Reflecting on the Life of Most Enthusiastic Meteorologist Ever
MORE ENERGY IN HIS 80s THAN OTHERS IN THEIR 20s
His name was Gilbert (Gil) Clark, and he passed away Monday at the age of 93. I had the good fortune of working with Gil while working at The National Hurricane Center decades ago. He was simply unforgettable.
Gil had the enthusiasm of a young weather fanatic, even in his senior citizen days. I hadn’t seen him in the past decade, but know that he would return to NHC years after his retirement in 1989 to watch his successors track the latest hurricane. They would practically try to push him out of the way to get to their maps. Gil was originally from Texas, and he never lost the accent. It was the type of “cackle” that you could hear from down the hallway.
THE MAN WHO NAMED THE STORMS
Gil’s full contribution may never be officially recognized. That’s because he did something contrary to claims from NHC. It’s always been said that hurricanes are not named for specific people. But I was there, and Gil told me the story himself.
His boss, Robert Simpson, at the end of the 1960s, asked Gil to come up with a list of ALL hurricanes for the 70s. That was quite a task. It’s hard enough to decide on your baby’s name. How about 20+ names for 10 years! And the names couldn’t be too wild, or have some nasty meaning when translated into Spanish (lots of countries in the Tropics speak Spanish).
So, how did he do it? He indeed went to baby naming books to find some of the names. But he also used the names of some of his relatives, former girlfriends, favorite movie stars, and even secretaries at NHC. For example, I remember him saying that Anita was named for the sexy actress Anita Ekberg. Other likely “Gil-names” are:
(In case some of those names aren’t familiar to those younger than 60, look them up. They were all big stars from Gil’s younger days)
There were probably more, but this is only from the list of storms that actually formed, not the entire list of proposed names.
GILBERT: THE ULTIMATE IRONY
“The man who named the storms” eventually had one named after himself, although (as far as I know) he had nothing to do with it. Gilbert, in 1988, turned out to be the most intense hurricane ever recorded in the Caribbean. And it happened just a year before Gil retired. I had assumed that he was at work as Gilbert evolved and intensified, and could just picture his expression with each drop in pressure. Unfortunately, it turned out that he was on sick leave at the time.
Gil was one-of-a-kind. He showed the joy of a child, always amazed at the magnificence of nature. He was an inspiration to me, and probably many others, that you can love what you do even late in life. It’s an incredible blessing to have that joy last forever.