A career in meteorology was in Jason Straub’s forecast from a young age, as indicated by an early fascination with weather.
In May, the journeyman meteorologist with the National Weather Service Brownsville/Rio Grande Valley station celebrated 15 years with the NWS, all of it spent in Brownsville. After earning his degree from the University of North Dakota, the Minnesota native worked for five years in the private sector as an aviation meteorologist before joining the NWS, which had been his aim since before high school.
“I applied pretty much all over the U.S.,” Straub said. “I wanted to work at the weather service, and I was prepared to work pretty much anywhere. I’ve always had a passion for weather.”
He traces it all back to one stormy night as a tot in eastern Nebraska.
“One night we had a hail storm go over our house, and my dad actually caught some of the hail in a cup and kept it in the freezer, and showed it to us the next morning,” Straub said.
He was hooked. From then on, the budding meteorologist would sit by the window during storms, mesmerized by the show. His parents, both teachers, fed his weather habit, so it wasn’t a big mystery what Straub would do with his life.
“I always wanted to do weather, and most everybody in my high school knew that, too,” he said. “It was just where I was going to go with it.”
The weather Straub has been doing lately primarily concerns the oppressively warm, dry spell seizing the Valley in its sweaty grip.
“Right now the big focus is the heat,” he said. “We’ve had this epic heat wave going this summer. We tied a record high here in Brownsville (on Wednesday) at 99. That was a 120-year-old record.”
As usual during hurricane season, Straub and his fellow forecasters are keeping an eye on the tropical Atlantic for signs of disturbance. He said there’s no sign on the horizon of a break in the heat, noting that this summer’s temperatures are in line with the record-setting summer of 2009. Valley summers are always hot, of course, but it’s getting worse, Straub said.
“Temperatures have started to warm across the globe,” he said. “The climate is changing, and people need to be prepared for more extreme swings in weather.”
Forecasting technology continues to improve by leaps and bounds, and meteorologists continually train to keep up with it, Straub said. Besides being the station’s resident IT expert, he’s also the only one with experience — lots of it — measuring snowfall. Coincidentally, Straub happened to be on duty both times during the past 13 years that snow fell on Brownsville.
“When we had the snow in 2004, I was here on the midnight shift,” he said. “I took the official snow measurement here for Christmas, and then I took the official snow measurement here last winter when it snowed here.”
Straub has lived in enough places to have experienced pretty much all the weather the United States has to offer in various combinations of heat, cold, dryness and humidity. Weather-wise, the best place he’s ever lived was on the West Coast, he said.
“That was when I was in Santa Barbara County, Calif., and even then we had the one storm come in with 12 inches of rain on our radar,” Straub said. “It was a drought-breaker for them that year.”
Does he ever miss the bone-chilling winters of his Northern Plains boyhood? Maybe a little, sometimes.
“I do like snow,” Straub said. “I snowboard in my free time. The closest snow hill is Taos, N.M., and I’m not getting there any time soon.”