By contrast, Droegemeier has impeccable scientific credentials. “I’m pleasantly surprised,” says J. Marshall Shepherd, a meteorologist at the University of Georgia. “Up to this point, many of the appointments on the science side have been odd, but Kelvin is solid on all grounds. He is very well respected in our field and has spent a career teaching the fundamentals of climate science.”
Having been at the University of Oklahoma for 33 years, Droegemeier co-founded the Center for Analysis and Prediction of Storms, or CAPS, in 1989, at a time when few scientists believed that storm-scale weather could be accurately forecasted. CAPS showed otherwise. Its prediction system was the first to calculate the location and structure of storms several hours in advance. It’s now used around the world.
Droegemeier’s expertise will be useful, since the United States has just faced its costliest year of extreme-weather events, with wildfires, hurricanes, and other disasters building up a price tag of $306 billion. “His atmospheric-science background is key to understanding and estimating growing costs of weather and climate events,” says Rosina Bierbaum, a former OSTP member who now holds appointments at the University of Maryland and the University of Michigan. She notes that a report that Droegemeier chaired, in which the words weather and climate are frequently used together, “is indicative of how Kelvin thinks—weather and climate are a continuum.”
Moreover, his scientific clout is paired with deep political experience. Under both Bush and Obama, he sat on the National Science Board, which sets the policies of the National Science Foundation and provides counsel to both the president and Congress; he acted as vice chair of that board from 2014 to 2017. He has also acted as the secretary of science and technology for Oklahoma’s governor.
“He is an excellent scientist, communicator, and public servant, and therefore a superb choice to be the next director of OSTP,” says Kei Koizumi, who was part of the office during the Obama era and has worked with Droegemeier before. “He’ll be able to navigate the Washington policy community and the U.S. science community. OSTP will benefit from having an inspiring leader at the helm.”
“He is an outstanding choice,” says Robin Tanamachi, an atmospheric scientist at Purdue University who studied under Droegemeier in graduate school and later worked with him on several committes. “He consistently exhibited encyclopedic knowledge of the state of meteorological science and the frontiers of research, and a surprising level of detail about individual projects both inside and outside his immediate working groups.”
There is one dark cloud to this silver lining: Many OSTP directors have acted as a science adviser to the president, but that’s not a formally mandated part of the role. The physicist John Holdren, who last held the position, had a direct line to Obama because of the latter’s keen interest in science. Trump, however, could conceivably appoint Droegemeier and never seek advice from him.