Dr. Hurd C. Willett, an MIT meteorologist renowned for his role in developing five-day weather forecasting techniques and widely known for his attempts at very-long-range forecasting, died March 26 at a West Concord nursing home. He was 89.
A memorial service was held March 30 in Littleton, where he had lived since 1949.
Professor Willett, who joined the MIT staff in March 1929, specialized in climatic fluctuations, variable solar influences and long-range weather forecasting. In the 1930s, he was instrumental in the development and adoption of the polar front theory of five-day weather prediction by the Weather Bureau. Later, starting in the late 1950s, he focused his research on discovering the basic patterns he felt exist behind weather conditions.
He developed a theory that climatic conditions on earth follow a cyclical pattern which will become clearer as statistical records extend over longer periods of time. To back up his theory, he did exhaustive surveys of weather conditions going back to prehistoric times.
His long-range forecasting caught the attention of the press to such an extent that in his obituary, the Boston Globe referred to him as a meteorologist "who was prepared to forecast the weather for tomorrow as well as for 10,000 years from now." For several years the wire services regularly carried his annual predictions of what the weather would be over the next 12 months.
He was born in Providence, R.I. on January 1, 1903, grew up near Pittsburgh and earned a bachelor of science degree at Princeton in 1924 and a doctorate in meteorology from George Washington University in 1929. During World War II he trained meteorologists for the military and served as a consultant at air bases in Europe and Canada. In 1951 he received a plaque from the American Meteorological Society for outstanding service.
He was a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the American Meteorological Society, the Royal Meteorological Society, the Association of American Geographers, the American Geophysical Union, the AAAS, Sigma Xi, and Phi Beta Kappa.
He is survived by his wife, the former Dorothy Lloyd; three sons, Dr. Allen B. of Denver, Dr. Stephen C. of Berkeley, Calif., and David Hurd of Littleton; two daughters, Joyce Willett Bradley of Vancouver and Emily Willett Ranck of Hopkinton; a brother, Edward F. of Bridgeport, Conn; and seven grandchildren.
A version of this article appeared in the April 1, 1992 issue of MIT Tech Talk (Volume 36, Number 25).