Dr. James Ruppert describes his journey into the field of meteorology as happening “by chance.” He grew up on Long Island, New York, and experienced thunderstorms and the occasional hurricane, but aside from that, he doesn’t have the storm story that so many others do. His curiosity about the weather and how the world works—partnered with meteorology being the most interesting sounding degree on a list—led him to enroll in the meteorology program at the University at Albany.
“I had an array of fantastic, inspiring instructors, and that’s what got me hooked into research and atmospheric science,” said Ruppert.
After completing his Ph.D., Ruppert took a postdoctoral position at the Max Planck Institute for Meteorology in Hamburg, Germany. He was interested in using the short timeframe of a postdoc to see the world and equally eager to join Cathy Hohenegger’s group studying convection. “Their group really studies the atmosphere as you would imagine studying it in a laboratory… you peel back many layers of complexity that the real world has in different contexts to try to get at the core physics of whatever problem or whatever storm systems you’re studying.” This approach to research still influences his work.
Ruppert leads the Convective Storm Dynamics Group. “A major topic of [our] focus right now is trying to better understand hurricane formation.” They also study tropical monsoons, air-sea interaction, and supercell behavior. Three graduate students and two undergraduate students make up the rest of the group, and Ruppert says they are working to collaborate more with other groups and professors in the college, in particular Dr. Naoko Sakaeda.
Over the summer, Ruppert participated in the PRECIP 2022 field campaign in Taiwan. “We were hoping to sample tropical cyclones, typhoons, out in the west Pacific, and during the time that this field campaign was taking place there was not one, which was really unusual,” said Ruppert. “The basin is waking up now, but it’s been a quiet season.”
Despite the lack of typhoons, however, Ruppert describes the campaign as a major success. “The field campaign had objectives of collecting radar measurements and weather balloon measurements of extreme rainfall in sort of a variety of flavors based out of Taiwan and southern Japan, and that was a massive hit in a lot of other ways.”
Ruppert describes the School of Meteorology and the surrounding meteorological community as having both a breadth of research tools and topics. “I could really see myself pushing myself and allowing myself to grow as an individual and as a scientist in the coming years as I try to develop new collaborations. I knew I wanted to be in a place where I’d have opportunities to not just do the same old thing.”
In addition to research, Ruppert is passionate about teaching, which comprises half of his job at OU. He enjoys taking a large, complex idea and breaking it down into smaller, consumable bites. Currently, he’s teaching undergraduate Dynamics I and II. “That’s both an intimidating opportunity and an incredible opportunity. Those were my favorite classes as an undergrad. Those were the classes where I really felt like I could connect the math I’d learned with some physical process I could visualize. That was what helped me fall in love with this field.”
He's looking forward to developing some graduate teaching in the future, particularly related to tropical meteorology and tropical connection, and also related to numerical modeling.
Recently, Ruppert was awarded the 2020 Editors’ Citation for Excellence in Refereeing Geophysical Research Letters for his work as a peer reviewer. “Serving as a peer reviewer is, for me, a key aspect of being part of the research community.” He describes himself as writing his feedback as if he is chatting with a colleague at a conference over coffee. “That’s how I like to be treated, and I think that award was trying to advance that philosophy.”
Outside of work, Ruppert is working on getting dive certified, a way for him to keep a connection to his more ocean-centered hobbies from living on Long Island. He also loves mountain biking and trail running.