Alumnus, scientist finds new life passion in retirement as novelist

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Long after his retirement as a scientist, Paul Mark Tag would continue thinking about the concept of weather modification. The notion that humans could influence weather, either accidentally or on purpose, was the focus of part of his career with the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory, and it would also form the basis for his first novel, penned in retirement. He was first exposed to this idea during his days as a Penn State student in the 1960s and 1970s.

Getting out and seeing what the world was like

Tag developed an affinity for science and weather in high school. At the recommendation of his guidance counselor, he began looking into meteorology as a career. He applied to Penn State and was accepted into Penn State’s meteorology program.

Coming to Penn State after being raised in a rural part of Pennsylvania was an eye-opening experience, Tag said.

“Growing up in a small town in Somerset County, I didn’t know much about the world,” he said. “Coming to Penn State and seeing people of different nationalities and backgrounds really opened my eyes to what the world was really like. It was much bigger than I had realized.”

Shortly after receiving his bachelor of science in meteorology from Penn State in 1966, Tag was accepted into Penn State’s meteorology master’s degree program. Studying under faculty adviser Larry Davis, Tag focused his research on cloud physics, the processes that shape the formation of clouds. He also got exposure to one way that humans inadvertently modify weather: cities trapping heat. For his graduate-level research, he measured the surface temperatures of two cities. While working with the National Center for Atmospheric Research as a summer trainee, Tag instrumented an aircraft to measure the surface temperatures of Denver, Colorado. After returning to Penn State, he used a Penn State aircraft to do the same for Buffalo, New York.

“To this day, that research project is one of my most memorable scientific experiences,” he said. “By measuring temperatures with an infrared radiometer, I was able to demonstrate that cities are, in fact, warmer than the surrounding countryside. I then created a numerical prediction model that isolated the reasons for the differences.”

Paul Mark Tag stands in front of small airplane

At the National Center for Atmospheric Research facility in Colorado, Paul Mark Tag stands in front of an airplane that he used for his graduate-level research as a Penn State student. Tag instrumented the aircraft to measure the surface temperatures of Denver, Colorado, and then used a Penn State aircraft to do the same for Buffalo, New York. Through his research, he demonstrated that cities are warmer than the surrounding countryside. He also created a numerical prediction model that isolated the reasons for the differences.

Image: Paul Mark Tag

The heyday of weather modification

Tag’s emphasis in cloud physics would lead him to his “first real job,” he said, with the Navy Weather Research Facility in Norfolk, Virginia, in 1968. Later, this organization moved to California and eventually became part of the larger Naval Research Laboratory in Washington, D.C.

“It was the heyday of weather modification, and all branches of the armed services were concerned with landing planes in fog at the time. My first job involved investigating a variety of ways to clear ground fog, which involved cloud physics,” he said.

During this period, Tag returned to Penn State to pursue his doctorate in meteorology. His doctoral research focused on the use of heat to clear fog.

While working for the Naval Research Laboratory, Tag also participated in Project Stormfury. In this project, aircraft seeded hurricane clouds with chemicals in an attempt to reduce maximum wind speeds.

Until his retirement in 2001, Tag would continue working at the Naval Research Laboratory, working on a variety of other projects, including boundary layer modeling and artificial intelligence applications to weather forecasting and to analyzing satellite imagery.

But it was his exposure to weather modification that would set the stage for his first novel,  “Category 5,” which he began writing in retirement.

Transforming weather knowledge into novels

“Category 5” follows a terrorist plot to disrupt the U.S. government by using the power of weather. The story’s antagonist creates a laser powerful enough to heat the ocean around a hurricane. Using this laser, the villain intends to maneuver a Category 5 hurricane straight into Washington, D.C.  

“As with most thrillers, the premise is incredible but plausible,” he said. “I tell people all the time at book signings that you could never build a laser big enough to heat the water around a hurricane, but if you could, you could do these kind of things. I was able to draw upon my meteorological knowledge for this idea.”

To a degree, Tag’s protagonist in his first three novels follows in his footsteps: the novels track a meteorologist, Dr. Victor Mark Silverstein, who graduated from Penn State and works for the Naval Research Laboratory. In flashback sequences, Tag draws on his own experience to paint a picture of Penn State during the 1960s and 1970s.

After eradicating the threat of human-controlled hurricanes in “Category 5,” Silverstein takes on another terrorist plan involving genetics and a ‘prophecy gene’ in Tag’s second novel, “Prophecy.” In the third part of the trilogy, “White Thaw: The Helheim Conspiracy,” Silverstein finds himself again applying his meteorological expertise to eliminate another threat, this time a conspiracy to induce climate change by purposely melting Greenland’s ice sheets.

Tag had always had a love of writing — he even tried crafting a novel in the 1970s but gave up because he believed he “just didn’t know enough about the world.” As he approached retirement in the late 1990s, he spent 3-4 years focusing on short stories — published as a collection in “The Errant Ricochet: Max Raeburn’s Legacy” — before transitioning to novels.

New genres

Tag’s writing didn’t stop with thrillers. He switched genres for his most recent book, “How Much Do You Love Me?” This historical fiction novel explores the Japanese internment in the U.S. during World War II. Roughly 120,000 Japanese-Americans were incarcerated, two-thirds of whom were U.S. citizens.

“The internment camps were really an atrocity, and I wanted to shine a light on the subject. Living in California has made me more aware of what had happened,” he said. “My goal was not only to write a good story. By the time you finish my book, you’ll understand why the internment occurred, how it came about and the impact that it had on many individuals and families."

Tag is now brainstorming what story lies ahead for him next in the literary landscape. To learn more about Tag and his books, visit www.paulmarktag.com.

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Last Updated April 05, 2016