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November 2000

Walt Dabberdt returns to his entepreneurial roots

Walt Dabberdt. (Photos by Carlye Calvin.)

He spent 15 years at NCAR. Before that, it was 15 years at SRI International in Menlo Park, California. "There's a cycle, isn't there?" says Walt Dabberdt.

Walt isn't sure if his next post will take him to the year 2015, but he's looking forward to finding out. Walt left his position as associate director of NCAR on 13 October, and next month he becomes the first-ever director of strategic planning for Vaisala. The Finnish company is well known in meteorological circles for its radiosondes and other observing systems.

In his new role, Walt will serve as a liaison to the research world he's departing. "Vaisala is putting a new emphasis on a closer link to the research community—one, in order to be able to serve the community better, and two, to be able to understand and support the exciting new science that's being done," says Walt. He and Vaisala are no strangers: "I've had technical interactions with them for about a decade."

The last five years have seen Walt on the fifth floor of the Mesa Lab, where in addition to day-to-day management and administrative duties he's overseen such projects as the Boulder Research and Administrative Network (BRAN) and garnered funds for the ML renovation. "Walt has been a great asset to the director's office and has helped me tremendously during my first few months as director," says Tim Killeen.

At heart, Walt is an observationalist. He helped spearhead a number of new technologies while he directed ATD's Surface and Sounding Systems Facility from 1987 to 1995. One of the biggest successes conceived under his watch was the GPS (Global Positioning System) dropsonde. It was developed at NCAR through a partnership involving Vaisala—"they had some of the technology we wanted to incorporate"—as well as NOAA and the German research arm DLR. "It was a marvelous technical advance, it's been a significant benefit to the scientific community, and it's now available [to everyone] as an off-the-shelf item."

In place of analyzing NCAR budgets, Walt may be examining his sleep habits. He'll be based at Vaisala's Boulder office but will work closely with headquarters just outside Helsinki, Finland, reporting directly to the CEO. "There are monthly meetings of the management and technology boards. I'll probably be doing half of those in person [flying to Finland] and the other half with a three a.m. conference call." Walt also plans to maintain close research ties with NCAR scientists on programs such as the Megacity Impact on Regional and Global Environments project (MIRAGE).

Walt's new role in the private sector is only one of the enterprising hats he's worn. These include author—he's written two popular books, The Whole Air Weather Guide (self-published in 1976, it sold about 20,000 copies) and Weather for Outdoorsmen (Charles Scribner, 1981)—and winemaker. A few nights each year, Walt plays host to former NCAR director Bob Serafin; Rit Carbone (MMM/World Weather Research Program); Bob's son-in-law, John LeHew; and Geoff Dabberdt, Walt's son. They join forces to ferment and press grapes (frozen and shipped from California), rack the bottles, and take care of other winemaking tasks. The 700 or so bottles produced each year by Bear Mountain Cellars aren't for sale—"that's illegal"—but, Walt adds, "We've been known occasionally to make a trade.

"A few years ago we were having a dinner party in our house and one of the guests was an artist. She really liked my wine, so she traded one of her watercolors for a case of my Chardonnay."

• Bob Henson

A farewell party for Walt will take place on Wednesday, 15 November, at 3:30 p.m. in the Mesa Lab cafeteria.

The new associate director: Steve Dickson

Steve Dickson.

It's a homecoming of sorts for NCAR's new associate director for operations, Steve Dickson. Steve worked in the Mesa Lab as director of NCAR Budget and Planning from 1984 to 1991. In the past decade he's overseen UCAR's Corporate Affiliates Program, served as program analyst for both the UCAR President's Office and Finance and Administration, and, most recently, directed special projects and internal audit in F&A. A Boulder native, Steve first joined NCAR in 1972 and returned after a three-year hiatus in 1984.

"I'm looking forward to my return to the NCAR organization. I understand that there are tremendous challenges and opportunities ahead for NCAR, and I am excited to be asked to not only participate in the process, but to help lead the organization into the future. Fortunately, I will have the counsel and support of the great staff in the director's office, and, of course, the assistance of Walt Dabberdt in the transition. I greatly admire Tim Killeen and his vision for NCAR, and I am proud to join his team."

• BH

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Edited by Bob Henson, bhenson@ucar.edu
Prepared for the Web by Jacque Marshall
Last revised: Mon Oct 30 15:12:44 MST 2000