History

In 2018 the cooperative institute celebrated 40 years of innovative mesoscale meteorology research.

First CIMMS Director Rex Inman, left, providing a tour on north base in 1975.
First CIMMS Director Rex Inman, left, providing a tour on north base in 1975. (Photo from Sooner Magazine, May 1975)

Mesoscale is the term used to describe weather events from the size of one storm to perhaps a line of storms crossing an entire state. Weather prediction techniques can encompass global patterns but most events impacting human activities happen at the mesoscale level, which is CIMMS’ specialty.

CIMMS, which began at the former engineering laboratory building 40 years ago, is the largest research organizations at OU with nearly 200 employees and $19 million in research funding.

CIMMS allows OU students research opportunities with federal partners through a cooperative agreement between the university and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration that began in 1978. CIMMS created a precedent as one of the first meteorology focused research groups at the university.

CIMMS continues to look toward the future of understanding the societal and socioeconomic impacts of high impact weather systems, and always seeks to translate the results of its research into operational products. CIMMS is based at the National Weather Center but the organization has researchers in Missouri, Tennessee and Colorado.

Rex Inman was the first director of CIMMS. He started the idea in 1975 and the institute was formally created through an OU and NOAA cooperative agreement in 1978. It shared space with the school in OU’s former engineering laboratory building.

CIMMS set a precedent and was one of the first research groups in meteorology at the University of Oklahoma.

Inman didn’t serve as director long and passed the torch to Yoshi Sasaki in 1980.

Sasaki was instrumental in developing OU’s meteorology program and strengthening the tie with the institute’s federal partners and international organizations.

Doug Lilly, left, and Yoshi Sasaki, right.
Doug Lilly, left, and Yoshi Sasaki, right, both former directors of CIMMS. (Photo from Sooner Magazine, 1987)

Sasaki served as CIMMS director from 1980 until 1986. Strengthening partnerships with both the university and NSSL was Sasaki’s legacy. He assisted in creating an agreement between OU and Kyoto University in Japan, he promoted research and relations between the United States and Japan, and he worked on an international consortium of universities, government and private enterprise to alleviate the loss of life and property.

He was a George Lynn Cross Research professor of meteorology at OU. His dream was to see universities, private businesses and government unite to lessen the devastating effects of natural disasters.

In 1986 Doug Lilly became CIMMS’ director. CIMMS moved into the Sarkeys Energy Center during this time. Lilly served as director of CIMMS while steer-heading efforts for the Center for the Analysis and Prediction of Storms. In 1991, he left his position as CIMMS to work with CAPS full-time.

Peter Lamb joined CIMMS in 1991 as its longest-serving director, guiding the organization until his passing in 2014. During Lamb’s tenure, he developed the Southern Great Plains Cloud Radiation Testbed — one of three world-wide sites in the Atmospheric Radiation Measurement program sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy.

CIMMS moved into the National Weather Center on Norman’s south research campus. It expanded to having researchers at the National Weather Service Training Center in Kansas City. The Department of Commerce awarded NSSL and its cooperative institute partner a gold medal for work leading up to, and the ongoing support, of the national deployment of the Doppler WSR-88D radars. Such radars are still in service by the National Weather Service.

Former CIMMS Director Peter Lamb, who served from 1991-2014.
Former CIMMS Director Peter Lamb, who served from 1991-2014.

Randy Peppler served as interim director from 2014 to 2017, and Greg McFarquhar began in July 2017.

Today, The cooperative institute also has researchers in Missouri, Tennessee and Colorado. It employs nearly 200 people and has more than $19 million in research funding, making it the largest research organization on OU’s Norman campus.

Researchers at CIMMS supporting NSSL developed the Multi-Radar Multi-Sensor System. The system was developed to produce products for improved decision making and improve forecasts and warnings. To this day, CIMMS researchers continue to improve and add products into the MRMS System.

MRMS is one of the many items implemented into the system used by National Weather Service forecasters, known as AWIPS-2. CIMMS research associates with NOAA’s Warning Decision Training Division train forecasters as part of the Radar & Applications Course in using applications like MRMS.

The purpose of this Radar & Applications Course is to train newly-hired NWS forecasters on all factors, including the stress, involved in issuing warnings for tornadoes, severe thunderstorms and flash floods. The course is just one way CIMMS employees are training future forecasters.

CIMMS also serves its mission through a research program known as the Verification of the Origins of Rotation in Tornadoes EXperiment-Southeast, or VORTEX-SE. Led by NOAA’s NSSL, the program aims to understand environmental factors that are characteristic of the southeastern U.S. and its impacts on tornado formation.

Researchers at CIMMS continue to act as a connection between NOAA and the university to better serve the nation in severe weather forecasting and tool development.

*Updated November 2018