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Up Close with Brian van de Graaff, Meteorologist, WJLA Channel 7

Jamie Jones @ 11:24 PM

Originally by Jason Samenow, December 2006

This is the eighth in a series of interviews with Washington-area weather professionals.

Named one of "the hot young stars in local television news" by Washingtonian magazine, Meteorologist Brian van de Graaff has emerged as one of the area's most popular weathercasters. Known for his his down-to-earth on-air persona as well as for his charm, van de Graaf speaks to the secret of his early career success, his future aspirations and more in an exclusive interview...

CapitalWeather: What do you like most about DC's weather? Are you a snow-lover?

Brian van de Graaff: I have to say the four seasons. Fall is one of my favorite times, because the humidity is subsiding. The air is fresh and crisp. As for the snow, I enjoy it, although it can be frustrating to predict. There have been many nights I have stayed at a hotel around the corner from work and I hop out of bed every few minutes to look out the window for the first flakes. But if you asked my wife, if I ever leave the region, I can only look for jobs in warmer TV markets

CW: Do you have a least favorite aspect of DC's climate or weather potential?

van de Graaff: The long stretches of hazy, hot and humid weather in late August, when even a pop-up thunderstorm can't be found. The pattern can get as stagnant as the air and filling airtime can be quite mundane. Those are the times when I have to rack my brain to find some great weather factoid or tidbit and that can be challenging at 3:30 in the morning.

CW: What do you like most about the DC area? What are some of your favorite things to do?

van de Graaff: Like many weather enthusiasts I have an interest in airplanes and flying, and when the weather is nice, there is a good chance you can find me at Gravely Point. Whether having a picnic or walking the trails along the Potomac, my wife and I enjoy the close proximity of the ascending and descending planes. There is still something so surreal about all of that metal taking flight. In this day and age, I think we are fortunate to have such a spot to enjoy.

CW: Your station's chief meteorologist, Doug Hill, is known as much for his forecasting ability as for his ability to effectively communicate the forecast to the public. Over the years, what have you learned from Doug about the importance of clearly communicating a forecast and the uncertainty of a forecast?

van de Graaff: I must start off by saying I owe everything to Doug Hill. Over the years, he has helped jump-start many careers (well not that many Mr. Hill…you don't look a day over 50!). Pick any city and he can point out someone he mentored. Since the old days at Channel 9 I have been learning from Doug and trying to emulate him. Obviously each person has there own unique style and I have strived to develop mine. The bottom line is you need to be conversational. The most frequent comment I get is that I am exactly the same in person as I am on TV. As for communicating a difficult or uncertain forecast, the bottom line is to be honest with the people at home. If I am unsure of the forecast, Doug has taught me to tell the viewers just that. If the models do not agree then tell the audience about the possible scenarios. We all know you have to have thick skin in this business, because people will complain and they can be down right harsh.

CW: Your ascent in TV Weather was quick -- from Salisbury to Richmond and then to DC, a top 10 market, in just a few years. What do you attribute to your early success? Was it intimidating landing in such a large market at such a young age?

van de Graaff: It was all about being in the right place at the right time. I went from college to being Doug's weather producer at WUSA. Shortly thereafter, he made the switch over to WJLA and actually made bringing me along part of his contract, for which I owe him greatly. So I was gaining a wealth of knowledge before ever hitting the green wall.

Salisbury gave me a great start where I was able to gain valuable on-air experience while maintaining my producer job at WJLA. Salisbury led to Richmond which then sent me to DC. It just so happened that when I was doing some substitute work in Richmond two of three members of the weather team left over short span of time. I was in the right place at the right time. So I jumped in when I was still quite green on a "temporary basis" and now I am enjoying a great 3 years with my amazing AM team of Alison, Doug and Lisa.

I would be lying if I said I wasn't intimidated at first. But over time my comfort level has increased. I must admit when I sub at night for Doug and I am on the set with legends like Gordon Peterson and Maureen Bunyan, I still get butterflies

CW: You've got a great job -- in your hometown, doing what you love. At the same time, you're relatively young. Where do you see your career going? Do you hope to stay in DC? What would you still like to accomplish?

van de Graaff: I'd love to spend my entire career in Washington, but in today's business there are never any certainties. I hope one day to be a Chief Meteorologist, but I am in no rush. While I've learned so much in my 10 years in the business, there is still so much more to take in. I am fortunate to work and learn from some of the best, from Doug Hill to Joe Witte. Even our younger staff, some fresh from school, has a great deal to offer. On-air meteorologist Adam Caskey and our awesome producer/meteorologist Alex Liggitt are tremenadous to work with and learn from.

As for accomplishments….I am an American Meteorological Society Seal Holder but would also like to earn my CBM (Certified Broadcast Meteorologist) seal.

CW: What are the best and worst parts of your job?

van de Graaff: The best part of the job is nailing a tough forecast with the worst part really botching one up. I mean how many times have I heard on the street "It must be nice to have a job that doesn't fire you even when you're wrong." Give me a break!Let's not forget the hours when it comes to worst parts…I get up daily at 2:45am and I'm forecasting by 3:30am!

CW: How has TV weather changed during your relatively short career? Where do you see it going?

van de Graaff: In the past 7 years that I have done weather, I have seen some changes. I believe research shows that weather is the top reason people tune into local news, so hopefully we are here to stay. But not everyone watches the traditional newscasts, so we have had to broaden our "services." In addition to 24 daily weather hits, we have to update a web-page, record programming for our local 24-hour weather channel Doug Hill's Weather Now, do live reports on WTOP radio, do newspaper forecasts, and weekly school visits to teach kids about the weather. So our work day remains the same length, but what we do during it has been significantly expanded. So the bottom line is more duties…maybe more 24 hour outlets for weather.

CW: If you were able to break away from programming instructions or have more time, what issue would you cover during a deeper segment before/after the day's forecast?

van de Graaff: In the morning folks don't have a lot of time….they need to know what to know how to dress the kids and whether or not to take an umbrella. But I miss having time for the explainers. I really find it helpful to teach people why the weather will be changing, other than saying it's getting colder. I don't mean you have to get super scientific, but I believe it's useful if the viewer can walk away from their set having learned a little nugget of information. So next time they are at the water cooler and someone says, "I hear it's gonna get cold," they can respond "yes, that Alberta clipper is dropping in from Canada driving in some cold Arctic air."

CW: Global warming is frequently in the news these days. Most climate scientists believe the warming is largely human caused although there is a small contingent of TV meteorologists and scientists who are skeptical. Where do you stand on the issue?

van de Graaff: The subject of global warming definitely makes headlines in the media and is a topic of much debate. I try to read up on the subject to have a better understanding, but it is complex. Often, it is so politicized and those on both sides don't always appear to have their facts straight. History has taught us that weather patterns are cyclical and although we have noticed a warming pattern in recent time, I don't know what generalizations came be made from this with the lack of long-term scientific data. That's all I will say about this.

CW: Bonus Question -- Your bio indicates you're a graduate of George Mason. Can the Patriots repeat their success in basketball this season?

van de Graaff: As of today we are 3 and 3, all games being non-conference. While excitement is high on the Fairfax campus, can a team have two back to back Cinderella seasons? Go Patriots!

Check out van de Graaff's full bio.

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