By Brian Compere
Between watching his son play baseball, gardening at home, playing golf and vacationing in the Outer Banks, Visiting Associate Research Scientist Ralph Ferraro spends a lot of time outdoors. He even deals with the outdoors every day in his work on remote sensing environmental satellites.
As chief of NOAA’s Satellite Climate Studies Branch, he works with ESSIC and the Cooperative Institute for Climate and Satellites to ensure that records of precipitation measurements are accurate so this data can be used reliably in climate studies.
Although he had not envisioned doing this work when he was younger, he knew he wanted to have a career based in weather.
“I was always what you would call a ‘weather weenie.’ I was just very interested, very enthused about it,” he said. “I just sort of had a passion for it; I can’t really explain it.”
By January of his senior year at Rutgers, he knew he would come to the University of Maryland for graduate school. He chose Maryland over two or three other schools because he had been offered a full research assistantship, he felt that Maryland was interested in him because of how quickly he heard back and he knew that the area offered plenty of government jobs.
Once he came to Maryland from his hometown of Montclair, N.J., he never left. He even met his wife in Maryland.
All of this led him to settle in Maryland, although he said he had not necessarily planned it that way from the start.
“I think at one point most people just think you’ll be on TV, but teachers give you a reality check,” he said. “It’s more than just forecasting the weather, a lot of behind-the-scenes stuff that I ended up learning about in school.”
He was drawn specifically to satellites seemingly by chance, since he selected a project in graduate school that had to do with satellites and stuck with the subject from there.
After graduating from Maryland, he worked for private contracting firms and eventually started working for scientists at NOAA.
When a job opened there, he took advantage of it and didn’t even have to move offices to assume his new role. He later came to ESSIC and the Cooperative Institute for Climate Studies, in order to help his boss develop more of a NOAA presence at ESSIC.
Now, as chief of NOAA’s Satellite Climate Studies Branch, he oversees cooperation between NOAA and ESSIC in regards to grants, resources and research projects, in addition to his other satellite research duties. He has also chaired committees responsible for promoting the current state of satellites – such as the International Precipitation Working Group.
He is also serving as NOAA’s focal point on a collaborative project with NASA, the Global Precipitation Measurement Mission, which is meant to provide global maps of precipitation every three hours by coordinating data from all contributing satellites.
He said that GPM is “probably the next big NASA earth science mission that’s going to get launched.”
As fulfilling as a job like this is, he said that he felt his greatest work-related achievement was when he was working to help write software used to ensure that satellites operate properly.
“As a scientist, it’s always nice to spend time on something and then have it actually be used by people, not just collecting dust in a magazine on someone’s shelf,” he said.
He also said that he loves to host college and high school student interns that have a passion for meteorology. He emphasized that it is important for them to learn something during their time working, and he gave an example of an intern who learned MATLAB while interning and was able to teach it to other students later.
Though his work involves aspects of the environment, Ferraro can’t seem to get enough of the outdoors even in his free time. He said he enjoys being out on his porch during thunderstorms, and he said he was disappointed that he missed seeing the funnel cloud that appeared outside the ESSIC building on June 1.
When he’s not outdoors or dealing with weather and climate phenomena, he bowls with friends Wednesday nights, as he has for the past 30 years, and spends the majority of his time with his daughter, a student at Wake Forest University who likes to ride horses, and his son, who just graduated from high school.