ASMD’s Glenn Rolph Bids Farewell to NOAA Following 33 Years of Service

October 2019

On September 28, Glenn Rolph officially retired from the lone career on his professional resume. Mr. Rolph is ready to focus on his favorite hobbies and interests outside of weather after dedicating the last 33 years to NOAA’s Air Resources Laboratory. A celebratory luncheon was held in Glenn’s honor on September 26 at the Olive Garden with nearly 30 people in attendance, including current and former colleagues, friends, and family.

Rolph joined ARL in 1986 after earning both bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Meteorology from The Pennsylvania State University. In the first few years of his career, Glenn spent many an early morning supporting forecasts for manned balloon flights; receiving data at 2 a.m., running the HYSPLIT model to obtain forecast trajectories using weather forecast data, printing the results via a Silent 700 terminal (dot-matrix printing on heat-sensitive paper), and faxing them to meteorologists assigned to the balloon flights. Unavailable via any other means, these forecasts were essential to balloonists vying for a world record as the first to successfully cross the Atlantic Ocean. Meteorologists depended on HYSPLIT’s trajectories to assist balloonists worldwide, all of whom needed to maintain or re-establish courses to avoid storms and/or unfriendly countries along their respective journeys. Once he established the Real-time Environmental Applications and Display System (READY), Glenn taught meteorologists to run the HYSPLIT model themselves and re-gained his freedom to sleep through the night. He thoroughly enjoyed the work though, and is among a select few whose efforts supported the first successful around-the-world balloon flight in 2002. Glenn helped develop the initial programs that became READY and established the first READY website to allow for outside access to HYSPLIT forecasts. He developed a specific variant for operational use by weather forecast offices nationwide, yet non-traditional users such as participants in the Volvo Ocean Race and America’s Cup also benefitted.

Glenn was deeply involved in developing the operational HYSPLIT smoke forecasting website and curriculum/access for HYSPLIT workshops which began in 2004 and continue to reach hundreds worldwide each year. During his first visit to ARL, Dr. Neil Jacobs shared that he’d been a HYSPLIT user. Glenn was quick to advise Dr. Jacobs that he’d created the account, as he alone administered user registrations – a role that he maintained until shortly before his retirement.

Glenn was a member of the team that helped prepare for the installation and promotion of NOAA’s Science on a Sphere® in College Park, a 6’ spherical display used to show scientific images and animations over the globe. He was responsible for prompting ARL’s content on the SoS, the first being a HYSPLIT animation developed to better publicize ARL’s widely-regarded model following the Fukushima disaster, and remained a member of the SoS committee at NOAA’s Center for Weather and Climate Prediction until his retirement. Today NOAA boasts a nationwide and international network of institutions that host a sphere, serving millions of visitors each year, and the agency introduced a mobile version called SOS Explorer (SOSx) in August 2019.

Over the course of his career, Glenn wrote or co-authored approximately 30-35 scientific papers, with subjects ranging from atmospheric chemistry to the use of HYSPLIT for operational forecasting and emergency response. “NOAA’s HYSPLIT Atmospheric Transport and Dispersion Modeling System” made the cover of the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society (BAMS) in December 2015 and recently earned a place in the top five most cited BAMS articles over the past three years.

Glenn’s work provided opportunities for collaboration with colleagues at the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and the Regional Specialized Meteorological Centers (RSMCs). In 1999, Glenn developed a joint web site used by the RSMCs to transmit their modeling products between all centers and in 2018 he developed a prototype Transfer Coefficient Matrix website for RSMCs, presenting it to fellow attendees of the WMO’s Commission for Basic Systems’ Expert Team on Emergency Response Activities meeting in Vienna, Austria.

Glenn’s efforts earned him multiple prestigious awards over the years, though many of his colleagues may be unaware of these since he was never one to boast about his accomplishments. Glenn was a two-time recipient of the NOAA Administrator’s Award, in 1998 and 2014, a 2013 recipient of the DOC Bronze Medal Award, and a key member of the teams selected for the 2017 NOAA Technology Transfer Award and 2018 OAR Outstanding Scientific Paper Award – Weather. He was also one of three ARL scientists selected to meet President Bush during his 2002 visit to NOAA.

Though he’s been passionate about weather for most of his life (he maintained a membership in the AMS for over 40 years, beginning in middle school!), it would be an understatement to simply say that Glenn was excited to officially begin the next chapter of his life. In addition to his year-long, prominent display of a retirement countdown clock in his office, Glenn began working a new part-time, weekend job at a local winery well before his retirement date. His fascination with the business of growing grapes, creating and selling wine prompted this adventure and he’s already learning to be proficient in hosting tastings, running the register, and helping out with stocking and kitchen tasks. In his free time, Glenn plans to work on projects around the house, re-acquaint himself with the District of Columbia’s museums, and enjoy driving and showing his Ford Mustang.

Rolph, seated, beside a small refrigerator on a metal table.
Rolph during the early years of his career. Credit: NOAA
Five people (four men, one woman) in front of a tree and building. Rolph is in the middle holding a plaque with the NOAA logo.
Rolph, center, with colleagues and co-recipients of the 1998 NOAA Administrator's Award. Credit: NOAA
The five authors with their award, along with two senior NOAA managers. Rolph is at the center of the seven-person group.
Rolph, center, and his four co-authors pose with two members of OAR's leadership team after receiving the 2018 OAR Outstanding Scientific Paper Award - Weather. Credit: NOAA
23 people on the sidewalk outside the Olive Garden.
Rolph and friends outside the restaurant after his retirement lunch.