Saturday, May 30, 2020

In memory of Leson Lemon, Severe Storms researcher

OMG. I’m saddened to hear my colleague and friend passed away yesterday. I worked with Les Lemon for several years while he was part of WDTD’s family. He was the consummate meteorological observationalist, always enthusiastic, ever happy to share his insight, yet humble in ways. He loved our new NWS students as they came through our doors. His talks to them about tornadic thunderstorms reminded me of a comfortable easygoing fireside chat where the students were transfixed by his gift of storytelling and teaching at the same time. He routinely received the highest score of any of our workshop talks.
He was so excited to chat with me looking at this or that storm live on radar or perhaps after the fact. I remember more than one time where the excitement he was feeling began to spill over to us. If I felt like needing a break from the bureaucracy I’d just go over to his office and talk about the weather. Perhaps the most amazing one of these times was when we had one screen the live feed of James Spann on while a large tornado was going through Tuscaloosa. The other screen was the GRLEVEL2 display of the Birmingham, AL radar data. We were both simultaneously in awe of seeing the high-end tornadic radar signature and of course horrified at the visual of the tornado hitting the city. The Greensburg, KS storm was another. I know that Mike Umscheid and he wrote a wonderful conference paper on that one.
I can’t put down the impact Les had on the operational weather community. In many ways, he was like Ted Fujita except with Doppler Radar data. He has the Lemon technique of diagnosing severe thunderstorm structure on the radar. This is what every NWS meteorologist and most other operational meteorologists learn in radar interpretation courses. Much of his technique he wrote about in publications. One of those is the infamous Lemon and Doswell (1979) paper. His technique still forms the backbone of severe storms warnings decision making today, even with Dual-pol radar data. I worked with him to modify the technique with dual-pol but it remains his. So instead of the enhanced Lemon technique, it’s the modified Lemon technique but always with his attribution, just like with the enhanced Fujita Scale.
Les always seemed underemployed. He never held a position commensurate with his skills and perhaps the closest he came was either with the lab way back or with WDTD. That he seemed underemployed was our problem. As with many truly smart people, sometimes society just hasn’t figured out to tap their full potential. Les’s intelligence was in his ability to observe relationships and note trends then convert them to something actionable. He also had the ability to teach in ways that made concepts stick. He wasn’t a programmer, a statistician, or a production engine of content that yielded obviously high marks in ROI. The benefits he brought could not be easily measured but I think it’s safe to say we know it now when we see it. Isn’t this so similar to some of the invaluable weather data we use and can’t live without, like visible satellite data?
I’ll think of more to say and look for pics later. Clearly, my mind is recalling other memories, of which there are many. Of this I can say, he’s right up there with Liz Quoetone and others when it comes to impact on me in the realm of operational meteorology. I foresee that the severe storms conference coming up should be an excellent time to remember his achievements.]

I'm going to add to this post a few more memories.

First, here's a picture of him back in the Techniques Development Unit of SELS. This is in a paper on the history of severe storms research in the EJSSM:


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