Good Life

Living Local: Jay Searles’ Weather Ranger

Jay Searles works on the weather station he uses in his backyard. Searles, a meteorologist, started Weather Ranger in 2012, in State College. He offers direct contact local weather forecasts.
Jay Searles works on the weather station he uses in his backyard. Searles, a meteorologist, started Weather Ranger in 2012, in State College. He offers direct contact local weather forecasts. CDT photos

Jay Searles loves the weather, no matter what kind.

As a meteorologist with 25 years of experience, Searles, 48, likes nothing more than predicting both the good and bad that nature can dish out daily, explaining weather patterns to the public. But over time, he grew disenchanted with the accuracy and presentation of commercial weather forecasts based on computer models.

So he created Weather Ranger.

Started in December 2013, Searles’ company offers online weather information for the State College area through his website, www.weatherranger.com. From his State College home, he interprets nationally and locally collected data, posts local weather forecasts, explains changing patterns on videos updated daily and fields queries and other communication from site visitors.

He also offers free email and text alerts and updates — all part of his goal to build a more personal, timely and direct source of weather information for residents and visitors.

“It’s a meteorologist in your pocket,” Searles said.

So far, he said, he has about 100 “loyal” followers on his email list for a free service supported by local advertising. A Weather Ranger app, probably for a small fee, is being developed.

“It has occurred to me that even with plentiful resources in weather information, State College and the nearby communities are greatly underserved,” Searles wrote on his website.

“As a matter of fact, I think and see how every community is underrepresented because there is very little direct communication to the source of the predictions and literally no community involvement. That is what we are out to change.”

It’s the latest do-it-yourself project for Searles, who installed his own living room hardwood floor, built staircase banisters, planted robust raspberry patches in his backyard and constructed a stone wall around the garden he and his wife tend.

“I fell in love with it,” he said of his weather service. “This fits. This fits my personality.”

Like many meteorologists, he fell in love with the weather as a child — in his case, growing up in St. Paul, Minn., sitting on a railroad bridge and watching thunderstorms build over the city.

He aspired to be a meteorologist but in high school struggled with math, a professional necessity in the weather business. But first at a local community college, then the University of North Dakota, he knuckled down and became proficient on his way to an undergraduate meteorology degree.

“Once you make up your mind to do something, if it’s something you want, anybody will do what they have to do to get it,” he said. “And I wanted to be a meteorologist.”

At the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology, he earned a meteorology master’s degree, getting into forecasting for a University of North Dakota research project.

He then worked for the National Weather Service in Rapid City, S.D., for eight years before becoming a radio and TV meteorologist, writing weather pages for the New York Times and teaching classes at Penn State and online.

Over time, though, he came to the conclusion that with broadcasting media, entertainment, appearances and ratings counted for more than accuracy and public service.

“They don’t hire the most accurate people when it comes to predicting the weather,” he said. “They don’t hire people who truly understand the weather to the degree that some meteorologists do, and have the ability to really explain in a good general sense to the people, in a plain common voice, what’s going to happen at the same time.”

He also took issue with rigid predictions based entirely on computer models.

“You’re not getting any human interaction to make corrections,” he said, noting he can provide updates frequently as conditions evolve or quickly answer questions. “The errors are in the models. The models are not accurate, especially beyond 24 hours when it comes to temperature, precipitation, things like that.”

Susan Rogacs, who lives in the Greentree neighborhood with Searles and is the president of the neighborhood association, receives the Weather Ranger email alerts.

“I have this service and find it very helpful and timely,” she said in an email. “His accuracy rate is excellent ... and the updates he sends about particularly bad weather are more than helpful, they are crucial!”

Searles said he hopes to grow a following of 10 to 15 percent of the Centre Region population. At present, his coverage centers on State College and surrounding townships, but licensing Weather Ranger franchises to meteorologists in other communities could be in the future.

He also plans on continuing to teach about weather phenomena through Weather Ranger and local presentations.

In the meantime, his daily goal remains to communicate about weather directly with people so that “they can plan their day, plan their life, and not have to worry about what’s coming.”

“That’s what I love about it. That’s the essence of it,” he said.

“That’s my heart.”

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