Tom Karl Retires After Nearly 41 Years of Service

Photo of NCEI Director Tom Karl

NCEI Director Tom Karl announces his retirement.

On August 4, 2016, after nearly 41 years, Tom Karl, NCEI’s Director, is retiring from Federal service. He’s come a long way from his first job as an 11 year old handing out advertisements for a TV repairman on Saturday mornings. But, he’s ready to transition into a new phase of his life. “I’m looking forward to slowing things down and taking some time to relax,” said Tom. “And, I won’t have to worry about staying up too late watching football,” he continued with a smile.

Even though Tom is now looking forward to relaxing, the passion for science he developed as a young man remains deeply rooted in him. In the early days of his childhood, Tom had his heart set on becoming a weather forecaster. And, he continued that educational path into college, obtaining his bachelor’s degree from Northern Illinois University and his master’s degree from the University of Wisconsin—both in meteorology.

After completing his master’s degree, Tom was ready to embark on a new phase in his career. He applied for several positions across the country, including one at what was then the Environmental Research Lab in Raleigh, North Carolina. With no word back from the Lab after several weeks, Tom moved to Norman, Oklahoma, and prepared to begin a PhD program and work as a teaching assistant at the University of Oklahoma. Then, a week before his first semester was set to begin, the Environmental Research Lab offered him a position.

“I think the overwhelming Oklahoma heat was what really led to my final decision,” Tom recalled of his decision to move to Raleigh. But, he was certain he’d made the right decision as he began researching the interactions of air pollution with Earth’s climate under his first boss, George Holzworth. “George pushed me to publish a lot of papers early on,” said Tom. “He was instrumental in helping me learn to better communicate my science.”

As much as Tom enjoyed climate and research, he still wanted to fulfill his childhood dream of becoming a weather forecaster. So, he took advantage of working for NOAA and found a job doing just that with the National Weather Service Office in Anchorage, Alaska. But, Tom found that rotating shifts weren’t for him, and he began to search for other opportunities.

Finally, in 1980, Tom found what he was looking for in the National Climate Center in Asheville, North Carolina. Since then, the National Climate Center transformed into the National Climatic Data Center. Throughout that time, Tom also worked his way up from a researcher to a Lab Chief to Senior Scientist to Director of the Center. And, when the National Climatic Data Center merged with its sister Data Centers in 2015, Tom took on the responsibility of serving as NCEI’s first Director and shepherding the former organizations through the transition period.

Of all of his accomplishments during his tenure, Tom reflects most fondly on some of the “ah ha” moments throughout his career. “It was great to use science to discover something we hadn’t realized before,” Tom said. “And, it was really rewarding to work with so many brilliant people toward a cause as rewarding as NOAA’s—helping protect lives and property and living marine resources.”

As Tom goes on to new adventures, he hopes that NCEI will continue to build off its strengths of providing authoritative data and information and being experts on what’s possible with that data. “We’ve built a great reputation from the standpoint of providing stewardship, science, and services,” Tom noted. “And, we’ve got many opportunities to integrate environmental data from different disciplines to help solve some really complex problems. What we’ve done and what NCEI will continue to do is really positive for the country and the world, and that’s worth quite a bit.”

Tom would like to thank all of NCEI’s employees for their dedication and hard work. He would also like to extend a special thanks to all those who encouraged and influenced him throughout his career.

We appreciate Tom’s many years of service at NOAA and wish him the best of luck in the future!