WKU professor who created the Kentucky Mesonet to retire


Debra Murray

Stuart Foster, geography professor, director of the Kentucky Mesonet and state climatologist will retire on June 30.

The WKU professor who created Kentucky’s statewide network of weather-observation stations is stepping down at the end of the month, one of the 125 faculty and staff members who are leaving WKU on June 30.

Stuart Foster is a professor in the department of Earth, Environmental and Atmospheric Sciences, state climatologist, and the director of the Kentucky Mesonet. 

Foster has worked at WKU almost 33 years, and is now preparing for his retirement which will start on July 1. He started at WKU when he was 29 after finishing up his doctorate at Ohio State University, and working at Carnegie Mellon University. 

“The thing that stood out to me here was I remember being contacted by the department head and another member of the search committee, who at that time I had not met, so I was just talking to them on the phone,” Foster said. “They made a very positive impression on me because they were very friendly, they just sounded like one of my uncles.” 

When Foster came to WKU in 1988, he had no idea what a journey it would become. In 2000 the state climatologist, Glenn Connor, decided to retire. 

“I was interested in trying to find something new and different,” Foster said. “My background was very much focused on data analysis. I had taken courses in meteorology and climatology. As an undergraduate, I was very interested in those areas, but I thought here’s an opportunity to get to do something different to leverage some of my expertise and background. So I became the state climatologist.” 

The Kentucky Mesonet is one of the top in the nation, Foster said. The Mesonet helps people throughout the state by providing weather forecasters with more frequent and more localized information. There are 78 stations throughout Kentucky.

“For us, it has created opportunities to attract research dollars in such projects coming to the university so it’s just a valuable asset,” Foster said. “I think the thing that’s been the biggest motivation and what’s made it the easiest for me to commit my passion and time to is Mesonet.” 

In the 2021-22 university budget, the mesonet costs $750,000 funded by the state.

While building the Kentucky Mesonet, Foster traveled all over the state. Foster is originally from Ohio, but his family is from the Appalachia area. He said his origins helped him connect with people throughout the state. 

“When I traveled to Western Kentucky, where there’s a lot more farmland, I felt comfortable meeting and talking to people there because I’d grown up in a farming community in Ohio,” Foster said. 

Fred Siewers is the department chair of Earth, Environmental and Atmospheric Sciences, and will also retire on June 30 after 23 years. 

“He’s been very attentive to the Climate Center, and promoting the Mesonet and also doing grant work to support those initiatives,” Siewers said. “He will be missed as he retires. I think that with the (WKU retirement incentive program), the opportunity there I think he decided that now would be a good time to move on.”

Siewers said he would approve Foster’s travel while he was building the Kentucky Mesonet.

“He’s the longest serving faculty member right now in the department,” Siewers said. “My working relationship as department chair has been to support him in every way that I can, or was able to. He’s a very fine individual, and a very pleasant person to work with.”

Foster is one of the longest serving faculty members in their department, Siewers said.

“He’s been with the department as the department has changed quite a bit,” Siewers said. “We are no longer the Department of Geography and Geology. The Department of Earth, Environmental and Atmospheric Sciences, and he has through all that change and has contributed in, in many ways.”

Stuart and his wife Joann met while in college at West Virginia University, and the couple moved to Bowling Green when he started at WKU. They have two children. 

“When we were looking for a house, I remember our real estate agent asking, ‘What are you looking for? I told her I said, ‘Well, my wife would like to live next door to the world and I’d like to be 100 miles from my nearest neighbor. But Bowling Green is a really nice size community and it’s a nice location” 

While Foster has many plans for his retirement, one of his plans is to say no more for 6 months or longer to see if he’ll get bored. 

“I think another one of my goals is to say no to people that asked me to do something for at least six months or a year to see whether I actually get bored and need to go back and do something else.” 

Foster plans to focus more on traveling and working on his photography. 

“I will enjoy having a little more time to get out and play,” Foster said. “I’ll try to play golf. I’m going to buy a camera and, instead of just using my cell phone camera and travel across the state, and take up photography a little bit more as a hobby, I used to have a camera before the digital days and, and do a little photography but I’m going to get a little more serious and again go back and visit some of these places I’ve been to.” 

At 62, Foster will be using his retirement to focus on his hobbies, and passions. He plans to continue being involved in the Kentucky Mesonet during retirement, 

“Now that I’m retired I’ll go from being a professional geographer to an amateur geographer, with my camera and traveling and kind of experiencing places in a different way than I have in the past so I’m looking forward to that,” Foster said. 

Debra Murray can be reached at [email protected] Follow her on Twitter @debramurrayy