Pioneering hurricane forecaster William Gray dies at 86

Bill Gray
Bill Gray

William Mason (Bill) Gray, emeritus professor of atmospheric science at Colorado State University, passed away peacefully surrounded by his family on April 16 at the age of 86.

He had remained active in his hurricane and climate change research up until the time of his death. Gray was famous for his seasonal Atlantic Basin hurricane forecasts and his strong disagreement with the scientific basis of the anthropogenic global warming hypothesis.

Gray was a faculty member in the Department of Atmospheric Science at CSU from 1961 through his formal retirement in 2005. After retirement, he continued his hurricane and climate research as a professor emeritus.

In 1984, Gray initiated seasonal hurricane forecasts, for which he became well known, and which received extensive media coverage particularly in the 1980s and 90s. Gray graduated 70 masters and Ph.D. students, and many of his former graduate students have become prominent leaders in the field of tropical meteorology today.

His last graduate student, CSU atmospheric scientist Phil Klotzbach, has very successfully continued these seasonal forecasts since 2006. Read Klotzbach’s tribute to his mentor here.

Gray was born in Detroit, Michigan on Oct. 9, 1929. He was the eldest son of Ulysses S. Gray and Beatrice Mason Gray. The family moved to Washington, D.C. in 1939, and he graduated from Wilson High School and George Washington University (1952). He was active in high school football and baseball. A knee injury at 21 prevented a desired career in professional baseball.

Gray received a 2nd lieutenant commission in the Air Force in 1953 and served as a weather forecast officer for four years, the majority of which was overseas (Azores, England). He remained active in the Air Force Reserves after joining CSU as a weather officer until 1974, when he retired as a lieutenant colonel.

After his active Air Force duty in 1957, Gray obtained an M.S. (Meteorology) and Ph.D. (Geophysical Sciences) from the University of Chicago. He joined the newly‐formed Department of Atmospheric Science at CSU in 1961.

He married Nancy Price on Oct. 1, 1954. They had four children, Sarah, Anne (deceased), Janet, and Robert.

Nancy Gray was very active for many years in Fort Collins community affairs and politics (including serving as mayor of Fort Collins from 1980‐81) before her death in 2001.

Gray worked many years with the United Nations World Meteorological Organization (WMO). He initiated and organized the first WMO International Workshop on Tropical Cyclones in Bangkok in 1985. He travelled the world and maintained collaborations with prominent researchers in the field of tropical meteorology throughout his career. To recognize his leadership and distinguished service in the field of tropical meteorology, he received many professional awards, including the first  Robert and Joanne Simpson Award (2014).

Gray had strong disagreement with the science behind the human‐induced global warming hypothesis and devoted the major portion of his recent years to research in this area.

Gray is survived by his two daughters, Sarah (of San Diego) and Janet (of Fort Collins) and his son Robert and two grandsons Mason and Liam (of San Diego).

Gray’s family will hold a private memorial service on May 22 at 11 a.m. at the Lory Student Center at CSU. The service is for family, friends and colleagues only.

Donations to honor Gray’s memory can be made to the William M. Gray Tropical Meteorology Memorial Fund, which will support graduate studies and research in tropical meteorology in the Department of Atmospheric Science at CSU. Donate to the fund here

Checks can also be sent to CSU Foundation, 410 University Services Center Fort Collins, CO 80523-9100. In the memo line reference “72925” or “William M. Gray Tropical Meteorology Memorial.”