Meteorologist tracks weather for the Valley

Watchful Eye

Operational meteorologist Kirk Caceres works on forecast by observing multiple weather models at his desk Wednesday at the National Weather Service branch in Brownsville. “I always wanted to be a meteorologist. I remember being four, five years old visiting an uncle in Iowa one summer watching thunderstorms on the horizon," Caceres said.(Denise Cathey/The Brownsville Herald)

BROWNSVILLE — Kirk Caceres, 46, has been an operational meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Brownsville for nearly 17 years. Brownsville’s branch of the National Weather Service monitors weather patterns across the Rio Grande Valley and is one of 122 stations nationwide that create the forecasts and advisories the public sees on television and online.

The Brownsville office — located next to the airport — is unique in that it monitors a variety of weather conditions due to the Valley’s proximity to the coast. Caceres said he opted to work for NWS on the Gulf Coast because of the frequency of storms — hurricanes, tropical depressions, and even cold fronts — that keep his job interesting.

“I always wanted to be a meteorologist. I remember being four, five years old visiting an uncle in Iowa one summer watching thunderstorms on the horizon — heat lightning, which is actually a distant thunderstorm,” he said.

“I think there was a tornado. I didn’t know it, but I remember the waves on the lake picking up, the winds were picking up, and we went inside. I thought, awesome! As I got older, I volunteered at TV stations doing the weather with a little rain gauge in my backyard.”

Caceres said he began taking meteorology seriously in high school, realizing he needed to take the right classes to get into an atmospheric science program at a university. School was challenging, and he wasn’t always sure he would make it through to work under the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration or NOAA, the parent agency of NWS.

The meteorologist encouraged anyone interested in pursuing a career in the field to keep at it. “When people tell me, ‘I can’t do this,’ I tell them, ‘If I can do this, anyone can. I was dedicated to being a meteorologist. But the math and science — science I’m alright at, but math was difficult. There were times when I dropped classes.”

“I stuck with it, and I’m here. When people tell me they can’t do it, I say, ‘Never say never’, because everything can change in a moment.”

Following college, finding work became the challenge, until one morning Caceres woke up to 15 referrals to interviews. This was the first step in the process of working for NOAA. “I did five interviews in one day. I never expected that.”

The meteorologist took a job at an office in Williston, North Dakota, but was ultimately drawn back to the country’s southern coast, as the weather’s unpredictability keeps the job challenging and worthwhile.

Operational meteorologist Kirk Caceres points to one of the many programs that meteorologist’s use for forecasts on his computer Wednesday at the National Weather Service branch in Brownsville.(Denise Cathey/The Brownsville Herald)

“The weather is always changing. It moves around the world because if it were in equal balance, it would be the same temperature everywhere. It’s the same thing with hurricanes. That’s actually moving energy from the equator to the poles. It’s an imbalance,” he explained.

In Brownsville, NWS meteorologists spend shifts monitoring multiple models indicating things like wind patterns, ocean weather, and incoming storm systems. One computer model Caceres pulled up on the monitors at his desk depicted a column of air from spanning from ground up to the atmospheric ceiling, covering the entire Valley.

Some models are global, while smaller, regional and local-scale models contain more specific data from the area. Meteorologists respond real-time to update predictions if the models aren’t spot-on.

Last Thursday’s cold, wet weather was predicted to clear up by the end of the day. The office chose to undercut the model, lowering temperatures by five degrees to reflect the weather’s outcome as conditions played out in real time.

The predictions from each different model are combined into the forecast and radar viewers watch on television. Most of the daily forecasts are done by hand, Caceres explained.

“That’s what we’re here for. If the models were 100% correct, there wouldn’t be any work to do,” he said, explaining that staff uses imperfections as opportunities to piece together the most accurate forecasts possible.