Senior scientist awarded Hosler Alumni Scholar Medal

Matthew Carroll
June 12, 2019

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. – Before Stan Benjamin’s long career at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), where he earned a legacy as a pioneer of numerical weather prediction, one day in 1974 cemented a life-long passion.

Benjamin, fresh off his undergraduate degree in mathematics and interested in weather forecasting, visited his local National Weather Service office in Michigan hoping to land a job. The date -- April 3, 1974 – coincided with the largest and most violent tornado outbreak ever recorded. Over 24 hours, 148 tornadoes ripped across 13 states and parts of Canada and caused catastrophic damage.

“Everybody who knows about severe weather remembers this date,” he said. “That just happened to be my first chance to be in the weather service office. It was remarkable and exhilarating.”

Though he didn’t get the job, the experience intensified Benjamin’s interest in meteorology and pushed him to pursue a graduate education in the field. His search for a school quickly narrowed to one – Penn State.

 “I found it to be the perfect place,” said Benjamin, who was so determined to attend the University that he took correspondences courses for a year to get a foot in the door. “It was one of the best times of my life being here as a graduate student.”

The Penn State alumnus recently returned to University Park to accept the 2019 Charles L. Hosler Alumni Scholar Medal at the College of Earth and Mineral Science’s annual Wilson Awards Banquet.

The award, named for Charles L. Hosler, dean emeritus of the college and Penn State Distinguished Alumnus, honors alumni who have made outstanding contributions to the development of science through research, teaching or administrative leadership.

 “I think receiving this award is a recognition that NOAA does useful things,” Benjamin said. “I wanted to do useful things in my career, and Penn State helped make that happen.”

After receiving both his master’s and doctoral degrees from Penn State, Benjamin embarked on a career that saw him develop important forecasting models at NOAA and rise to the position of branch chief and, later, senior scientist.

Benjamin revolutionized the numerical prediction of high-impact weather during his NOAA career, greatly improving forecast guidance of threatening weather, said David Stensrud, professor and head of the Department of Meteorology and Atmospheric Science at Penn State.

“His research and leadership in the area of high-resolution weather modeling over the past two decades led a transformation in research operations,” said Stensrud, who nominated Benjamin for the award. “Stan had a vision of a numerical modeling system that would provide updated forecasts every hour, including as much observational information as possible.”

Prior the Rapid Update Cycle model, which Benjamin helped develop, computer forecasts updated every 12 hours and focused on larger, continental-scale weather patterns. He also led NOAA to develop models with smaller model grid spacing – like having a higher megapixel camera – to better capture how weather events like thunderstorms form.

“Initializing weather models is really just a big fancy math problem,” Benjamin said. “It’s a kind of minimization-optimization problem. The goal is to be able to start off these models as accurately as possible with the latest observations to help people estimate where storms will be hours from now.”

The aviation industry has relied on the RUC model and its successors, the Rapid Refresh and High-Resolution Rapid Refresh models, also developed with Benjamin’s guidance, to predict hazards that commercial flights might otherwise encounter.

Renewable energy managers are beginning to use the same models to predict how much wind and solar energy to expect based on short-term weather forecasts.

In his current position as a senior scientist, Benjamin will again be able to focus on research, something he looks forward to.

“I’m finding a bit more neuron space to think about observations and weather and all of earth science now, including what’s taking place here at Penn State,” Benjamin said. “Penn State is a great broad collection of effort across earth science, and just seeing some of that at the banquet was exciting.”

 

(Media Contacts)

Last Updated June 12, 2019