National Weather Service United States Department of Commerce

After a nearly 37-year career, Rick Shanklin is retiring from the National Weather Service on Saturday, July 31, 2021.  As the Warning Coordination Meteorologist and primary media spokesperson for the National Weather Service (NWS) in Paducah, Rick has been the face and voice of the NWS in our region for many years.

Rick developed a passion for weather by the time he was a teenager, growing up in a farming community near Hopkinsville, KY. He then laid the educational foundation for his dream at the University of Wisconsin-Madison where he earned a B.S. in Meteorology in 1983.  After a one year tour with the Defense Mapping Agency Hydrographic-Topographic Center in Louisville, KY in 1984-85, the door to Rick’s dream was opened wide when he landed a meteorologist-intern position at the NWS in Jackson, KY.  Rick describes his first stint as a meteorologist akin to “a kid in a candy shop.” He couldn’t believe he was actually hired to perform his hobby!

Following his time at NWS Jackson, Rick’s career path went through the NWS in Paducah (meteorologist-intern, 1987-1989), the NWS in Louisville (state forecaster and Winter Weather Program Leader for Kentucky, 1990-1992), the NWS Agricultural Weather Service Center in Stoneville, MS (Meteorologist-in-Charge, 1992-1994), and back to the NWS in Paducah from 1994 until his retirement. Rick has served as the Warning Coordination Meteorologist at Paducah since 1994, with the exception of 2011 when he served as the Deputy Chief of Integrated Services at the NWS Central Region Headquarters in Kansas City, MO. He also was the Acting Meteorologist-in-Charge of NWS Paducah for part of 2018 and 2019.

A unique fact about Rick’s career is that he is the only meteorologist to have ever worked at all three NWS offices in Kentucky.  In addition, he is the last remaining NWS staff member to have performed duties at the NWS office in Cairo, IL (an extension of NWS Paducah in its final years) until its final closure in the late 1980s.   

During his career, Rick executed more than 150 tornado drills and served on five national service assessment teams for devastating tornado and flash flood events from the deep-south to the northern plains.

Severe weather operational readiness and public severe weather preparedness were atop Rick’s list of passions and he was a key part of preparedness programs for each of the four states (MO, IL, IN, KY) served by the NWS in Paducah. In addition, Rick served as the vice chair of the Kentucky Weather Preparedness State Steering Committee and has served as the chair of the western division of the committee since its inception in 2010.  He facilitated more than 60 counties or communities achieving StormReady status.

Rick led several commemoration events for the Great Tri-State Tornado of 1925, our nation’s deadliest and most record setting tornado of all time. He led storm surveying efforts for our region’s tornadoes and other severe thunderstorm events for 27 years, including six EF4 tornadoes, as well as the deadliest (25 fatalities) tornado in our region in modern times, the “Evansville 2 AM Tornado” of Nov. 6, 2005. Rick was considered a national expert for rating EF3 or greater tornadoes.

Rick was responsible for initiating actions leading to the Kentucky Mesonet. After visiting the Oklahoma Mesonet, Rick brought his passion for a mesonet to our region. Championing of this idea by Rick, and now retired NWS Paducah Meteorologist-in-Charge, Bev Poole, at a meeting requested by Sen. Mitch McConnell’s office, set in motion the achievement of a Kentucky Mesonet. The Kentucky Mesonet, hosted by Western Kentucky University, now has over 70 stations and is a model for the nation.

The Midwest Regional Climate Center’s development of the Vegetation Impact Program (ViP) was spawned as a result of Rick working with the Center to develop a means to better monitor and assess needs for NWS frost and freeze products for agricultural and related interests. This program has now expanded into much of the country. 

Rick’s efforts helped earn NWS Paducah some of the top Department of Commerce honors including Gold, Silver, and Bronze medals over the years. Rick has gained special recognition from former Missouri and Kentucky Governors and from Kentucky Emergency Management. In 2019, he was awarded the Lloyd Miler Service Award (Poplar Bluff, MO), in honor of one of Missouri’s pioneers of emergency management.

Rick extends a huge thank you and a great debt of gratitude to all those he had the honor of working with through the years, from co-workers to NWS partners in emergency management, media, storm spotters and a host of others.

In retirement, Rick plans to spend more time with family, including grandchildren in Florida and Tennessee. Rick earned a Master’s degree in Ministry in 2018 and is also looking forward to having more time for ministry opportunities.

While his NWS career is coming to an end, Rick will continue to enjoy weather as a hobby and may even engage in future professional involvement in what he sees as the forever fascinating world of weather!