The alumnus who traded in his glove for weather science.
In spring 2004, Jason Szuminski ‘00 made headlines as the first MIT alum to play major-league baseball when he pitched for the San Diego Padres. But nearly a century earlier, another man had a brush with big-league fame before he attended MIT–and then went on to renown in a whole new career.
Art Merewether, SM ‘25, starred on the Brown University baseball team. After graduating in 1922, he spent the summer playing minor-league ball in Fitchburg and Worcester, MA–and got called up to the Pittsburgh Pirates. On July 10, 1922, in the ninth inning of a 19-2 loss to the New York Giants, Merewether came up to bat and grounded out to shortstop, his only major-league appearance.
Merewether soon started grad school at MIT, where he studied chemistry (and would later return to study meteorology). On April 17, 1925, the Tech reported that “Merewether bingled to second for his fourth successive hit” in a 10-3 win over Tufts. Just before the game, he “was unanimously chosen to head the team,” the article stated. “He has shown the best brand of ball in practice of any man on the team.”
After MIT, Merewether played another year in the minors, coached baseball and hockey at Andover, and in 1929 completed basic-training flying school in the U.S. Army Air Corps. (Coincidentally, Szuminski, who also faced the Giants in his first major-league game, would attend MIT on an air force ROTC scholarship.)
In 1935, Merewether walked away from the crash of a plane in Seekonk, MA. Two years later he joined the nascent weather section of the air corps, and he became its head in January 1940. While running the weather section, Merewether established the air corps’ first weather school and its first effort at long-range weather forecasting and verification–an effort that would prove essential in the coming war.
In September 1942 he became commander of the Eighth Weather Squadron, overseeing a huge territory ranging from western Europe through Greenland to the eastern United States; it’s believed that his command was responsible for the “D-day forecast” that allowed the Allied invasion of Normandy to proceed on June 6, 1944. Merewether’s wartime service also produced meteorologists who became “the backbone of meteorology in the United States for decades to come,” according to the American Meteorological Society.
After the war, in a ceremony on the liner Britannic in New York Harbor, Merewether was named an honorary commander of the British Empire for wartime service. The air force also created an annual Merewether Award honoring “the most significant technical contribution to the Air Force weather or space environment support mission.”
But a small lake in northern Labrador may have brought his name the greatest fame. In 1943 Colonel Merewether “was flying over Labrador during the war and saw the little lake, perfectly round and distinctive in color,” according to a 1954 New York Times article. He took a photo and described it to Victor Ben Meen, director of the Royal Ottawa Museum. Meen led an expedition to the lake, where he saw evidence that “the crater might have been gouged out during [a] meteoric disturbance.” Named Merewether Lake, it still interests geologists as a “suspected impact crater.”
Merewether left the air corps in 1946, was chief of meteorology for American Airlines for two decades, and served a term as president of the American Meteorological Society. He died in 1997.
“Even in 1922 I imagine it would be tough to walk away from major-league baseball to go to grad school,” says Szuminski. Fortunately for meteorology, Merewether did just that.