Remembering Tom Warner

On Monday, May 30, the UCAR/NCAR community was saddened to learn of the sudden death over the weekend of Tom Warner, long-time senior scientist in RAL, due to an ascending aortic dissection. A memorial service for staff is being planned for later this summer.

Tom, who held a Ph.D. from Pennsylvania State University in meteorology, began working at NCAR in 1995. He specialized in numerical modeling of mesoscale atmospheric phenomena, regional climate modeling, mesoscale dynamics, data assimilation, marine meteorology, and desert meteorology. He served as science manager for RAL’s National Security Applications Program and was the author of two textbooks used by universities around the world: Numerical Weather and Climate Prediction and Desert Meteorology. He was also a professor in CU-Boulder’s Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences.Tom Warner at his desk.

“Tom played an extremely important role for us as a scientific leader, mentor, and role model,” says RAL director Brant Foote. “He was a senior statesman who, with his creative mind, mature judgment, strong work ethic, and caring spirit, was the sort of scientist that inspired the best in others. He published prolifically during his years in Boulder, and his collaboration was much sought after at both NCAR and CU.”

“Tom was passionate about the science and the underlying physical processes,” adds Scott Swerdlin, a scientist in RAL who worked closely with Tom for 15 years. “He had a burning curiosity about what made the atmosphere behave as it does. He never cut corners in his work, and in the years that I worked with him, he never faltered in producing consistently excellent and prolific quantities of work.”

Tom was especially known around the organization for his close personal relationships with co-workers.

“Tom had a direct personal relationship with everybody he worked with,” says RAL’s Terri Betancourt, who worked closely with Tom for about six years. “He touched everyone’s life in a way that was unique to them, caring about their career, family, and personal concerns. It was a private thing that he established with each individual and there was something very unique about it.”

“Tom was a person first,” says Anne-Marie Tarrant, a systems administrator who helped him with his computers. “He had the habit of making everyone feel special.”

She remembers that Tom had a “good heart” and liked to joke. He had a childlike sense of wonder, once marveling at the rising moon outside his office window. In RAL, where staff typically name their own computers, Tom chose the names of the world’s great deserts—Kalahari, Atacama, and Mojave. She recalls Tom laughing when she tried to call him “Dr.,” despite his reputation as the world’s leading expert on desert meteorology. 

Along with his understated manner, quiet insight, and dry wit, Tom was known around RAL for his well-documented love of baked goods (along with the self-discipline to avoid overindulging in them).

“He would look longingly at donuts during our meetings,” Terri recalls. “He ate conscientiously and swam regularly, but you could see him looking at those donuts.”

His generosity as a mentor to other scientists made him stand out.

“He was a mentor like no other that I have met,” Scott says, “teaching not only about science, but about improving work habits and how people can think more effectively about their work and problem solving.”

“Tom guided scientists along career paths that he helped facilitate for them,” says Terri. “Everything he did to help scientists with their careers was tailored to their particular needs, strengths, and weaknesses. Everybody had such trust in his ability to help them move their careers forward.”

Tom traveled often for work. In his free time, he liked to work in his yard and vegetable garden, and go for strolls with his wife, Susan Warner, who was formerly on staff in UCAR Corporate Affairs and the NCAR Director’s Office. He loved horses and owned a Morgan mare named Serenity.

Tom is missed by Susan; son Cory (Chris) Warner and grandson Garrett Warner, of State College, Pennsylvania; and stepson David Lacklen of San Francisco. Condolences can be posted and viewed online through July 1 at a memory book through Crist Mortuary.