One CIMMS: Q&A with Dale Morris

Dale Morris.

For the month of February, the Cooperative Institute for Mesoscale Meteorological Studies at the University of Oklahoma is publishing a series of stories highlighting CIMMS’s past, present and future by highlighting its employees. CIMMS is diverse because of its employees — who represent a variety of entities and areas of research. One Q&A segment will be published each Monday and Thursday in February.

Dale Morris has worked at the university and CIMMS for more than 25 years. Morris is a senior research associate with the NOAA National Weather Service Warning Decision Training Division. In September 2017, he was named NOAA Team Member of the Month for his work on the Weather Event Simulator, a critical training tool for NWS operations. Morris was also recently named to serve on the National Weather Association Professional Development Committee.

Q: How did you get into your field?
A: As a small child, some of my favorite books were the “Wizard of Oz” series by L. Frank Baum, so as corny as it may sound, I became interested in the weather by wondering how such storms could come to be, as well as always watching the severe and winter storm coverage from the Oklahoma City television stations in the 1970s and 80s. I knew I wanted to be a meteorologist before I was in high school. I also became interested in computers in the early 1980s, and that background has also proven to be invaluable.

Q: Describe the path leading up to your current job.
A: For the first decade of my career, I helped to found and then manage the OK-FIRST outreach program — Oklahoma’s First-response Information Resource System using Telecommunications — for public safety officials at the Oklahoma Climatological Survey. This helped me to develop customer service skills for hundreds of participants as well as gain experience in adult education and training of meteorological concepts. I also helped to get WSR-88D data and accompanying training to be used across the state for public safety and other benefits.

Dale Morris, and former CIMMS Research Associate and longtime radar expert Les Lemon, instructing a forecaster in the WDTD lab in 2013. (Photo provided.)

When an opportunity presented itself to train NWS forecasters, I became a CIMMS affiliate at the Warning Decision Training Branch — now WDTD. Soon thereafter, the NWS decided to upgrade their AWIPS system, necessitating a new version of the Weather Event Simulator, a major training tool used by WDTD and each NWS forecast office.

Q: What are you most proud of during your time at CIMMS or what is the most significant achievement of your career?
A: OK-FIRST won the prestigious Innovations in American Government award from Harvard University and the Ford Foundation. This was basically due to the impact we had in local communities across Oklahoma, and for similar reasons, the program continues to this day after being funded by the Oklahoma Legislature. That is a nice legacy to achieve at the outset of a career.

Q: What is it about your job that interests and/or engages you?
A: Similar to having impact across the state early in my career, it is amazing to think of having impacts across the country by helping train every NWS forecaster.

Q: What advice would you provide young professionals or others in your field?
A: Learn to write well and communicate simply so your work is easily understandable by others; otherwise, the work has less value. Also, try to maintain humility and always remember that overwhelming scientific consensus historically has sometimes been proven to be incorrect.

Q: What is something you never expected in your field of research, career or CIMMS but it happened?
A: I once gave a lecture in a political science class at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard.

Dale Morris with former U.S. Representative for Oklahoma J.C. Watts in the Congressman’s office in 2002. (Photo provided.)

Q: What does true leadership mean to you?
A: I have learned that effective leadership does not occur quickly because it takes time to build consensus. Patience is truly a virtue because you can get ahead of others and sometimes you have to wait until they are ready to take or understand your advice.

Q: What is the future of your area of research?
A: We are working to build a collaborative and distributed simulation system for NWS forecasters, and eventually partners, so forecasters can learn and refine skills in an environment similar to their actual work environment. Hopefully we can help make forecasters and offices more prepared for particular weather events and help alleviate longstanding communications and coordination issues. We are also working to alleviate issues local offices have in data archival.

Q: Who is a famous person you have met and describe the circumstances?
A: I met David Gergen, who was an adviser to several United States presidents and is a prominent political pundit. He was part of the Innovations in American Government program.

Q: How do you define success?
A: Success occurs when others see value in your work and are able to use it in some fashion.

Q: Describe your typical day.
A: A typical day consists of working on a particular sub-project, but interwoven with customer service requests from NWS field offices and discussions with others at WDTD and the National Weather Center. Individual projects range from designing, testing and configuring software to creating training and documentation and learning new techniques and methods.

The National Severe Weather Workshop scenario helpers in 2006. Featured: Ada Emergency Manager John Burchett, Moore Emergency Manager Gayland Kitch, then Storm Prediction Center researcher Sarah Corfidi, Dale Morris, Daphne Ladue, Paul Schlatter, and NOAA NWS Norman Forecast Office meteorologist Rick Smith.