P.E. Church: Founder of UW Meteorology and Climatology Department

by Franklin I. Badgley (June 3, 1977)

Before many of his colleagues in this country, Phil Church recognized the importance of the Norwegian frontal theory and some of his earliest research concerned the Climatology of fronts and air masses in North America.

Upon moving to the Pacific Northwest Dr. Church came to appreciate the intimate links between the ocean and the atmosphere. Before World War II he had started research in this area including summer studies at Friday Harbor and measurements made in the waters surrounding Seattle. When he was asked by the late Carl Rossby to come to the University of Chicago to help train meteorologists for the Air Force, it was partly the possibility of doing research on Lake Michigan that attracted him there. During his years at Chicago he made systematic measurements of the lake’s temperature structure by mounting instruments on the railroad ferries that criss-crossed that water. Until very recent years those measurements (made while he was teaching hundreds of students) remained the definitive description of Lake Michigan’s temperature regime.

While he was at Chicago, the first successful controlled nuclear pile was put into action there. Although he had had no part in this development, when there was question about where to build a major atomic installation, he was called on to provide climatological information about proposed sites. When Hanford, Washington, was selected he and a handful of other meteorologists he had chosen, were among the first scientist to settle at the site.

It was here that he developed his lasting interest in air pollution and the proper disposal of air-borne wastes. He made pioneering experiments in turbulent diffusion and founded the group at Hanford that carries on similar work today.

Upon returning to the University of Washington after the war he was asked to form the Department of Meteorology and Climatology and although administrative duties thereafter took up much of his time, he never lost interest in research; he encouraged younger members of the faculty in their scientific work and gave them the backing for it.

Two good examples are in the fields of cloud physics and of arctic meteorology. Realizing the importance of work in these fields he brought in specialists who have founded groups that are recognized as among the leaders of their disciplines. He himself served on boards and panels that gave oversight to national developments of these and other scientific studies.

When the press of administrative duties became less onerous, he returned to one of his early interests the Climatology of the Pacific Northwest. His most recent research was in the history of precipitation in this region a subject whose critical importance he recognized long ago and which is being brought home to all of us every day.