Sunny outlook for acclaimed ‘Weather Geek’
J. Marshall Shepherd is truly busy as a bee – which is ironic for a man who’s highly allergic to the insect’s sting.
As a youngster, the native of Canton, Ga., just knew he wanted to be an entomologist. His dream came to a decisive and painful end, however, when he was stung by a bee. Ever inquisitive about nature, Shepherd turned his focus to meteorology.
“From that point, I knew I was bitten by the (weather) bug,” Shepherd told Unity magazine. As a sixth-grader, Shepherd’s interest became the basis of his science project titled “Can a Sixth-Grader Predict the Weather?” Its signature elements were weather instruments “made from items around the house.”
An expert on weather and climate, Shepherd is now director of the University of Georgia’s Atmospheric Sciences program and full professor in UGA’s geography department. The university named him a Distinguished Athletic Association Professor in 2014.
That same year, Ted Turner and the Captain Planet Foundation presented him with its Protector of the Earth Award. In a letter to Shepherd from Ted Turner, the media icon noted Shepherd’s “ongoing and exceptional contributions to the future of our planet and your tireless commitment to speaking out about climate change.”
Somehow, in summer 2014, Shepherd found time to launch a weekly TV series called “Weather Geeks.” He describes the Weather Channel program as “‘Face the Nation’ meets weather and climate … dealing with all kinds of topics” and featuring such guests as John Holdren, director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy; Charles Doswell, legendary storm chaser and tornado researcher; and Jane Goodall, famed primatologist, author and recipient of the Captain Planet Foundation’s 2014 Exemplar Award.
In 2015, Marshall was a recipient of the Association of American Geographers’ Media Achievement Award.
As an authority on weather, climate and remote sensing, Shepherd is – not surprisingly – in high demand; he is often asked to advise key leaders foreign and domestic. In February 2013, for example, he briefed the Senate on climate change and extreme weather.
He’s a veteran of numerous appearances on television, including “Face the Nation,” “NOVA” and the “Today” shows, and the CNN, Fox News and other networks.
In addition to a multitude of scholarly treatises, Shepherd has penned editorials for CNN, The Washington Post, the Atlanta Journal Constitution and other media outlets, and has been featured in Time and Popular Mechanics magazines and on NPR’s “Science Friday” program. He is also a contributing author to Ebony magazine (www.ebony.com/news-views/blacks-dont-care-about-climate-change-fact-or-fiction#axzz3O9Fp6bV2). His essay, “21st Century Jobs and Climate Change: A Curse and a Blessing for African Americans,” was included in the 2014 National Urban League State of Black America Report.
Before joining the faculty at UGA, Shepherd spent 12 years as a research meteorologist at NASA-Goddard Space Flight Center and was deputy project scientist for the Global Precipitation Measurement Mission, a multinational space mission that launched in 2014.
President of the American Meteorological Society in 2013, Shepherd is the second African American to lead the nation’s largest and oldest professional/science society in atmospheric and related sciences. His colleague, Warren Washington, was the first black person to be named president of the AMS.
“We talk all the time,” Shepherd says about Washington. “He (Washington) was one of the first people” Shepherd called when the AMS approached Shepherd about leading the organization.
Shepherd earned his undergraduate, graduate and doctorate in physical meteorology from Florida State University. He was the first African American to receive a Ph.D. from the Florida State University Department of Meteorology.
Married to Ayana Shepherd, the two are the parents of 7-year-old Anderson and 11-year-old Arissa. Their eldest has already expressed her (not surprising) science-related career goal. “She wants to go into parasitic veterinary medicine,” Shepherd says.
He enjoys the chance to mentor his children’s peers at their elementary school through the Alcova-University of Georgia Weather Science Chat Series, which he launched. “The students get to see that scientists can look like them and are real, accessible people,” Shepherd told the Gwinnett (Ga.) Daily Post in 2013.
Students at Alcova elementary school aren’t the only ones who can benefit from Shepherd’s expertise. The second edition of “Dr. Fred’s Weather Watch,” a children’s book that Shepherd co-authored, was published in 2014. The how-to guide for junior meteorologists shows them how to predict the weather by using simple, self-built instruments – reminiscent of those that Shepherd crafted years ago for his sixth-grade science project.Photo by Peter Frey/UGA Photographic Services