NSSL announces passing of aircraft program pioneer Jean “J.T.” Lee

The National Severe Storms Laboratory is saddened to announce the passing of Jean “J.T.” Lee, a pioneer who managed NSSL’s aircraft program when it began, leading to better weather-related safety.

Lee was a scientists at NSSL for 42 years, discovering and documenting correlations between weather radar and turbulence hazards to aircraft. This work began at the Weather Bureau’s National Severe Storms Project based in Kansas City, Missouri, then was part of the team who moved to Norman to start the National Severe Storms Laboratory in the early 1960s.

During 2004, Lee was interviewed about his job and why he enjoyed working at NSSL.

“I found it fascinating,” he said. “The people we worked with were devoted and many times we weren’t 8 to 5 but 8 until whenever the situation stopped and that would be midnight sometimes,” he said. “There was real camaraderie.”

Lee’s team produced radar criteria for avoiding storms by aircraft. He took part in Project Rough Rider, flying aircraft into thunderstorms to measure turbulence to compare with measurements of rain intensity from the WSR-57 radar. The project led to improved commercial airline safety guidelines.

“The Air Force at that time was beginning to have problems with their jet aircraft,” Lee said during an interview about NSSL’s 40th anniversary. “They were interested in what was the weather above thunderstorms and how high did thunderstorms extend. Our penetration work was around 30,000 feet with the aircraft and we were the first ones to do supersonic penetrations. I feel the greatest accomplishment here was we were able to provide the design of safety procedures for the safety of flight.”

His work contributed to several Federal Aviation Administration guidelines, including a memorandum to the FAA Wind Shear Program Office in 1976 suggesting the usage of anemometers to provide instant reports on winds near airports.

Lee wrote more than 50 research articles in journals on aviation radar interpretation, aircraft turbulence and wind shear, and Doppler radar studies. He received several awards, including the Losey Atmospheric Sciences award in 1981 for his invaluable contributions to flying safety. The award was one of seven presented by the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics. He was also honored in 1982 with the NASA Group Achievement award for MSFC Doppler Lidar 1981 flight experiments.

Lee, 95, passed away June 28, 2017.