Gabriele Villarini

The University of Iowa

2016 James B. Macelwane Medal Winner

Gabriele Villarini was awarded the 2016 James B. Macelwane Medal at the AGU Fall Meeting Honors Ceremony, held on 14 December 2016 in San Francisco, Calif. The medal is for “significant contributions to the geophysical sciences by an outstanding ­­early-­career scientist.”


Gabriele Villarini bridges hydrometeorology, climate dynamics, and disaster science in an innovative way. He has explored the meteorological context of floods as it relates to storm tracks, atmospheric rivers, and tropical cyclones, developing consistent and insightful diagnoses and a fundamental building block for understanding how future climate changes may lead to changed event frequency and spatial structure of floods. His work has also led to a better understanding of storm structure, inferences from radar, and the hydrologic response associated with floods. Collectively, he provides the seminal contribution of his generation to this subject area that is worthy of the Macelwane Medal.

His contributions are diverse and impressive. His graduate work laid the foundation of uncertainty analysis of ­­radar-­based rainfall fields and was perhaps the most comprehensive such work. His postdoctoral work on flood hydrology extended his contributions in hydrometeorology by developing and applying tools to identify different forms of nonstationarity in extreme rainfall and flood fields and relating these to specific forms of changes in the driving hydrometeorological mechanisms. This work represents a significant departure from his earlier work and demonstrates considerable dedication to working on an important topic and addressing it in depth. One of his colleagues at the time mentioned that she does not believe that Gabriele ever sleeps. His tenure as a faculty member at the University of Iowa has been equally impressive. He has built a wide array of collaborations with practicing and academic hydrologists, meteorologists, climate modelers, and statisticians. These collaborations have led to a series of interesting papers that connect ­­large-­scale atmospheric dynamics and their predictability to local and regional extremes. He has become extremely influential in this area and has been a leading contributor to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers study on how future flood frequency changes can be diagnosed and risk profiled.

I especially like the humility and dedication with which Gabriele approaches the profession and scholarship. He is an outstanding role model for the future of our interdisciplinary field. I fully expect him to shape the directions of research and practice in the field, as he continues to grow and embrace new topics.

—Upmanu Lall, International Research Institute for Climate and Society, Palisades, N. Y.


Thank you, Manu, for your kind words in the citation, and thanks to AGU and to the colleagues who have supported my nomination. This award arguably represents the highest honor for an ­­early-­career scientist in the geophysical sciences, and I am thrilled to have been selected to receive it; it is also very humbling given the caliber of scientists who received it before me. Being selected has given me the opportunity to look back at my career so far and to acknowledge how fortunate I have been.

My career wouldn’t have been the same if I hadn’t had the good fortune to work with my Ph.D. adviser at the University of Iowa, Prof. Witold Krajewski. Witek was the best adviser I could have asked for, and has always been there for me, during my graduate work and afterward. He supported and challenged me at every step, allowing me to develop into the scientist I have become. He taught me never to cut corners or take the easy way out. I take pride in considering Witek a ­­life-­long mentor and colleague, but more important a friend.

After completing my Ph.D., I was once again really fortunate to be able to work with Prof. James Smith at Princeton University. Jim was a fantastic mentor, who provided me with great guidance and exposed me to a large number of research topics that I probably wouldn’t have dealt with otherwise. Learning from him was instrumental in shaping my current research interests. Overall, I wish everybody could be as lucky as I have been to work with mentors like Witek and Jim.

During my career, I have met and befriended many great scientists. Enrico Scoccimarro, Gabriel Vecchi, and Rhawn Denniston deserve a special mention for their support and friendship over the years and for making our collaborative research fun, exciting, and enriching.

None of this would have been possible, though, without the continued support from my family. My parents and brother have always given me endless love, and they have taught me never to give up and that hard work always pays off. My wife, Amie, is my rock, and she has always been my ­­number-­one supporter. And nothing compares to coming home to my daughters, Eleonora and Camilla, after a long day at work, and being asked “How was work, Papá?” followed by hugs and kisses. Thank you!

—Gabriele Villarini, University of Iowa, Iowa City