Kuo helped build theoretical foundation for meteorology
Hsiao-Lan Kuo, who helped pioneer the development of mathematical tools to describe the complex circulation patterns of the atmosphere and the forces that fuel a hurricane, died Saturday, May 6, at the University’s Bernard Mitchell Hospital, following a long illness. He was 91.
After a long ocean voyage from his native China, Kuo arrived in New York as a young man with little more than a scholarship for graduate study at Chicago. But within just a few years, he already had left a lasting mark on the scientific community.
“Hsiao-Lan’s research is an important part of the theoretical foundation for much of modern meteorology,” said Princeton University meteorologist Leo Donner. A former Ph.D. student of Kuo’s, Donner said his mentor was “a brilliant scholar whose research inspired his students and fellow scientists with its keen physical insights, buttressed by mathematical argument.”
Kuo, who was Professor Emeritus in Geophysical Sciences, launched his career by extending the work of Lord Rayleigh, the early 20th-century Nobel laureate, by mathematically expressing the conditions necessary to transform a smoothly flowing fluid in the ocean or atmosphere into an unstable one that swells into eddies.
“It goes by the name of the Rayleigh-Kuo theorem, and it’s a very well-known theorem among our peers,” said Noboru Nakamura, Associate Professor in Geophysical Sciences and the College.
In the mid-1960s, Kuo showed that the energy released by groups of convective clouds plays a major role in the intensification of hurricanes. “This led to the development of one of the early frameworks, referred to as ‘cumulus parameterizations,’ for including the effects of convection in weather forecasts and climate models,” Donner explained.
Kuo was born in Mancheng, a village in Hebei Province, China, on Feb. 7, 1915. Originally named Dong Min, he then renamed himself after a famous Qing Dynasty scholar-poet, Gee Hsiao Lan, or, as it is currently written, Ji Xiaolan.
Kuo received his bachelor’s degree from Tsinghua University in 1937, a master’s degree from National Chekiang University, Hangzhou, in 1942, and a Ph.D. from Chicago in 1948.
He met his wife, Hsiao-Mei, at International House on 59th Street, while she was pursuing a master’s degree in nursing at the University. They married on Sept. 17, 1949, in Cambridge, Mass.
From 1949 to 1961, Kuo worked on the Hurricane Project at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. While at MIT, he studied the internal mechanics of hurricanes, mathematically describing the energy requirements that sustain their movement and feed the intense pattern of circulation around the eye of the storms.
In 1962, Kuo returned to Chicago to join the faculty of the newly formed Department of Geophysical Sciences, a merger of the former departments of geology and meteorology. In 1970, Kuo received the Carl-Gustaf Rossby Research Medal, the highest honor given by American Meteorological Society. The honor was given to Kuo for his research on atmospheric dynamics, hurricane formation and related topics. As a Ph.D. student at Chicago, he had conducted his research under Rossby, who at the time was conducting pioneering research on the jet stream.
Kuo is survived by his wife of 56 years, Hsiao-Mei; three children, Emily, of Boston; Frank, of New York City; and Robert, of Lafayette, Calif.; and four grandchildren, Christopher, Sophia, Zachary and Lauren.
The family will hold a reception in honor of Kuo at 2 p.m. Saturday, June 17, at the Quadrangle Club.