Many factors influence East Texas weather

Posted 9/21/23

“To understand weather, you have to understand that the atmosphere is much like a river – with currents and eddies and bank interactions – and then added to it is instability resulting from moisture and temperature.”

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Many factors influence East Texas weather


“To understand weather, you have to understand that the atmosphere is much like a river – with currents and eddies and bank interactions – and then added to it is instability resulting from moisture and temperature.”

Veteran National Weather Service (NWS) meteorologist Michael Berry began to explain the variables that create East Texas weather. 

Berry is well-positioned to talk about East Texas weather. In May he celebrated his 30th year of service with the NWS office in Shreveport. He has spent three decades dedicated to the practical study of Wood County weather. 

Wood County is the western-most county of the region managed by NWS Shreveport. The area is roughly bounded by the counties and parishes captured by a line connecting Broken Bow, Okla. to El Dorado, Ark. to Jena, La. to Lufkin and Clarksville. From Angelina County to Red River County the area covers most of East and Northeast Texas.   

Berry continued, “And just as the water in a river behaves differently based on its depth, so must the atmosphere be considered in its layers.”  

Investigating the layers of the atmosphere is a nationally-coordinated event which happens twice a day. At 6 a.m. and 6 p.m., weather balloons are launched from each of the 122 weather stations across the nation.

As those balloons ascend, they record five critical variables: temperature, dew point, wind speed, wind direction and atmospheric pressure. The ascent takes about two hours to reach 100,000 feet, where the balloons self-destruct.

Each balloon produces a mountain of data. That cull of local data is multiplied by 122, and the information is amassed and sorted in a single supercomputer. Forecast models manipulate the data and produce national forecast maps.  

“It is our job,” Berry stated, “to then produce local forecasts based on the latest daily observations and all other inputs available to us.”

One would be mistaken to think that a computer is responsible for forecasts. Computers cannot be responsible, they are innate objects, but they can be leveraged to organize massive amounts of data into a form which can be interpreted by humans – such as in this manner.

The NWS does not simply take the national forecast and apply it, either. On the other end of the spectrum of meteorology is the data gathered by local weather watchers.  

Thousands of local weather observers continue a tradition which predates the founding of the nation – recording daily weather observations. The founding fathers were counted among the most enthusiastic weather watchers. The systematic use of volunteer weather observers was actually codified into law in 1890. 

Today, thousands continue this proud duty under the NWS Cooperative Observer Program. Berry had just returned last week from a field visit to observers in Clarksville, Mt. Pleasant and Mt. Vernon.  

He explained that each observer is supplied with a digital thermometer and a rain gauge. They are relied upon to record the high temperature, the low temperature and rainfall of the last 24 hours. 

“We depend on these observers tremendously…they are a vital part of our warning network and provide consistent, factual surface information,” Berry commented.

From supercomputers to backyard observations, the aim of the NWS is to use all available data to understand how weather develops and accurately predict the local effects. 

Berry explained, “East Texas is influenced by two major weather phenomenon: the Gulf of Mexico and the jet stream.”

Having a reservoir of moisture such as the Gulf of Mexico in such close proximity allows for frequent and sometimes sudden influxes of moisture into the atmosphere. Berry explained that in weather parlance, atmospheric moisture often equates to energy. 

The second major influence is the jet stream – that river of upper atmosphere air which flows from west to east across North America. Berry described how in the two most active weather seasons (spring and fall) the jet stream follows a more southernly path, often bringing weather systems directly to East Texas. 

In the summer, the jet stream takes a more northernly route across the nation and allows some of the more stationary areas of high pressure which can generate lasting, high temperatures.     

While Berry’s focus is on weather effects within his area of responsibility, he admitted that local weather has its origins in global climatology patterns.

“It is all one system,” he advised. 

Being on the western edge of the reporting area may concern some folks, as most local weather comes out of the west.

Berry was quick to point out that he and his colleagues at the Shreveport Office – located at Shreveport Airport –  remain in close contact with fellow meteorologists at the Fort Worth office. Other nearby NWS Offices are in Norman, Okla., Houston and Lake Charles, La.

“We also collaborate closely with meteorologists in local media,” he noted.  

Berry was asked to comment on the notion many people have that local topography influences weather.

“It is the most frequent question I answer,” he said. In Shreveport, he explained that people call it the “Barksdale Bubble” – something about the local spot (in this case Barksdale Air Force Base) that protects it from bad weather. 

Berry explained, “I can promise that if one goes back through the historical record, they will find that every location in our area has had their share of bad weather.”

With respect to bad weather, Berry strongly recommended the continued use of a NOAA Weather Radio. He explained that the small transistor-sized radio has three big advantages over more modern technology: a) it issues an automatic broadcast of NWS-issued alerts and warnings, b) it has a battery so it will remain active even after a power outage, and c) unlike most smartphone alert systems, it issues both warnings and emergency alerts. Most smartphone systems issue only emergency alerts and may be unknowingly silenced.

Easily available at local stores, Berry remarked that a NOAA Weather Radio is “just as important as a smoke detector in the house.” 

The senior meteorologist is unique in his field in that he has spent his whole career at NWS Shreveport. He knew at a young age – watching TV meteorologist Al Bolton – that he wanted to study the weather. A Shreveport native, Berry attended Northeast Louisiana University in Monroe. Now the University of Louisiana Monroe, it offers the only accredited meteorological program in Louisiana.  

During that time he apprenticed at NWS Shreveport, and when a vacancy opened, he joined the staff. Quite unusual in the field, he joined his hometown office. Shreveport remained home, as he married and raised two children. 

The office runs a 24/7 operation, with the staff working in shifts.

“You have to really love what you do,” Berry offered.

Berry also remarked that any future meteorologist must have a passion for physics, math and science. His explanations regarding the atmosphere stressed the physical interactions between the elements, while the modern data-collection activities mandate the ability to understand and manipulate numbers.

Despite the fact that Mother Nature will never be fully predictable, weather is a science. 

Berry added, “And it’s never boring!”