Richard (Dick) Westergard founded Shade Tree Meteorology, LLC, located in Niskayuna, New York after retiring from government service in 2004.
In 2006, Dick earned the American Meteorological Society’s (AMS) highest level of certification, “Certified Consulting Meteorologist” (CCM) and now practices primarily forensic meteorology, with a specialization in reconstructing severe weather events.
Dick started his career in weather in 1966 as an Air Force weather observer and then became a National Weather Service (NWS) Meteorological Technician from 1973 to 1988. From 1988 to 1994, Dick was Meteorologist in Charge of the Duluth NWS office, and from 1994 to 2004 he was Warning Coordination Meteorologist at the Albany NWS office.
Dick used the GI Bill to take college courses at a variety of colleges and universities, culminating in a degree from Marshall University in 1988. He has since attended graduate courses at the University of Minnesota, Duluth, SUNY Brockport and the National Weather Service Training Center and completed research on communicating weather information to the SUNY Albany Communication Department.
Dick is a member of the Board of Directors and immediate past president of the National Council of Industrial Meteorologists, the premier association of private sector CCMs in the country and is a member of the AMS Board of Certified Consulting Meteorologists, which is the governing and examining body for the CCM program.
What are you working on right now?
I have several forensic meteorological investigations in various stages of completion, some upcoming special event forecasts for colleges and a joint proposal in the works with a nearby university for a New York State research contract involving weather data acquisition.
Where did the idea for Shade Tree Meteorology, LLC come from?
I enjoy working independently and after retiring from government service, I wanted to remain mentally active so I established Shade Tree Meteorology, LLC. Being a thorough person, I then applied for and earned the American Meteorological Society’s Certified Consulting Meteorologist credential with the idea of applying my extensive knowledge of operational severe weather meteorology to the private sector. Friends have told me I am a failure at retirement because I still go to the office most days. But, it is a short commute to the office in the back of the garage and the work is fun.
What does your typical day look like?
A typical day is different from day-to-day. In a recent week, I worked on 2 forensic cases, met with an attorney, attended a meeting of the atmosphere and energy subcommittee of the county environmental advisory council, evaluated the written examination of an applicant for the American Meteorological Society’s Certified Consulting Meteorologist credentials, prepared for trial, spent a day at the courthouse in the Mid-Hudson Valley testifying as a forensic weather expert and wrapped up a forensic report.
How do you bring ideas to life?
The key to meteorology whether looking in the past, present or future is to be able to visualize a 3-dimensional weather system and follow its movement and development through time. Once that picture is built in my mind, explaining it is just a matter of finding the words to make the resulting information useful to my client.
3 trends that excite you?
- The growing flow of young meteorologists looking to the private sector for jobs. Their ideas and willingness to try new things will keep the science and its applications growing.
- The coming explosion of weather sensors on cars and trucks on our highways. It promises to contribute greatly to weather safety information for drivers and roadway safety and maintenance professionals.
- The next generation of weather radar, which is just coming online at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA), will soon give us an even more detailed view of ongoing weather than Doppler radars. It will be an even more useful tool for use in forensic investigations in a few years.
What is the worst job you ever had and what did you learn from it?
When I was about 15, I took on a summer job as a stable hand at a beef farm where cattle were fattened before slaughter. I lasted a week! That job taught me that I never wanted to have to physically work so hard that I fell asleep exhausted and had to be dragged out of bed in the morning.
If you were to start again, what would you do differently?
I’d pick a shorter name for my business and especially my website.
What is the one thing you did/do as an entrepreneur that you would do over and over again and recommend everybody else do?
If I have a new idea for a project or product, I try it. If it doesn’t work out it’s OK. Another day, another idea.
Tell us a secret…
I am a charter subscriber and continuing fan of Isaac Azimov’s Science Fiction magazine. Like the good doctor, I am a long time futurist.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
Create an accurate, inexpensive and low-maintenance weather sensor that can be connected to the Internet and deployed in backyards across the country. As computers get faster, more dense data networks will be needed to continue the ongoing trend toward more precise weather forecasting. Private data networks will be the backbone of that trend.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
The Weather Factor by David M. Ludlum. It offers a perspective on the importance of weather and climate over the course of American history.
If you weren’t working in forensic meteorology, what would you be doing?
I’d be doing more political volunteer work. If people are not involved in politics, politicians begin to think we don’t care what they do. That leads them to lose sight of our interests.
Three people we should follow on Twitter and why.
I consider Twitter too shallow to bother with.
When is the last time you laughed out loud? What caused it?
This morning at a comic strip. The first thing I read every morning is the comics.
Who would you love to see interviewed on IdeaMensch?
Steven A. Root, the President and CEO of WeatherBank.
What advice would you offer to a young meteorologist just graduating from college?
Find a job in your field, wherever it takes you. As you build experience in various positions, you will become an ever more valuable employee and eventually you can move to wherever you want to be, working at the top of your field or even in your own company.
What is the most important thing in your life?
My family is the anchor that allows me to flourish.
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