GEORGE JOSEPH HALTINER
November 26, 1918-January
Dr. George J Haltiner, former distinguished professor,
chairman, and distinguished professor emeritus of the Dept of Meteorology at
the US Naval Postgraduate School (US NPS) in Monterey, California passed away
on January 21, 2013 of natural causes at the age of 94. Throughout his 40-year career as an
internationally acclaimed scholar and educator, Dr. Haltiner was a recognized
leader in the revolution of the science of weather forecasting. He helped pioneer methods to harness the
emerging power of computers and incorporate remotely sensed data from
satellites, planes, ships and other platforms, transforming weather prediction
from an empirical craft to a modern science.
He published three seminal textbooks that were used by an entire
generation of meteorology students, and helped guide the Meteorology Department
at the US Naval Postgraduate School into one of the premier research programs
in the world. His enthusiasm for science
combined with his love of teaching inspired numerous students, faculty and
colleagues throughout the world. Along
with his wife Mary, he was a Monterey resident since 1948.
Dr Haltiner was born on November 26, 1918 in St Paul,
Minnesota to Conrad and Elizabeth Haltiner, impoverished immigrants to the
United States from Switzerland and Austria.
One of 10 children, he grew up in difficult times, with his mother
succumbing to cancer when he was six, requiring his older siblings to drop out
of school and support the family, allowing him and younger siblings to complete
their education. This self-sacrifice,
hard work, frugality and especially family loyalty made a deep and lasting
impression that guided him throughout his life.
During his high school years, he supported himself by
working on a milk delivery truck, and later, as a cook on the Great Northern
Railroad. He won a scholarship to St
Thomas College in Mathematics, graduating summa cum laude in 1940 and began a
PhD program in mathematics at the University of Wisconsin. Throughout his youth and college years, he
was an avid ski jumper, competing widely throughout the Midwest, reaching the
highest national ranking (“A” level) in 1942, with aspirations of competing in
However, his schooling and athletics were interrupted by the
onset of World War II and he joined the United States Navy as an officer and
member of the Naval Weather Service in 1942.
At that time, weather prediction remained largely an empirical process,
relying on experience and simple instrumentation that had evolved over
centuries. His education in physics and
mathematics was ideal for the rapid evolution of modern weather forecasting
during this period. He was initially
stationed in Pearl Harbor, and moved across the Pacific Ocean, forecasting
weather and ocean conditions for US forces engaged in the battles for the
Pacific Islands. During this period, he was
also assigned to the European front, advising on new developments in the
weather and ocean wave forecasting that were a key factor in the timing and
success of the Normandy invasion. At the
conclusion of World War II, he withdrew from active duty, but remained in the reserves,
retiring with the rank of Captain USN in 1972.
In 1946, he accepted a faculty position at the US Naval Postgraduate
School in Annapolis, Maryland. On a
train trip to Annapolis, he met the love of his life, Mary Wahl. When they disembarked from the train, he
gallantly offered to carry her suitcase, having already determined that this
was the woman he would marry. Following
a romantic courtship in Washington DC, they wed in June, 1947. In 1948, he received his PhD in Mathematics at
the University of Wisconsin. That same
year, the Navy relocated the Meteorology/Oceanography Department to a new site
that had been constructed in the former Del Monte Hotel in Monterey, with the
remaining departments following in 1951.
He served as a professor of
meteorology from 1946 to1964 and as Department Chairman from 1964 until his
retirement in 1982. He was awarded the
title of “Distinguished Professor” in 1962, and Distinguished Professor
Emeritus at his retirement. During this
period he was recognized as one of the world’s foremost researchers in the
emerging field of Numerical Weather Prediction, as weather forecasting advanced
from approximate short-range forecasts to allow increasingly detailed and
accurate prediction up to several weeks into the future. Building on this work, the development of
global climatic circulation models has allowed the understanding of potential
longer term climate changes in response to human activities. Throughout this
period, he was also invited to Washington DC, advising the Navy leadership on
the crucial role of the Postgraduate School in maintaining technological
excellence in support of naval operations around the world.
At the time of his retirement in 1982, he was personally
presented with the Navy’s Distinguished Civilian Service Award by the Secretary
of the Navy, the highest honor presented to a non-military member for his
contributions to Navy operations. He also
received the Cleveland Abby Award from the American Meteorological Society for
exemplary teaching skills and contributions to the advancement of numerical
weather prediction. The USNPGS established a research chair position in his
name, bringing renowned scholars to the school each year to contribute to the
development of Weather Forecasting. In
his honor, the school dedicated the George Haltiner Laboratory for Weather Analysis
and Prediction in 2009.
He commented throughout his life about how fortunate he was
to spend his career on the spectacular Monterey Peninsula. He was an avid and accomplished golfer and a
founding member (1966) of the Spyglass Hill Golf Course. He played the game avidly for sixty-six years,
and always appreciated the combination of skill, competition, natural beauty
and camaraderie shared with his many golfing friends.
He was a devout Catholic and member of the San Carlos
Cathedral and US NPS chapel. Deeply
moved by the beauty, complexity and symmetry he saw in the universe around him,
he was convinced that such a masterpiece must have a Creator.
He is survived by his beloved spouse of more than 65 years,
Mary Wahl Haltiner, and his younger sister, Beth Haltiner of Mankato, Minnesota. He and Mary were
blessed with five children: Mary Himple
(Walter), Jeffrey (Kim Curtice) Haltiner, Kathleen Deck (Peter), Jean Isaacs
(Paul), and Michele Jones (Kevin). He
was deeply loved and respected by 14 grandchildren: Joseph and Julie (deceased) Himple, Caitlin
and Seth Haltiner, Christian, Jonathan, Anna and Katherine Deck, Michael, Daniel
and Laura Isaacs, and Stephanie, Natalie and Katharine Jones.
A memorial Mass and reception to celebrate his life will be
held at the San Carlos Cathedral on Monday, March 11, 2013 at 10AM. Please wear bright colors- George always liked to celebrate.
The family would like to thank the staff of Ave Maria
Convalescent Hospital for their loving and devoted care, and the VNA Hospice
program for their service and support.
Memorial donations may be made to the California State Parks
Foundation, the St Vincent de Paul Society, or a charity of choice.