University Community

University community mourns Geography Assistant Professor Emeritus Ronald Isaac

The Ohio University community mourns the passing of Assistant Professor Emeritus of Geography Ronald Isaac on Jan. 13, 2023.

In his more than 40 years in the Geography Department at Ohio University, Isaac once served as department chair and taught hundreds of students before retiring in 2014. Isaac’s vision joined together with several passionate students, and together they founded OHIO's meteorology program and the Scalia Laboratory for Atmospheric Analysis. Isaac earned his Ph.D. from Southern Illinois University and was known by his students as "Dr. I."

Officially founded in 1984, the Scalia Lab not only provides the only "local" weather forecast for Southeastern Ohio, it also has been the experiential learning launchpad for students into forecasting positions with the National Weather Service, TV stations, government agencies, and the armed forces.

Ohio University’s meteorology program started with two courses in forecasting, with the students’ using a standard cottonwood instrument shelter with a maximum and minimum thermometer and an eight-inch rain gauge. The nexus for the lab started in 1981 when two undergraduates, John Coulter and Mark Miller, asked if they could expand the forecasting program at Ohio University.

"They wanted to publish the forecast on an answering machine. They would climb to the top of Porter Hall, ascend the weather observations platform, and then receive the National Weather Service forecast from Pittsburgh by turning a weather radio in just the right direction. Combining this with watching local weather signs and the local television meteorologists, they would prepare a forecast and put this forecast on the answering machine, which had been bought for them," according to the history of Scalia Lab on its website.

"About two months later they asked for a second answering machine. As money was tight at the time, a request for a second answering machine seemed a little troublesome, so it included a counter. It logged 30 calls, which was the maximum it could answer, in the first hour. A little extrapolation indicated that the first machine had been worn out, requiring the purchase of a third machine. This third machine took 100 calls as it filled up as well. Meanwhile, the up-and-coming lab began to receive calls from people who said that the line was busy," the history says.

The lab would progress from students climbing atop Porter Hall to collecting weather information via a dedicated AT&T long-distance line and satellite delivery of National Weather Service maps, when funding allowed. To get their forecasts to their growing audience, the Dictaphone Corporation installed multiple lines and machines to handle the volume, which by the end of the 1980s topped 400,000 calls per year. The lab's first website was built in 1982, getting more than 1,000 visits a month.

Today, students in the lab use the Scalia Lab website (more than 30,000 visitors annually), Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram to share what they learn in their real-time forecasting experience.

Growing from its early days, the lab now hosts over a dozen meteorological sensors on its weather tower on West State Street, near the OHIO driving range and OHIO student farm. This weather tower collects data every five seconds and sends it to the lab, where users can visualize the data in near-real time.

Through the classes he taught and numerous interactions with students outside the class, Dr. I was truly loved, and his passion for student success impacted hundreds of students over the years.

"Dr. I was a valuable colleague, a mentor, and a friend to me. In my first few years at Ohio University, both of us led a handful of meteorology students together. When we added Dr. Jana Houser, Dr. I was still a vital part, and he and I met frequently to plan out ways to provide the best support for students. His dedication to these students is inspiring, and it continues indefinitely with the Isaac Foundation for the Natural Sciences," said Ryan Fogt, professor of geography and director of the Scalia Lab.

"I only hope to be as dedicated, generous, and transformative as he was. To honor him, I always make sure every meteorology student I ever teach knows that they wouldn’t be here without the leadership and vision of Dr. I — he truly was the founder of the program and its heart and soul for many years," Fogt added.

"Dr. Ronald Isaac’s legacy will live on through the foundation he created, the Isaac Foundation for the Natural Sciences. This foundation has provided scholarships to meteorology students at Ohio University since 2020, several years after Dr. Isaac retired, and will continue indefinitely thanks to his generous support," according to his obituary. In lieu of flowers, contributions to the Isaac Foundation for the Natural Sciences are greatly appreciated. They may be sent to the Isaac Foundation for the Natural Sciences care of the Geography Department at Ohio University. A spring memorial service will planned at a later date; he will also be commemorated at the 13th Annual Meteorological Symposium on Saturday, March 25, beginning at 11 a.m. in Walter Hall 235.

February 10, 2023
Staff reports