The early years: 1918-1986
Meteorological instruction at Texas A&M can be traced to 1918, when the Army Signal Corps established a temporary weather school at the university (then called the Agricultural and Mechanical College of Texas) in support of the war effort. Among the instructors at the school was the noted meteorologist Charles F. Brooks, who would go on to found the American Meteorological Society the following year.
Formal academic instruction in meteorology followed some years later, in the early 1950s, when Robert Reid, John Freeman, and Walter Saucier joined what was then the Department of Oceanography. Shortly thereafter, the Air Force began sending Basic Training officers to Texas A&M for intensive meteorological training, and the number of courses in meteorology rapidly increased. In 1956, the department was renamed as the Department of Oceanography and Meteorology, reflecting the increased emphasis on meteorological instruction.
In the mid-1960s, the Earth sciences at A&M was brought under a single umbrella to form the College of Geosciences, which resulted in an independent Department of Meteorology, with nine founding faculty members. In 1973, the department moved into the newly built, 13-story Oceanography and Meteorology (O&M) building, where it remains located today.
Building the research program: 1986–2001
In the mid-1980s, an effort was established to develop a more prominent, well-rounded meteorology research program. Under the direction of Deans Mel Friedman and Robert Duce, along with Associate Dean Worth Nowlin, a number of senior faculty members with well-established research credentials were recruited. The effort proved successful, as external research funding rose from approximately $100,000 per year in the early 1980s to around $3 million per year by the late 1990s.
By the end of the century, research interests in the department had expanded to include satellite and remote sensing, climate, and atmospheric chemistry, in addition to the traditional radar, dynamic and synoptic interests. To reflect this new breadth, along with the increased emphasis on research, the department was rechristened in 1998 as the Department of Atmospheric Sciences.
In the years following 2001, the department underwent a period of rapid growth, fueled in part by the overall university expansion associated with the Vision 2020 plan. By 2010, the department had more than doubled in size from a decade earlier, reaching a total of 21 faculty members and more than 60 graduate students.
During the expansion, the department’s strategy has been to hire broadly, as opposed to in targeted clusters. As a result, the department now features one of the broadest faculty in the nation, with prominent researchers in fields ranging from climate science, atmospheric chemistry, and remote sensing, to physical meteorology, dynamics, numerical modeling, and numerical weather prediction. The faculty's contributions to these fields have garnered numerous recent awards, including the prestigious Charney, Suomi, and Meisinger awards from the American Meteorological Society, as well as the Ascent award from the American Geophysical Union, along with a number of fellowships in national societies.
Looking back, it is striking how far the department has grown beyond its earlier days as a synoptics training school. Indeed, in terms of faculty size, the department is now one of the largest stand-alone atmospheric sciences departments in the nation, with prestigious faculty and research activities spanning all sub-disciplines of the field.