My personal tribute to

Alan R. Moller - Chaser, Photographer, and Forecaster Extraordinaire


Posted: 08 March 2008. Updated: 24 April 2009 - fixed a photo caption that was in error!

This is a tribute for Al, originally stimulated by a formal tribute initiated by Martin Lisius, at the TESSA Severe Storms Conference - which I was unable to attend owing to a prior commitment.

The occasion for this originally was Alan's retirement from spotter training. Now that Alan R. Moller actually has retired from the National Weather Service, it represents the passing of a giant in his chosen field of weather forecasting. Not only has Al distinguished himself in the technical skills of weather forecasting, he also has set an incredibly high standard for contributions to society with those skills. Clearly, the residents of North Texas have benefitted the most, but this by no means represents the limit of his impact (and recognition), which extends nationally and even internationally. He's the living embodiment of what it means to be a Science Operations Officer, a Lead Forecaster, and especially a Warning Coordination Meteorologist (all rolled into one) - the prototype by which others might justifiably be measured, but against whom virtually no one could measure up. Yes, I realize that's a biased evaluation. But no one I know of could conceivably combine the skills of a SOO, a WCM, and a lead forecaster as well as Al has over the course of his career.

Al has been a friend of mine since we first met at OU as meteorology graduate students in 1972. Clearly, we shared a passion for the weather, fast cars, and shady women, among other things. For two decades, from 1977 to 1997, we were regular storm chase partners, and I was thereby the beneficiary of many hours of animated conversation with him on a huge variety of topics and it's safe to say that two weeks storm chasing with Al was always lot of fun. Most of our chase vacations included at least one shouting match between us - but never with any lingering recriminations - sometimes these were public and others would fear for our friendship, but this is only a reflection of our shared passion for what we were doing. He taught me a lot about operational meteorology that I hadn't experienced for myself. For example, he's responsible for awakening in me an awareness of the need to help the users of all the forecast and warning products issued by an operational forecasting agency. He knew about such things because he'd observed them at first hand and correctly understood what he saw: if our forecasts are perfect but the users don't receive the message, don't understand the message, don't know what to do with the message, and don't act on the contents of the message, then our time and effort has been wasted. Al acted on that knowledge in many ways and so has worked tirelessly on all those critical components of the forecasting process, to say nothing of his efforts as a forecaster. He was a man before his time in this regard, and still is. Perhaps some day the bureaucrats will finally realize by his absence how much Al has done for the National Weather Service, but many, many people have been the beneficiaries of his insights. Perhaps someday they will recognize how much he gave without hesitation, asking for (and usually receiving) nothing in return. We all admire his enthusiasm, which he excels at conveying in his outstanding presentations. His talks are justifiably legendary for all who are lucky enough to attend one or more - professionals and laypersons alike. He has a gift for gab that grabs your attention and holds it fast.

He also has served as inspiration and mentor to everyone around him, including me. Al is one of my heroes and I know, having heard it from numerous people who have served with him in the trenches, that he's the same for them. He'll share anything he knows without any concern for recognition or reciprocal compensation for his time and effort. The only "problem" any of us have had with his vigorous efforts to enlighten us is not having enough time to benefit from all he has to offer. His legacy alone is enough to inspire, even in those who've never met him personally. For those of us blessed to know him, he's always brought out things in us we didn't even realize we had.

During our storm chase times together, Al taught me a great deal about photography, and I know his images have been as much of an inspiration to budding photographers as his meteorology has been an inspiration to budding weather forecasters. His photographs are prototypically excellent, second to no one doing photography on the plains. Clearly, art and science are entangled in his head - apparently to the extent that his hair has been forced (reluctantly) to give way, to make room! Hopefully, his retirement will give him the time to compile and share some collections of his images, as well as going out to add more gorgeous shots to his voluminous collection. One aspect of his talks that everyone enjoys has been his typical finale: a selection of his photographs that never fail to elicit "wows" and "aaaahhs" from the audience that always leaves us wanting to see more.

Al at work in a Texas field of Tickseed Coreopsis, plying his craft with typical concentration, while waiting for storms to fire on a chase sometime in the 1980s.

Al has never compromised his principles and it's hard to imagine anyone more committed to ethical and responsible behavior in all facets of his life. Anyone wishing a role model for almost anything humans do would do well to emulate him. I've shamelessly stolen many of his ideas - which is another way of saying (without words), how much I admire him and what he does. He's made a big difference in many people's lives and the world is vastly better, thanks to his efforts, than it would have been without him. He's not a seeker of recognition, but those of us who know him have seen and appreciate what he stands for and how he has served. It's been my honor and privilege to know him as a friend and to come to appreciate the value of what he's done in so many ways. I hope his retirement means I'll see more of him, because he's been a positive light in my life for a long time.

Update: 22 February 2009

Al's formal "retirement" dinner was held at Vance Godbey's Restaurant on the Jacksboro Highway during the evening of 20 February 2009. There were around 100 or so in attendance and many more who wanted to attend but were unable to do so. After a nice buffet dinner, with excellent musical entertainment (some great blues!) provided by a local group of musiciansthat included Fort Worth forecaster Stacie Hanes - the group was dubbed "Stacie Hanes and the Dry Line Blues Band"- the tributes to Al began. NWS Southern Region Director Bill Proenza was there to kick off the tributes

- left to right: Al's mother, Barbara, Al's wife, Patti, Al, Bill, Prof. Ken Crawford (OU) and Bill Bunting (current Fort Worth MIC). Not all of my photos turned out well enough to share, but the following is a pot pourri of participants at the celebration of Al's career.

Skip Ely - former MIC at Fort Worth.

Kay and Tim Marshall. Tim is the Editor of Stormtrack and is a long-time storm chaser/photographer

Mike Foster, MIC at the Norman, OK office, and his wife. Mike is a long-time storm chaser and photographer.

Carson Eads - long-time storm chaser and spotter, as well as photographer.

Jason Jordan sharing a table with Krista Villarreal Moore and her daughter Abigail - Jason is working at the Lubbock office and is a storm chaser. Krista is a meteorologist.

Al's formal retirement cake.

Southern Region meteorologist Gary Woodall presents Al with a gift from the storm spotters of the local area.

Larry Mooney, MIC at the Boulder, CO office, presents Al with a valuable souvenier baseball signed by Don Drysdale (Al has been a lifelong Dodgers baseball fan)

Martin Lisius, TESSA Director and CEO of Tempest Tours and Prairie Pictures made a presentation and gave Al some nice gifts on behalf of many contributors.

Recognition of Al from Rick Perry, governor of Texas.

Al shakes hands with the "Father of Storm Chasing", David Hoadley, who came all the way from Virginia to honor Al.

There were many others there ... I'm afraid I'm going to slight most of them by not posting a picture, but it was great to see all of us together to honor someone from among us. I certainly appreciate the efforts made by those able to attend, and I know many more would have wanted to be there but couldn't.

A few final statements regarding Al's contributions to the world. I have no doubt that Al has touched tens of thousands of lives, if not more, in a positive way. He's been an inspiration to all who've had the great good fortune to be around him, but his dedication to public safety also has resulted in many, many people who owe Al a debt of gratitude without ever having heard of him. His tireless efforts to introduce the science of meteorology into the warning process and to train spotters (whose life-saving volunteer contributions can't be overvalued) mean that NWS forecasting and warning wouldn't be where it is today without him. Without the integrated warning system that Al has done so much to create and foster, many more people might have been killed or seriously injured by storms. Yet even at this meeting in celebration of his professional career, Al tried to deflect all the recognition by saying "It's not about me. It's about the people who have helped make this system." Sorry Al, but we have to disagree on that one - you can't escape the admiration of your friends and colleagues. At least on this night, it was about you!! We know that absent your zeal and tireless, nay, relentless dedication, much that is now good likely would never have happened.

It's my honor to have been your friend for more than 35 years. You've more than earned a retirement - may it be filled with the happiness you deserve.