Founder of Instrumental Radar Techniques Passes Away

A member of the meteorology community, Leslie “Les” Lemon, passed away in late May. 

Lemon was an eminent radar meteorologist during his career and saw it as his mission to aid forecasters on the interpretation of what they saw before the formalization of forecaster training. 

Lemon had an extensive resume. He worked for CIMMS, the NOAA Commissioned Corps, NOAA’s National Severe Storms Laboratory, NWS Warning Decision Training Division and several private companies throughout his more than 40-year career. 

One man is sitting, facing several computer screens with a man standing behind him on his left and right also facing the screens. The man on the left has his hand gesturing as if in conversation with the other two regarding what is on the computer screen.

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

Behind the man sitting down are two men standing up, Lemon was monitoring the surveillance radar on May 24, 1973, when a tornado devastated Union City, Oklahoma. He worked with Don Burgess and Rodger Brown, former NSSL researchers, to determine where to scan the storm to collect the data they needed. This event had a significant impact on tornado forecasting. For the first time, researchers were able to see signs of tornado formation on radar and document the entire life cycle of the tornado on film. Researchers compared the two and discovered a pattern known as the Tornado Vortex Signature. 

Lemon was awarded the 1976 NOAA Special Achievement Award for his work on the Tornado Vortex Signature. 

The University of Oklahoma graduate is best known for “the Lemon Technique” a method for radar operators to detect the characteristic of a developing tornado. The technique is a way for radar operators to determine the severity of a storm and is continually used by experts today. 

“I want to be in a weather office and I’ve been blessed to have been there and the passion, it’s the passion that led me to do everything I’ve done. And it’s amazing to me to think back at the opportunities I’ve been given, the things I have done in my life,” Lemon said, upon receiving the 2010 National Weather Association Special Lifetime Achievement Award. 

He enjoyed sharing his storm experiences — he would recount to colleagues his presence at the destructive Ruskin Heights tornado on May 20, 1957, which catapulted his career choice to meteorology. 

In his honor, the family is suggesting contributions to Lifesong for Orphans and condolences may be made online. 

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