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Taking Yale By Storm

When Dan Alexander ’02 was a high school student in Ridgefield, Connecticut, he couldn’t wait to get his driver’s license. Nothing unusual about that, but Alexander had an uncommon reason for craving mobility: The winter after he became street legal, Alexander and his best friend began driving around after snowstorms, measuring the accumulation in different parts of their area.


Weaned on the Weather Channel, Alexander and his friend were serious weather junkies. “We kept it a secret,” he says now. “It’s kind of an esoteric pursuit.” But since coming to Yale, Alexander has become the College’s leading weather authority through his daily forecast and column in the Yale Daily News.

After first trying to channel his interest into the founding of an undergraduate weather club (student interest was underwhelming), he went to the News last fall with a plan to improve the existing weather coverage, which consisted solely of a front-page box with a brief forecast from weather.com. Alexander told them he could do better and got the job.

Alexander studies computer models that digest data on existing conditions in order to predict the weather. Several such models exist, and Alexander develops his own forecast by looking at the models, bearing in mind what he considers their respective weaknesses. He is able to do this because the models are available on the Internet, which has broadened access to weather data. “Now, every forecaster has access to the same information,” he says. As a result, the News can now boast of something few metropolitan dailies offer: its own independent weather forecast.

And so far, Alexander says, he’s done pretty well. In a snowy winter, he says he “hasn’t totally botched a storm yet,” and on one occasion he was the only area forecaster to predict (correctly) that there would be snow on the ground in New Haven.

But accuracy is not the only reason his column has won a following among News readers. Alexander’s graphic forecast is accompanied by a 300-word column written in the distinctive voice of a weather fan. He delights in tortured similes, comparing a clash of weather systems to a drunken bar fight or an Arctic front to “a Canadian stud in tight vinyl pants.” He roots for snow, chauvinistically proclaiming on one occasion that “we beat every other coastal city” in accumulation. And when necessary, he implores his readers not to give up hope. “Trust me,” he wrote on March 1. “The cold will break. It has to. Dreams do come true.”

Alexander, who lives in Morse College, is majoring in geology, the department where Yale’s few courses in meteorology are found. (He’s taken them all.) He says he’s not sure what he wants to do after graduation. “Weather has always been a hobby for me,” he explains. “I don’t know if I want to turn it into a career.”

What he has learned, though, is that forecasting the weather is a mix of science and intuition, something he says many in the media haven’t figured out. “There is a tendency to rely on the models too much,” he says. “They’re wrong a lot of the time. You also have to look outside.”  the end


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