A Brief History of Meteorology and Climatology from 1900 to 1950 at the University of Washington

by P.E. Church

Meteorology and or Climatology at the University has had a long history because courses have been offered for many years. A library search of the University catalogs of courses offered goes back to 1900–01. In this issue a course called “Meteorology” was described with the added note that the text was Davis, Elementary Meteorology. Though there are no catalogs prior to 1900–01 it is likely that meteorology was first offered in 1895 or 1896, though this is suspicion on the writer’s part, because the President of the University from 1895 to March 1897 was Mark Harrington who from 1891 to 1895 was Chief of the U.S. Weather Bureau and was likely to have been instrumental in seeing that the young university offered meteorology; he may have taught the course, if there was one at that time, while in residence. At any rate the course was in the catalogs for 1902–03 through 1903–04 with Waldo, Elementary Meteorology listed as the text for those two years. No course was listed or announced in the 1904–05 catalog; this was the year when Geology was organized as a Department.

Beginning with the 1905–06 academic year a course titled “Meteorology” was listed for the first semester in the Geology Department with Prof. Henry Landes as the Professor, Asst. Prof. (no name given) and the laboratory work was under a Mr. G.N. Salisbury who was an employee of the U.S. Weather Bureau Office in Seattle. This course was apparently continued each year until the 1910–1911 academic year when the title was changed to “Climatology” and an Asst. Professor, Edwin J. Saunders, a new man, was listed as doing the lecturing while Mr. Salisbury was still in charge of laboratory work. This arrangement continued uninterrupted (except for the semester it was given) until 1917–1918. At that time the course was renamed “Meteorology and Elementary Climatology” and a new course #142 “Climatic Problems of the War in Western Europe” was listed. Both Prof. Saunders gave these courses and both were listed as “War Courses.” Mr. Salisbury’s name did not appear that year or in any succeeding years.

Beginning with the 1918–19 academic year, when the University first went to the quarter system, Geology #11 and #111 were offered under the title of “Climatology”; Saunders taught both courses until the 1926–27 academic year when the Professor listed was George Renner.

In 1928 the Geology Department was renamed to Geology and Geography and #111 was dropped. In the courses listed in the 1930–31 catalog Prof. Renner’s name followed the course description for #11 and #111 appeared again with the note that was the same as #11 but that additional work was required for credit in #111. (This arrangement continued until the Department of Meteorology and Climatology was authorized in 1947). About 1932 or 1933, Geography was made a separate Department and Geography retained the courses #11 and #111 which were now popular enough such that they were offered two quarters (autumn and winter; that same year “Research in Climatology” was listed under Prof. Renner; 1933 was his last year in this University).

Starting 1933–34, #11 and #111 were listed as being given each of the three quarters under Prof. Frances Earle; this continued until the autumn of 1935 when instructor P.E. Church was brought to the University to develop more courses in both meteorology and Climatology. Courses were added as rapidly as they could be developed and as teaching load, then 15 hrs/week, would permit. In 1935–36, course #112, “Meteorology,” was given. For 1937–38, course #121, “Regional Climatology,” was added. In 1938–39, courses #122, “Synoptic Meteorology” and #152, “Air Mass Analysis,” and “Research” were added, and in 1940–41, #153 an added “Synoptic Meteorology” was offered. On more course #154, “Meteorological Laboratory” was listed in the catalog for 1941–42. Each of these courses were given by Prof. Church in addition to Oceanographic Meteorology at Friday Harbor Laboratories each summer starting in 1936.

By 1939, enough courses in Meteorology and Climatology were being offered in the Geography Department such that a student could obtain a bachelor’s degree with a “major in meteorology.”

In November 1941, Prof. Church was given a six month leave-of-absence to conduct a seminar on Lake Michigan at the Institute of Meteorology at the University of Chicago. Dr. Herbert Riehl came to the University of Washington to teach the meteorology and climatology in November 1941 and stayed until June of 1942. During most of the war Prof. John Sherman and others did such meteorology and climatology classes in the Geography Department. In 1942, the University of Washington became one of a number of schools over the country that joined in the training of students to prepare them primarily in mathematics and physics so that they could complete an intensive course in meteorology at one of five universities for the armed forces. These preparatory programs were known as “C” schools; at the University of Washington Dr. Clinton Utterback of the Physics department directed the program.

No new courses in meteorology were added to the curriculum of the Geography Department during the war.

Before returning to the University of Washington in 1944, it was agreed with President Sieg, Dean Lauer, and Church that upon the latter’s return to the University, the Meteorology and Church would be transferred from the Geography Department to either the Physics Department or to Oceanography although the latter was not a Department in either the College of Arts and Sciences or the Graduate School.

In the summer of 1944, Dean Lauer wrote Church that because the situation in the Geography Department was not good, Church should return to the Geography Department for about two years. This was reluctantly agreed on and Church returned to the University in November of 1944.

In early 1946, a Committee consisting of C. L. Utterback, Thomas G. Thompson, Howard H. Martin, and Phil E. Church were appointed to study the status of Meteorology in the Geography Department and to make recommendations as to what the University of Washington should do. The Committee made a report in 1947 which in essence recommended: (1) that Meteorology be taken from Geography and put in Oceanography, (2) that a minimum of two or three instructors be added, (3) that a liberal budget be given to foster the further development of the Department. The report was duly submitted to Dean Guthrie.

Immediately after the conclusion of World War II more and more students began “majoring in Meteorology” until by June of 1947 there were no less than 27. All were quite vocal that their degree should be one of physical science and not of a social science — for Geography was classed as a social science. It is likely that a number of these students saw Dean Lauer about this particular point.

In early June 1947, Church was called to the Office of Dean Edwin Guthrie of the Graduate School. Upon arriving there both Dean Guthrie and Dean Lauer were present and announced that a new Department had been formed and that its name was the Department of Meteorology, and that Church was being transferred from Geography to be the acting chairman of the new Department. The new Department was to begin its academic work as a separate Department in the College of Arts and Sciences in the autumn quarter of 1947. Church was instructed to quickly develop an undergraduate curriculum and submit the request for new courses to the Curriculum Committee within a week. He was further instructed to get up a budget for the biennium beginning July 1947. Further, he was authorized to hire the first additional staff member to help in the teaching of a new curriculum. As a result of the news of the formation of the new department, a curriculum was developed which consisted of the following courses:

Listed in the 1948–49 catalog:


    1 (5) Survey of Atmosphere
    10 (2) Air Masses and Fronts
    50 (3) Meteorological Observations
    112 (5) Physical Meteorology
    113 (5) Dynamic Meteorology
    121 (5) Physical Climatology
    122 (5) Regional Climatology
    129 (3) Microclimatology
    130 Aeronautical Meteorology
    150 Meteorological Laboratory
    151 Meteorological Laboratory
    152 Meteorological Laboratory
    160 Meteorological Laboratory
    162 Oceanographic Meteorology (at Friday Harbor only)

All meteorology and climatology courses that were given in the Geography Department became courses in the new department. The Curriculum Committee subsequently approved these. The budget requested was modest and promptly accepted by the administration. During the summer of 1947, after a good deal of correspondence with several possible men, Mr. William Schallert was hired. Offices (2) and classrooms were on the top floor of Smith Hall.

Phil E. Church was then instructed to add another staff member to begin residence Autumn quarter 1948. Dr. R. G. Fleagle was chosen. During the 1947–48 academic year, two classrooms and three offices were made available to the new Department in Thomson Hall, and for the laboratory class the Art Studio in Miller Hall was used. During the first year of the new Department it had one half-time secretary and had a full time secretary beginning in 1948.

In the Spring of 1949, the Department was awarded its first contract. The Quarterwaster Corps — at amount being $5,000, supported it. In the Autumn of 1949 the Department submitted two proposals to the Atomic Energy Commission to instrument a 50 meter tower on the golf course and to analyze certain data, especially with respect to turbulence. These were approved and in 1950, Dr. Frank Badgley came to the University to work on these research projects.