Weather, December 2021

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Lee and I at a Cruising Club of America seminar in Seattle in February of 2020. Two years before, we had participated in a similar seminar on the east coast, at which Lee provided the segment about 500 millibar charts, one of his passions. For this seminar, I was tasked with incorporating the information that he had presented into my presentation, which I considered a great honor. Despite limitations caused by his stroke, Lee was able to attend the seminar, and as the photo shows, he was still upbeat about life.

My friend and weather colleague Lee Chesneau passed away on Thanksgiving Day 2021, almost exactly three years after he suffered a massive stroke. As a weather forecaster, instructor and as a person, Lee was one of a kind and mariners continue to benefit from his work.

I was first introduced to Lee more than 20 years ago when we worked together providing a two-day weather course for the Ocean Navigator School of Seamanship. At the time, Lee was working as a senior forecaster for what was then known as the NOAA’s Marine Prediction Center, now known as the Ocean Prediction Center. In addition to his forecasting duties, he had the role of the Center’s Outreach Coordinator, responsible for interfacing with the maritime community to help let folks know of the products that were available to them, and to assist them in their proper use.

As I was developing the curriculum for the ONSOS weekend course, Lee told me of the topics that he would cover when we presented the course, and I left open the time slots for him to “do his thing.” The first year we taught together, I learned so much from him! I learned more than I had known about the products that he had a hand in producing, but I also learned about teaching techniques by watching him interact with students. The really interesting thing, though, was that he also learned some things from me. We soon realized that we made a good team, and we found that we had similar philosophies about how to deliver a course to students. With time, we were able to improve and fine tune the format of the course, allowing us to seamlessly move back and forth between our presentations. We felt comfortable enough to occasionally interrupt each other during our presentations to emphasize a certain point. In later years, when I became the sole instructor, the course still had a lot of Lee Chesneau embedded in it.

Lee also brought me into other educational situations, promoting me as an instructor at MITAGS, and STAR Center, both premier professional maritime schools with which he had long standing relationships. Again, our similar teaching philosophies helped us to work together as we redeveloped existing courses, made them better, obtained the needed USCG approvals, and in the process helped many hundreds of professional mariners get the training they needed in order to upgrade their licenses. More important, (actually most important to Lee) we had a part in making a generation of professional mariners more aware of weather on the high seas, giving them the tools they needed to keep their vessels, cargos, and crews safe.

After Lee retired from the Ocean Prediction Center, he spent the rest of his professional life working to educate mariners (both professional and recreational) about weather on the water, and about how best to access and understand the information that they needed to keep themselves safe. In addition to the professional maritime schools that he was affiliated with, he worked directly with some major ocean shipping companies and made many presentations at boat shows across North America, all to further his mission of promoting self-reliance for mariners with respect to the weather.

In looking at Lee’s time at the Ocean Prediction Center, I would be remiss if I did not include the fact that this entity was formed in 1995, and he was there at the beginning, helping to create the operational framework and the products that have become so familiar to many mariners in the years since. This is a very important part of his legacy. So often when casually conversing with others about weather and weather forecast situations (both marine and land based) folks will say “What are they saying about (rain, snow, wind, etc.)?” Lee was one of the they.

Folks need to realize that the forecasts we access as part of our everyday lives are available because of the hard work of a large number of scientists over more than 100 years. These include researchers who spent their entire careers investigating various facets of meteorology, building a body of work that, while still incomplete, has given us a substantial understanding of weather systems and the entire weather/climate system; mathematical and computer geniuses who have developed and refined the computer models that have become such a valuable tool to help us provide more accurate forecasts than ever before; governments around the world that have invested in the infrastructure needed to observe the atmosphere in many different ways and to provide the computing power needed to run the models; and the career forecasters who have invested in their own education, and work every day to help provide the information that assists the general public in their day to day lives.

All of these folks (the they) are real people, men and women who have families and lives outside of their professional work, and deal with the same day to day issues of life as everyone else. It’s easy to forget that sometimes when we are looking at smartphone forecast apps or accessing a chart from the Ocean Prediction Center. Lee Chesneau was a champion swimmer in his younger years, a US Naval officer, an author, a loving husband, father and grandfather, and much more. He was my very good friend, and I will miss him greatly.

Read his obituary here.

ON contributing editor Ken McKinley is a weather professional and vessel router who owns Locus Weather in Camden, Maine.

By Ken McKinely