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News Releases 2003
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Since the late 1960s, Robert J. Leffler has been a mainstay in the atmospheric sciences field – from recording data about America’s climate, weather and oceans, to managing the Cooperative Weather Observer program, which dates back to 1890. This week, Leffler, a scientist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) National Weather Service (NWS) received the Maryland Governor’s Award for his “outstanding services” to the citizens of the state. NOAA is an agency of the U.S. Department of Commerce.
The Damascus, Md., resident began his science career as a volunteer assistant to the Maryland state climatologist. He did this while earning a bachelor of science degree in Physical Geography and Climatology from the University of Maryland-College Park.
“I have always had an interest in the climate sciences, even at a young age,” Leffler said. “To have a career doing something you truly love, and to be recognized by [Governor Robert Erhlich], is very special.”
The award praised Leffler’s “demonstrated excellence” in taking weather and climate observations, his close relationship with the local NWS forecast offices, his strong involvement in volunteer work and his availability during critical weather events.
“This [award] reflects Bob’s importance to the agency’s climate and weather data collection program, which is invaluable to the nation. It also reflects his importance to the community as a whole,” said Greg Mandt, director of the NWS Office of Weather, Water and Climate Services.
After Leffler graduated in 1973, he began working at NOAA, first as a staff geodesist, then an oceanographer. Later, as his career went into high gear, he held positions including: project manager for the U.S. socio-economic climate impact assessment program; staff scientist for a program studying global agricultural and socio-economic climate variability impacts, with NOAA’s Satellite and Information Service; and manager for the Cooperative Weather Observer program.
The observer program is a sprawling network of more than 11,000 volunteers across America. Twice a day, the volunteers take the soil temperature and monitor river levels, and send that information into their nearest Weather Service forecast office. The data is then transmitted to NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center in Asheville, N.C., where it is archived for access by NOAA and its customers and partners.
Leffler, who has been a volunteer observer since 1970, drafted the first Cooperative Weather Observer modernization plan, which included upgrading the weather instruments the volunteers use. Today, Leffler is busy developing policies that ensure the integrity of climate records, and speaking to NOAA’s climate partners about the agency’s record keeping activities.
He is also a member of the National Climate Extremes Committee, and heads the NWS “climate record” team. Both groups validate national climate records, for example, the record snowfall in the Mt. Baker Ski Area of northwestern Washington State. A total of 1,140 inches of snow fell during the 1998–99 snowfall season.
A prolific writer, Leffler has authored, or co-authored, more than 50 published papers and articles in peer-reviewed publications, and is a frequent lecturer at professional seminars, universities and government briefings. He has also been an invited speaker at the National Academy of Science and the White House.
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