anywhere, its volunteer forecasters have provided high quality convective weather products* to everyone in Europe at no charge. And they have become the best storm forecasters in Europe! Nikolai's encouragment and guidance surely cannot be replaced but his enthusiasm and commitment for the project will live on in these young meteorologists. Perhaps someday Europe will put aside its petty differences and form a Pan-European severe storm forecasting agency, and ESTOFEX will have been simply the first step along that path.

One of Nikolai's passions has been the collection and archiving of reports of severe weather throughout Europe. He began his work along these lines in 1997 with the formation of TorDACH, which was focused on severe weather in Germany, Austria, and Switzerland. But his concern for the whole of Europe led him in 2007 to put his support behind the implementation of the European Severe Weather Database (ESWD) developed by Pieter Groenemeijer. In the process of thinking about how to collect and archive severe weather information, Nikolai and Pieter took the best of what the North American experience could offer, learned its strengths and weaknesses, and developed a system for the whole of Europe that would be the best possible way to accomplish its goals. And he published a number of scientific papers articulating his innovative concepts for severe weather data assessment and archiving that have application well beyond the borders of Europe.

Much more could be said about Nikolai's professional contributions - I simply wanted to highlight his unselfish efforts on behalf of Europe and, in fact, for the benefit of the entire world. It was my honor to be his co-author on some scientific papers, and to be his colleague, in general. But it's Nikolai the man I will miss most intensely. As I write these words (July 2010), I have just had a dream about visiting Vienna with Nikolai - dreams typically have elements of reality mixed in with unreality, and in my dream, Nikolai was chiding me for being too willing to go back to my hotel, when the night was still young and there were wonderful things yet to see and do. That was reality! Upon waking, I was immediately swept by disappointment that it was just a dream!

Whenever I was with Nikolai (and his family), I always had the impression that he was so glad to spend time with me that he pushed himself (and me) to savor the moment, to taste the experience to its fullest. Nikolai opened his home to me whenever I was in the vicinity - his flat in Gilching was too small to accommodate me as an overnight guest, so I always stayed in a nearby hotel, the Schützenhaus. But I spent my days and evenings with Nikolai and his family. If I expressed interest in seeing something in the Munich vicinity, we would go there. And if Nikolai or Birgit had a suggestion for something to see or do, it always turned out to be a great experience. It was evident that Nikolai loved his family very much and the boys clearly have been "spoiled" with love (actually, impossible to do, of course) and attention. I know - by what my friends and colleagues say - Nikolai treated them the very same way. In no way does it diminish my time with Nikolai to know that he made others feel as good as I did in his presence! Instead, it just confirms my admiration for him and his joyful approach to life and work, and his pride in his family.

Whether Nikolai was here in the USA or I was there in Europe, he always was very serious about whatever business we were to transact, but he made it clear that when that "work" was done, he was looking forward to something to see, to eat, to drink ... to enjoy. To close this tribute, I want to show some photographs that I believe capture something of the man I so much admired and enjoyed to be around.


* See:

Brooks, H.E., T.E. Thompson, C.M. Shafer, C. Schwartz, P.T. Marsh, A. Kolodziej, N. Dahl, and D. Buckey, 2008: Evaluation of ESTOFEX forecasts: Severe thunderstorm forecasts. 24th Conf. on Severe Local Storms, Savannah, GA, USA, American Meteorological Society.

Brooks, H.E., T.E. Thompson, C.M. Shafer, C. Schwartz, P.T. Marsh, A. Kolodziej, N. Dahl, and D. Buckey, 2008: Evaluation of ESTOFEX forecasts: Lightning forecasts. 24th Conf. on Severe Local Storms, Savannah, GA, USA, American Meteorological Society.