Mark Wysocki retires from New York State Climatologist position

By: Chris Dawson

(Photo: Mark Wysocki receiving the Edward N. Lorenz Teaching Excellence Award from the American Meteorological Society in 2017.)

Mark Wysocki '89 retired from his position as New York State Climatologist recently, but you wouldn't know it. Most days, if you peek your head into Snee 2142, you will find him there looking at climate models, tracking a storm, answering emails, or just chatting with a student or colleague.

Wysocki grew up in Milwaukee, Wisconsin and neither of his parents had more than an eighth-grade education. But they extolled the virtues of a good education to Mark and his two older siblings, both of whom earned undergraduate degrees in Milwaukee. So it came as a bit of a surprise to his parents when Wysocki told them he had been accepted to the University of Arizona and that he would be going to Tucson to study astronomy and physics.

Mark Wysocki“My mom and dad grew up during the Great Depression and they were both part of large families with ten or twelve kids,” Wysocki said. “Schooling was not high on the list of priorities for their parents. So when my older brother and sister and I were growing up, my parents emphasized education as a way to make better lives for ourselves. Even though they were a bit shocked when I told them I wanted to go to Arizona, they still supported my decision.”

By the time Wysocki graduated with his astronomy and physics degrees in 1976, NASA had cancelled the Apollo program and people with advanced astronomy degrees were having a hard time finding work. But Wysocki, who had a lifelong interest in lightning, thunderstorms and fog, realized he could apply the math and physics he knew to the study of the atmosphere and weather. He was accepted into a graduate program in meteorology at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

Wysocki then did something he does not recommend to any of his students who ask his advice on such matters: he took a job before finishing his master’s program. “It was the late 70s and school was costing me money and then I got this job offer and I figured I would take the job and then be able to finish my degree over time…”

He was indeed able to complete his master’s degree over time, but it took much longer than he had thought it would and it ended up being at Cornell, not Milwaukee. “I did manage to finish,” Wysocki said during a recent conversation in his Snee Hall office, which is crammed with the collected journals, charts, photos and memorabilia of more than 35 years at Cornell. “And as I finished, the most remarkable thing happened. The Dean of CALS approved a non-tenured teaching position that would help the college establish an undergraduate meteorology degree.”

That was in 1988. Wysocki took the position and has been in Ithaca ever since.

Since coming to Cornell, Wysocki has been an instructor and a lecturer in meteorology in the Department of Soil, Crop, and Atmospheric Sciences, a senior lecturer in meteorology in the Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, associate director of academic programs for the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, director of undergraduate studies in atmospheric sciences, and New York State Climatologist. Many of these positions have been overlapping at various points over the years.

In listening to Mark Wysocki talk about his long and winding path at Cornell, it is pretty obvious that he has enjoyed every position every step of the way. What he doesn’t mention even once is all of the awards, honors, and recognition he has received over the years. And they have been many. Here is the list:

  • 1997: Departmental Musgrave Award for outstanding service to the Department of Soil, Crop and Atmospheric Sciences
  • 2000: Outstanding educator award for the Merrill Presidential Scholar program
  • 2001: SUNY Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Teaching
  • 2010: Outstanding educator award for the Merrill Presidential Scholar program
  • 2011: Kendal S. Carpenter Memorial Advising Award
  • 2015: Professor of Merit Award
  • 2017: Edward N. Lorenz Teaching Excellence Award from the AMS
  • 2017: Outstanding educator award for the Merrill Presidential Scholar program
  • 2019: Food and Agricultural Sciences Excellence in College and University Nominee
  • 2022: Louis and Edith Edgerton Career Teaching Award

While not talking about any of these awards, Wysocki does talk about some of the accomplishments and satisfactions of his long career at Cornell. In addition to helping to establish the undergraduate meteorology degree, Wysocki also helped develop the B.S. in atmospheric science degree Cornell now offers. He has served on numerous committees and advised many students throughout the years. He has also taught many classes and takes special enjoyment in teaching well and feeling that he has made a difference to the thousands of students he has had in his classes.

If you look carefully at the list of awards and honors above, you’ll see that the general consensus is that Mark Wysocki has been an excellent teacher.

In his role as state climatologist Wysocki has seen major changes over the past 22 years. As satellites, sensors, and computing power have improved, weather forecasts have become more accurate and climate models have improved greatly. The Northeast Regional Climate Center (NRCC-located at Cornell) shares data and forecasts and has given Wysocki a chance to work with fruit growers, farmers, municipalities, and many other people whose plans and livelihoods are affected by the weather.

“This is free information, and in many cases they didn’t know it existed or where to find it,” Wysocki said. “So I used to travel to meetings all over the state and show people the websites—National Weather Service and NRCC and others. They often found that to be absolutely mind-boggling that they could get this information for free. I’d show them how to interpret it and they would put it to use on their farms and in their lives right away. It was very satisfying to have an impact like that.”

In his 35 years at Cornell Mark Wysocki certainly has had an enormous impact in his quiet and dedicated way. When he (eventually) packs up all of the things in his office and scales back the amount of time he spends helping out at the NRCC and talking with students, he will surely be missed.

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