Simpson was only six years old when the 1919 Florida Keys hurricane tore
through his hometown of Corpus Christi, Texas; flooded his house; and destroyed
his school (he was quick to point out in interviews that the hurricane happened
on a Sunday
Frightening as it was, that hurricane also sparked his lifelong fascination
with the phenomena, and he became a widely respected expert on the subject.
In spite of said early interest, Simpson did not initially want to become a
meteorologist. He was a passionate, yet reserved, trumpeter in high school, and
he went to college with the intent of a musical career, only to realize that
science clicked with him better. He stuck with music for a little while longer,
mostly to survive financially in the floundering 1930s economy, but migrated
completely to a meteorology career by the early 1940s.
Simpson's early work with hurricanes was mostly observational, largely because
Congress at the time regarded complex hurricane research as costly and
unnecessary. The rough battering of 1954's hurricane season made Congress
realize that maybe a better understanding of hurricanes was actually pretty
important, and Simpson was then an instrumental force in establishing the
National Hurricane Research Project, which gathered a lot of valuable data on hurricanes
and in turn allowed for more accurate forecasting. He later served as the
director of the National Hurricane Center from 1968 to 1973.
Simpson's most recognizable legacy is the Saffir-Simpson hurricane scale.
Though most of the framework was engineer Herbert Saffir's doing, Simpson
fine-tuned the system and made it accessible to the public (Saffir developed
the scale with the United Nations in mind). The scale's success is largely due
to its simplicity, with it following a one-to-five scale of intensity—the
higher the category, the greater potential for a hurricane to cause damage. It
was equally useful for hurricane officials. Simpson noted, regarding how to
handle a storm's aftermath, that "I couldn't tell the Salvation Army, for
example, how much and what materials they should be shipping. The scale gave
them a much better handle on that."
Also, Simpson's middle name was Homer. No doubt he was relieved to have been
christened Robert Homer rather than Homer Robert, as that way he could still be
taken seriously during the last 25 years of his life.
Simpson died, aged 102, on December 19, 2014. Using another easy-to-understand
system, Moldy Oldies receives 1 point for age and 5 for solo, for a total of 6.
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