Steven Miller named new director of Cooperative Institute for Research in the Atmosphere

Research scientist and Colorado State University alumnus Steven Miller has been named director of CIRA, the Cooperative Institute for Research in the Atmosphere. Miller will hold a joint appointment as professor in the CSU Department of Atmospheric Science.

As one of 15 cooperative institutes partnering with NOAA, CIRA works with the department to conduct cutting-edge atmospheric science research that benefits the nation. CIRA’s research encompasses satellite meteorology, numerical forecasting, tropical storm prediction, air quality monitoring and data dissemination.

Miller has led important research initiatives, developed new programs and pursued new avenues for funding as CIRA’s deputy director since 2007. In August, he will replace the current director, Christian Kummerow, who is stepping down after 11 years to focus on his research as a CIRA Fellow and professor in Atmospheric Science.

Steven Miller portrait
Steven Miller

More than 40 years of CIRA research

Founded in 1980 under the direction of University Distinguished Professor Emeritus Tom Vonder Haar, CIRA’s research into satellite meteorology quickly spread into other topics, including hurricane forecasting and weather forecast models. CIRA works with NOAA, NASA and the U.S. Departments of Defense, Energy and Interior to advance our understanding of weather, water and air quality. Intended as a clearinghouse to leverage the research capabilities of academic institutions to benefit real-time forecast operations, the cooperative institute model created by NOAA helps guide academic research to topics of immediate and critical importance to the nation.

CIRA products help visualize tropical storms, air quality, and fire or dust events. If you’ve seen stunning color imagery of weather over the United States posted by NOAA, odds are you’re looking at a product developed at CIRA.

CIRA has branch offices across the country – in Maryland, at the Aviation Weather Center in Kansas City, at the National Hurricane Center in Miami, and at the Earth System Research Laboratory in Boulder – where nearly 200 scientists, engineers and researchers work on myriad topics. Miller will be responsible for managing the strategic planning and oversight of these scientists. He comes to the position with a deep understanding of what makes for relevant science, significant management and interpersonal skills, and a strategic vision to keep the vibrant research institute thriving.

Guiding CIRA for over a decade

Kummerow has served as director since 2010, following University Distinguished Professor Emeritus Graeme Stephens, who succeeded Vonder Haar in 2008.

Under Kummerow’s tenure, CIRA significantly grew its research volume – to $26 million annually from $17 million in 2010 – and added a new wing to the CIRA building on the Foothills Campus at CSU. Partnerships with the Aviation Weather Center, the National Hurricane Center and NOAA offices have flourished, along with programs in education and social science.

Kummerow said managing CIRA during a pandemic was one of his greatest challenges.

“While the workload increased to keep everything running, it was also an incredible realization of just how good and how dedicated the CIRA team was,” Kummerow said. “We’ve seen tremendous growth in CIRA over the past 11 years and I would fully expect that growth to continue under Steve’s leadership. I plan to work very closely with him to ensure that the transition is as smooth as possible.”

Stepping up

Miller is returning as professor to his alma mater (M.S., ’97, Ph.D., ‘00). After completing his doctorate, Miller worked at the Naval Research Laboratory in Monterey, California, supporting the U.S. Navy and coalition forces in the wake of 9/11, before coming back to CSU in 2007 as CIRA deputy director.  His role at CIRA is complemented by his new role as professor in the Department of Atmospheric Science.

“CIRA and the Department of Atmospheric Science have developed a great synergy over the years, effectively combining the basic and applied science expertise of our faculty, students and scientists,” said Jeff Collett, professor and head of the Department of Atmospheric Science. “CIRA also represents a tremendous draw in recruiting new ATS students and a highly desirable option for ATS graduates who fall in love with Fort Collins during their graduate studies.”

Miller helped develop gorgeous full-color satellite images, and identify new forms of light in the nighttime skies. He is also leading large research projects focused on dust observations. Most recently, his research team has explored ways to see the impacts of the COVID pandemic using satellite imagery.

“Sometimes I feel that CIRA and its core mission are just part of my DNA,” Miller said. “CIRA’s ability to connect CSU’s powerful academic research program to applied research topics benefitting society gives us all an exciting ‘so what?’ story to tell the public about the importance and immediate relevancy of science to our everyday lives.”