It is with heavy hearts we share the news that Dr Jon Peterka, known as Dr. P to friends and coworkers, has passed away at the age of 77. Jon was born May 26, 1941 in Knoxville, Tennessee to Ruth Marion (Steindorf) Peterka and Alvin Joseph Peterka, a hydraulic engineer with the Tennessee Valley Authority.
Jon grew up in Colorado, where he graduated from Colorado State University (CSU) before achieving his Ph.D. in Fluid Mechanics and Thermodynamics from Brown University in 1968. He married Pam Jane Rasor in 1964, with whom he raised their family, daughter Elizabeth, and son James.
Dr. P’s career began in the Army as an aerospace engineer, and continued as a professor in the Civil Engineering Department at CSU, performing wind engineering research that included testing of small-scale models in an atmospheric boundary layer wind tunnel capable of simulating the wind at model scale.
Jon’s door was always open, and usually harbored a line of young engineers eager for his insight and assistance with their wind engineering issues. He always had the answer, or suggestions and direction on how to look at the problem, where to look for help, or which minor tests in the wind tunnel would shed light. The underlying concern was always to establish a physical understanding of the problem. The answers were seldom short or trite—because Jon knew that such answers are not educational—but filled with background and related engineering basics in a memorable and motivating way.
During this time Jon introduced me to the ASCE 7 Wind Load Subcommittee and provided endless guidance and support for interpretation of old and new provisions. Jon’s knowledge of the wind standard, and virtually the entire field of wind engineering, bordered on encyclopedic. His powers of mental recollection were unparalleled, and his technical capabilities are rivaled by few.
– Dr. Daryl Boggs
In 1981, Dr. P cofounded Cermak Peterka and Associates with Dr. Jack Cermak, which evolved into Cermak, Peterka, Petersen (CPP) when Dr. Ron Petersen came aboard. Dr. P’s career has included management and direction of all types of wind engineering studies including wind loads, pedestrian comfort, snow loading and drifting, power line rating, siting and technology tests for wind turbines, and forensic engineering for wind effects.
I remember meeting Dr. P for the first time in 2013. He was very welcoming and gave me what was supposed to be a 30-minute tour of the tunnel. During the tour he highlighted several projects that were not necessarily the highest, the tallest, or the ones with the most impressive architecture, but the ones where he learned the most. The pure depth of his knowledge was impressive and his passion for wind engineering unmatched. The tour ended up being three very entertaining hours. Leaving CPP that day, I was many stories richer, impressed by his intellect and experience, and proud to call him a friend.
– Oliver Napp
Dr. P’s office was quite something. I would wander over to it in the middle of the afternoon with some question I wanted to discuss, and feeling guilty about asking for his time when I could see there were some 40 stacks of research that he needed to attend to. But he would look up from his laptop, invite me in, and invest in discussing whatever piece of wind engineering was troubling me at the time. These discussions were always valuable, and I am still grateful for them. I try to emulate his willingness to help.
– Dr. Dave Banks
Dr. P was instrumental in the decision to shift the basis of the wind code from what is known as a fastest mile wind speed to a peak gust wind speed. This change marked a turning point for designers around the world who soon adopted the same convention.
In 1995, Peterka’s contributions heavily influenced the development of the wind map for non-hurricane regions of the United States. The new map greatly simplified how engineers determine design wind speeds, and consequently reduced confusion and improved code compliance. The national wind map remains largely unchanged to this day.
In addition to Dr. P’s contributions to the wind codes, he also played a significant role in a large range of high-profile projects including; wind speeds in Hawaii, wildfires in California, power lines, salt spray, heliostats, and many more.
Jon was far more globally recognized than I think even he knew. He was great at pushing us, making us think outside the box, and trying to keep up with him. The group of first-generation wind engineers, who have exposure to all parts of the field and have first-hand knowledge of the reasoning behind much of industry practice, is getting much thinner. With Jon’s passing we have lost the last of the US originals.
– Dr. Roy Denoon
Jon was a well-liked man who had a wide variety of interests. In his spare time, he enjoyed writing poetry, skiing, gardening, hiking, golfing, riding roller coasters, and singing in his church choir.
Serving on numerous boards and committees, Jon contributed to the wind engineering standards that form the basis for most local building codes in the Unites States. These contributions, along with his teaching, research, and commercial work, earned him many awards. He was frequently sought out for his expertise in wind loading and wind effects. For more information about Jon’s achievements and awards please visit http://jonpeterka.com/jon_peterka_bio.html.
Jon is survived by his wife of 55 years, Pam of Fort Collins, CO, daughter Elizabeth (Phil) of Spokane, WA, son James (Shawn) of Arvada, CO, grand-daughters Carolyn and Jessica, both of Spokane, WA, sister Jan Jacobs of Arvada, CO, and sister Sue Vogel of Burke, VA. He is preceded in death by his parents Alvin Peterka and Ruth Peterka.
Dr. Jon Peterka had a significant impact on modern wind engineering, and the lives of anyone that has had the opportunity to work with and meet him. We at CPP are extremely proud of the legacy we have inherited from Dr. Jon Peterka, and we are honored to carry it forward.
For additional remembrances please visit here.