Monday, February 06, 2012

Weatherperson's Spotlight: Walt Drag

For those of us in the world who are weather obsessed, Walt Drag is a known name on the level of many in the television realm locally in Philadelphia.  You might not know of him but Weatherperson’s Week is a window into the world of those who are forecasting weather in Philadelphia or have a Philly connection and given his expertise, knowledge, and passion for weather I think it was a great opportunity to talk (well, email) Walt a few times over the past few weeks to get some additional background into one of the great meteorologists at the National Weather Service in Mount Holly.

Walt’s been working out of the Mount Holly office for a couple of years now.   As a meteorologist, they have many different roles but chief among them are briefing, assessing, gridding, forecasting the various elements, and writing to make it easy to understand what he thinks are the essentials of each forecast.   While his focal point is marine weather, he handles a list of other duties on a daily basis, which is typical of any National Weather Service meteorologist.

Walt Drag is a native of Sussex County in Northwest New Jersey and loved snow while growing up.  Not surprising since Sussex County gets more snow than us.   His interest in weather was fed by his parents, who bought a weather wheel predictor that showed wind direction, cloud type, type of expected weather; a rain gauge, and subscriptions to Weatherwise magazine. 

Not to mention helping him buy a snow blower to clear out the driveway and walks from all the snow they got in the early 60’s.

Walt, when he did watch television while not looking at the weather wheel, usually saw Frank Field from New York or listened to Gordon Barnes on New York radio or Tom Spence on Philadelphia radio (the old WCAU), among a cast of others on various AM stations throughout the Northeast when he would listen to the radio at night.

Drag graduated from St. Louis University in the early 70’s and joined the National Weather Service in 1980.   He worked out of Milwaukee, then later Cleveland and Boston, before relocating to Philadelphia in 2010.
His experience in the field of meteorology has come with a tremendous amount of change, such as the added amount of technology in weather forecasting.  Drag notes that he doesn’t write as much as used to in the 1980’s and 1990’s due to time used to analyze and look over forecast guidance but he feels that they have improved his skills, essentially to “become more information oriented and less hype.”

By the way, if I could “plus 1” or “like” this last sentence I would.

Drag was one of the forecasters who helped in correctly forecasting “The Perfect Storm” in 1991 while he was in Boston and has written a few American Meteorological Society papers along the way.  About technology, Walt’s seen the evolution and improvement of computer models over the years.  He credits the GFS, Euro, the UK models as improving very rapidly and if he had to choose to go to “battle” with one computer model, he’d probably use the GFS right now.   He does credit the Euro for being excellent overall but has given props to the GFS of late for handling precipitation a bit better. 

Regarding computer modeling, Walt adds a caveat to it, which I think is helpful for all of us in the field.
“I do think the time devoted to model assessment and reliance upon the tools for initial diagnosis makes it possible-easier to miss some of the mesoscale features that you can find in the hand analysis of the data fields ...both surface and aloft.”

Sometimes those hand (and computer-aided design) charts do help…and matter!

Since moving to Philadelphia, Walt’s felt there are distinct differences and challenges to Philadelphia’s weather compared to his time in Boston.  Specifically, more severe weather and heavy rainfall around here compared to Southern New England.  Oh, there’s less fog here as well.

Outside of work, Walt is a distance runner and isn’t particular to any type of weather.   In fact, he’s enjoying the mild winter this year because it’s good running weather (I could see why!).   If he hadn’t chose meteorology as a career, he would have thought about going into medicine or recreation as a career.
What advice would Walt give our aspiring, younger, meteorologists-in-training in order to shape their skills?

“Embrace change, always learning to maintain relevancy in your industry and respect and appreciation from those who use your services and from the colleagues that rely on your efforts.  Learn skills to work well with people such as team building, maintain leading edge ability and use of technology, develop an ability to communicate concisely, and follow through on your goals with persistence and patience.  Be an asset for whomever you work with.”