Stanley Alcide Changnon Jr. was an internationally acclaimed atmospheric scientist and the first climatologist to work for the Illinois State Water Survey. He served as the Illinois State Climatologist from 1972 to 1980, becoming Chief of the Water Survey in 1981.
Changnon wrote over 400 peer-reviewed papers, more than 500 other reports, and eight books focused on climatology with an emphasis on climate change over specific regions. His areas of research included physical and societal impacts of climate, global changes in thunderstorms, and weather and climate extremes.
Among his many contributions to the atmospheric sciences was his leadership of the Water Survey’s groundbreaking METROMEX project, which explored the impact of large metropolitan areas, such as Chicago and St. Louis, on weather patterns.
“The inversion is weakest in the urban center, and the morning heating allows surface air to reach the lifting condensation level earlier than in a rural area where a much stronger inversion must be overcome. The urban surface by virtue of its roughness characteristics and its slightly warmer temperature produces an increased flux of heat and water vapor through mechanical mixing or through enhanced thermal transport.” (See Summary of METROMEX Volume 2).
In essence, Changnon demonstrated that a reversal of the normal behavior of temperature in the troposphere (the atmospheric region closest to the ground) can be caused by residual effects of urbanization, resulting in a warmer average temperature than surrounding rural areas, year-round. This study was nationally significant, as it was one of the first documented studies in the Midwest that focused on urban climate change.
He received awards for his scientific accomplishments from the American Association for the Advancement of Science, American Geophysical Union, and the American Water Resources Association. In 2011, he was named an Honorary Member of the American Meteorological Society, recognition reserved for individuals of “acknowledged preeminence” who accumulate distinction over several years. Only 129 Honorary Members have been awarded since 1919.
Perhaps the most prestigious award Changnon was associated with was the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize, awarded to Al Gore and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Changnon made major contributions to a series of IPCC reports that assessed the state of science and impacts of climate change. Those reports have contributed to policies and practices that impact our lives today.
Changnon was born in 1928. He earned his B.S. in Geography in 1951 and his M.S. in geography in 1956 both from University of Illinois. He was initiated into the Skull and Crescent sophomore honorary fraternity at the Chi Psi fraternity house in 1948 and initiated into the U.S. honorary national mathematics society Pi Mu Epsilon in 1952. Following graduation, he began working for the Illinois State Water Survey. One of his early positions there was as a Research Climatologist in the IBM Punch Card Climatologic Program. The IBM card served as the most commonly used method of data storage and computation for nearly a half century. Later in his career, Changnon served as adjunct professor for the Geography and Atmospheric Sciences department. He retired as Chief of the Illinois State Water Survey in 1985. After retirement, he returned to the Illinois State Water Survey as Chief Emeritus and began researching again as a principal scientist until 2011. He passed away in 2012.
Stan Changnon's contributions to the study of climate and its impacts on society during his career are unparalleled. In addition, his years of mentoring, encouragement, and words of wisdom have influenced multiple generations of scientists in the field of applied climatology