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Ask the Expert: Walter Drag
By: Claudia Raffay, Director of Marketing & Member Services
Sussex Rural Electric Cooperative member Walter Drag recently retired as Lead Forecaster at the National Weather Service in Mount Holly, NJ after over 37 years of service. After graduating from Newton High School, he attended Saint Louis University where he received a degree in Meteorology. Throughout his career, Mr. Drag has worked with AccuWeather, Weather Services Corp, and the National Weather Service. Mr. Drag has been published in several articles regarding weather patterns, post-event synopses, and a host of other meteorological issues. Mr. Drag was kind enough to allow us to speak with him for an interview about his expertise.
SREC – Mr. Drag, thank you for participating in our first Currents interview. You have been a friend of ours for a long time. When did you become a member of Sussex Rural Electric?
WD – When we moved to Wantage in November 2012.
SREC – What inspired you to pursue a career in meteorology?
WD – As a child, I’d watch the snow fall from the window seat of my parents’ stone home on Foster Street in Newton, rooting for no school. I would listen to various radio station weather forecasts and gradually began to figure out the more reliable sources. It was my good fortune that my parents supported my interest with purchases of a rain gauge, a weather predicting tool, and a book on weather lore.
SREC – Do you have a favorite television weather person?
WD – Here in NJ, I tend to watch and compare against WNBC NY. During my many years in Boston, Don Kent and Harvey Leonard were my favorite reliable resources.
SREC – Considering where we live, what information channels would you suggest our members listen to for weather forecasts?
WD – Since we are mostly online and receiving info via cell phones, I strongly recommend the National Weather Service - Mount Holly for our area (www.weather.gov/phi), but for other opinions you should check your favorite media outlets, especially from NYC. Information by the NWS offices and media tends to be localized, in an attempt to offer reliable detailed information.
SREC – How do you feel when people say a storm “caught them completely off guard?”
WD – I am asking everyone to forgive me, but this would generally be the person not receiving, or not believing, the weather message. Sometimes, it’s good to ensure each of us have more than one source of weather information. The National Weather Service does a good job serving everyone. Your taxpayer money (estimated $8/year/person) is well spent. Surprises are fewer and fewer as the modeling continues to become more accurate. Looking back on storms, it is easy to see that storms are not a “surprise.”
SREC – Is there one forecast you made that really sticks with you over your 37+ years?
WD – The so called “Perfect Storm” of October 1991 was an unusual hybrid of extra-tropical and tropical cyclones that merged into a powerful ocean storm and arrived from an unusual direction, the northeast. It was well advertised in advance but caught some mariners and east coast residents from Puerto Rico and Florida to New England off guard with huge waves, and multiple well above normal flooding high tides. In 1993, I was honored to share the American Meteorological Society Award for an Exceptional Specific Prediction for that storm.
SREC – Congratulations on the award. Most of us are familiar with the book, The Perfect Storm by Sebastian Junger or the American drama film of the same name that released in 2000, starring George Clooney and Mark Wahlberg, which was based on true events from that time.
Is there a forecast you made where no one else listened to a correct prediction of yours, or a case where you learned a lifelong lesson following a wrong prediction?
WD – As far as a memorable bad forecast (“BUST,” in our weather lingo), yes! There was a major snowstorm in March 2001 that was half of predicted and subsequently changed NWS procedures for snowfall forecasting. A collaborative program was developed with our national Weather Prediction Center that included embracing a developing new aspect of our science: Ensembles!
SREC – At one point we discussed your appreciation of a Currents article we ran in March 2019, “Storm Approaching,” which discussed the hard-hitting news issue of people hoarding milk and bread to prepare for a storm. What do you and your family members stock up on before a storm strikes?
WD – Bread, milk, eggs, like everyone else, also gas and a bit of cash in case power outages occur.
SREC – You were kind enough to share a NOAA government document that speaks officially on climate change for our agency and Commerce Department. I know our younger members are particularly concerned with climate change and the warming of the past 40+ years. Any advice for our younger members?
WD – It’s real. Myself, I pack out what I pack in and care for our environment. I think that there is much to learn regarding climate change. We need to be careful with what we have and adjust our behaviors to mitigate the potential adverse impact of a continued warming climate. You can read more about it at https://nca2018.globalchange.gov.