He may not be in the brackets of the firsts, but this did not hold back Dr. Warren Washington from leaving giant footprints in his area of expertise. In 1964, he became the second African American to earn a Ph.D. in meteorology from the Pennsylvania State University. Since then, his influence has extended across the areas of meteorology, climate, and the shaping of young scientists.
Born in 1936 and raised in Portland, Oregon, he began showing interest in science at an early age. He is remembered by his peers for borrowing books about famous scientists from the public library. In his autobiography, he mentions that he got inspiration from the observation that great scientists like Thomas Edison, George Washington Carver, and Albert Einstein came from modest families and rose to the heights they attained through persistence and hard work, according to Toronto University. This informed his decision to offer physics at the bachelor’s level and meteorology for his master’s at the Oregon State University, according to Climate and Global Dynamics Laboratory.
He was in the minority during his time at Oregon State University and encountered racial discrimination, but his mother encouraged him and reminded him of how they had to endure the racial tension that prevailed when they moved into their neighborhood; they stood strong and prevailed. He drew inspiration from this experience and vied for the vice Chair of the Junior National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. This position boosted his confidence to consider working at removing barriers to the systemic challenges experienced by African Americans.
He is reputed for creating computer models for predicting future weather patterns, the foundation that helped scientists to understand the concept of climate change. Since breaking this ground, Dr. Warren has been improving his work year by year. One fact many don’t know about him is how he developed an interest in using computers to create a model of the atmosphere during a summer internship at Stanford Research Institute while at Oregon State University.
He was intrigued by the room the computers gave him to explore this area of interest. When he completed his Ph.D. in meteorology, he stepped up the leverage the models gave him in 1964, and developed his first computer models of the earth’s climate with a colleague, Akira Kasahara, while working at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado.
As computers began to dominate the workspace, Dr. Warren and his colleagues explored its potential. He improved his models to include information about oceans, sea ice, and rising levels of carbon dioxide. It helped researchers to predict the impact of growing carbon dioxide on climate change. He encouraged the global community to take initiative in protecting the planet for future generations.
His expertise made him an adviser to five U.S. presidents, members of the U.S. National Academy of Engineering, a fellow of the American Philosophical Society, and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. This has earned him great recognition for his contributions to atmospheric science. He is one of the top 10 researchers bestowed with the honor of the National Medal of Science by U.S. President Barack Obama.