David Dempsey celebrates with good food and drink after a vigorous climb to Refugio Otto Meiling, on Cerro Tronador volcano, in Nahuel Huapi National Park, near Bariloche, Argentina, Patagonia, South America.




David P. Dempsey | 1955-2020

 Our colleague and friend David Dempsey tragically died on May 8, 2020.

Dave committed his career to the Department of Earth & Climate Sciences and cared deeply about the success of his students and the well being of his colleagues. His impact as an innovative educator who incorporated programming and active learning into the classroom leaves a lasting legacy in the Department and the students he taught and mentored. Upon retirement, Dave and his wife, Rebecca Douglass, made a very generous contribution to support undergraduate and graduate students. His deep intelligence and sense of humor were appreciated by all who interacted with him.

Dave is survived by his wife Rebecca Douglass, a fellow outdoor enthusiast and writer, sons Kylan and Griffen, parents Wes and Phyllis Dempsey, brothers Jim, Tom, and Paul.  Dave will be sorely missed by all; he was taken away from us way too soon.

Dave was a professor emeritus of meteorology, had a BS in Mathematics and Atmospheric Science (1978) from the University of California, Davis, and a PhD in Atmospheric Science (1985) from the University of Washington, Seattle. 


Dave joined the faculty of the Department of Earth & Climate Sciences (then Geosciences) at SF State in 1989 as an Atmospheric Dynamicist and became emeritus in 2018. He served as department chair for 3 years (2014–2017). Dave’s research specialty was mesoscale numerical modeling of topographically-forced circulations, statistical evaluation of mesoscale numerical weather forecasts, and numerical model building. He published research results in the Journal of Geophysics Research, Journal of Atmospheric Research, and Monthly Weather Review.

Dave spent numerous summers, and two sabbaticals, as a Visiting Scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) in Boulder, CO, where he contributed to the ongoing development and testing of a state-of-the-art computer forecasting model, the Weather Forecasting and Research (WRF) model. He spent two summers as a Faculty Fellow at the NASA-Ames Research Center in Mountain View, CA, where he worked on modeling and satellite remote sensing of polar stratospheric clouds. Dave was an active member of the Unidata (Data Services and Tools for Geosciences) community—he served for many years as a member of a variety of committees.

Dave’s many contributions to the Department included teaching innovations, particularly to incorporate technology-aided learning tools and developing active-learning methods. As a new Assistant Professor Dave was awarded an NSF-equipment grant to fund a suite of SUN Microsystems workstations. The seven machines, each costing over $10,000, comprised the Weather Graphics and Simulation Lab (WGSL), and allowed him to continue not only continue his research in atmospheric dynamics, but also provided a lab for our faculty and students to use. Dave’s funding efforts eventually spread out across the Department with a suite of new and cheaper Macintosh computers, each of which ran a version of UNIX, the language of choice for Dave. The presence of the WGSL allowed other faculty to conduct peer-reviewed research and to form connections with the National Center for Atmospheric Research. The Department became an Academic Affiliate of the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research, leading to summer internships for several students.

Many of Dave’s activities related to attracting more students to geosciences and training future science teachers. Between 2000 and 2012, Dave was co-P.I. for three major grants (NSF and NASA-NOVA) to improve science instruction, which led to curricular innovations in courses for all students, but especially future teachers, and enabled the department to create state-of-the-art computer facilities for student instruction. He led research groups of high-school students in the department’s NSF-funded SF-ROCKS grant (Reaching Out to Communities and Kids with Science), which aimed to increase diversity in the sciences. Dave also created and administered the California Regional Weather Server to provide weather data to the general public. He labored tirelessly to manage the entire fleet of departmental computers, and he gave selflessly of his time to help students and colleagues with computer skills and geoscience concepts.


In the College of Science and Engineering, Dave served as an active representative to the Liberal Studies Council for 11 years, including numerous service activities related to preparing future teachers, for example, the Teacher Credential Committee. He worked diligently to create the Center for Science and Mathematics Education (CSME) and served as its first associate director. He was highly regarded by colleagues throughout the college as an advocate for students and the Department, particularly during his tenure as department chair (2014-2017).

Dave was an outdoor enthusiast who maintained a very active lifestyle. On a daily basis, he would engage in running and commuting by bicycle—colleagues were never surprised to see him show up for meetings in his biking or running gear. He loved to travel, both nationally and internationally; many of his trips were focused around long hiking, backpacking or other mountaineering treks. He was an avid photographer, and particularly enjoyed photographing alpine and desert wildflowers—Dave’s father was a botany professor at Chico State University who took his family to the desert in Southern California Desert almost every spring for flower viewing. Since retirement in June 2018, Dave and Rebecca, sometimes with various other family members, had taken full advantage of their new freedom and completed epic trips, including four months in New Zealand (2019), three months in Maine (2018), two cross-country road trips (2018, 2019), and two months in Patagonia (2020). They had just returned safely from South America, after their ship from Antarctica had been temporarily stranded due to the Covid-19 virus outbreak. Following his trips, Dave produced wonderfully detailed descriptions of the places they had visited, always supplemented with his extraordinary photographs.

Dave’s energy and vision touched many. He will be missed by the students he mentored, by his colleagues, and most of all, by his family and friends. Messages of sympathy and memories of Dave that you wish to share will be included on this webpage. Please send them to dempseymemorial@sfsu.edu.

Please consider donating to one of Dave’s favorite charities: 

Messages of sympathy and memories of Dave may be sent to dempseymemorial@sfsu.edu