George J. Haltiner, an internationally acclaimed scientist and educator who played an important role in keeping the Naval Postgraduate School at the forefront of meteorological research, died Monday in Monterey at age 94.
Mr. Haltiner, a resident of Monterey with his wife, Mary, since 1948, was a distinguished professor emeritus at NPS, serving as chairman of the Department of Meteorology from 1964 until he retired in 1982. He was the author or co-author of three books on meteorology, as well as 25 scientific papers published in academic journals on the subject.
In December 1981, he was awarded the Navy's highest honor for a civilian employee, the Navy Distinguished Civilian Service Award.
Throughout his 40-year career, Mr. 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.
"The computer radically changed the fundamental basis of weather prediction," Mr. Haltiner told The Herald in 1981, while satellites "provided pictures of weather over vast ocean areas, where data previously had been sparse or absent."
"We're finally seeing more of the forest, rather than just the trees," he said.
Mr. Haltiner was born Nov. 26, 1918, in St. Paul, Minn., one of 10 children of Conrad and Elizabeth Haltiner, impoverished immigrants from Switzerland and Austria.
His mother died of cancer when he was 6, and his older siblings dropped out of school to support the family. Throughout his high school years, Mr. Haltiner worked on a milk delivery truck and as a cook on the Great Northern Railroad.
He won a scholarship to St. Thomas College, graduating summa cum laude in 1940, then entered the Ph.D. program in mathematics at the University of Wisconsin.
He joined the Navy in World War II as an officer and member of the National Weather Service.
Weather prediction was largely an empirical process during that era, relying on experience and simple instrumentation that had evolved over centuries. Mr. Haltiner's education in physics and mathematics proved ideal for the rapid advance of modern weather forecasting.
He was stationed at Pearl Harbor and the Pacific Islands, and later served on the European front, advising on new developments in weather and ocean wave forecasting that were a key factor in the timing and success of the Normandy invasion.
Mr. Haltiner withdrew from active duty at the end of the war, but remained in the reserves, accepting a faculty position at the U.S. Naval Postgraduate School at Annapolis, Md., in 1946.
He met Mary Wahl on a train to Annapolis, and the couple were wed in June 1947 in Washington, D.C.
In 1948, after earning his Ph.D., Mr. Haltiner relocated to the new site of the NPS Meteorology/Oceanography Department at the former Del Monte Hotel in Monterey.
During his tenure at NPS, Mr. Haltiner was recognized as one of the world's foremost researchers in the emerging field of numerical weather prediction, as forecasting advanced from approximate short-range forecasts to increasingly detailed and accurate prediction up to several weeks in the future. Building on his work, the development of global climatic circulation models has allowed the understanding of longer-term climate change in response to human activities.
NPS 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 2009, the school dedicated the George Haltiner Laboratory for Weather Analysis and Prediction.
Mr. Haltiner was an avid and accomplished golfer for 66 years, becoming a founding member of the Spyglass Hill Golf Course in Pebble Beach in 1966. He was also a ski jumper in his youth and college years, competing throughout the Midwest and achieving the highest national ranking ("A" level) in 1942.
He was a devout Catholic and member of the San Carlos Cathedral and NPS Chapel.
In addition to Mary, his wife of more than 65 years, Mr. Haltiner is survived by five children — Mary Himple, Jeffrey Haltiner, Kathleen Deck, Jean Isaacs and Michele Jones — and 14 grandchildren.
A memorial Mass and reception to celebrate his life will be held at 10 a.m. March11 at San Carlos Cathedral. A tribute website is available at http://memorial.yourtribute.com/George-Joseph-Haltiner/.
Memorial donations may be made to the California State Parks Foundation, the St. Vincent de Paul Society or a charity of choice.
Dennis Taylor can be reached at 646-4344 or email@example.com.