Everybody talks about the weather, as that hoary cliché goes, but no one does anything about it.
Well, Stuart Broyles does.
Stu studies computer weather models for Flagstaff. Stu pores over data and tracks developing storms. Stu susses out long-term trends, makes sometimes bold predictions several weeks out. Stu is like a human weather vane, proving Bob Dylan’s sentiment that you don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows. Stu blogs regularly, makes educated guesses, sometimes is dead-on and occasionally dead wrong.
Whether Stu's right or wrong, some people in Flagstaff and beyond pay attention to him.
This is somewhat surprising, since Broyles is not a meteorologist, not employed by the National Weather Service or even any monetized weather website. He’s just a man who loves to geek out on the weather in Flagstaff and shares his insights and observations on his blog, “Stu-In-Flag” (https://stu-in-flag.net/blog), which averages a modest few hundreds of hits per post but occasionally, such as during the Christmas storm, can garner upwards of 5,000 eyeballs a day.
What compels this man with a doctorate in materials engineering, who has worked at Gore for nearly 25 years, to play amateur weather guy on the internet for Flagstaffians and those planning to travel to our fair town?
The answer is both simple and complicated.
Simply, Broyles is just another curious soul fascinated by Flagstaff’s weather, especially the extremes that sometimes throw us for a loop. Such unpredictability is why he started the blog in September 2008 — though, even before that, he blogged on an erstwhile AOL platform. He’s a total amateur, he admits — but an avid, auto-didactic amateur who’s become pretty darn knowledgeable after all this time.
“There are a lot of (weather) swings here,” said Broyles, sipping coffee at Late for the Train on a brisk, sunny morning. “One of the things that’s really interesting is the big swings between drought and heavy precipitation that can happen in the course of a year. That doesn’t happen in other places — and I’ve moved around a lot. Look at October: We barely got any rain in October, and then November is almost a record breaker.”
That’s Flagstaff, all right.
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The more complicated part for Broyles is that, as a scientist, he wants to make order out of chaos. He yearns to know well in advance, two weeks or so, just what to expect when he wakes up in the morning. The pros at the National Weather Service office in Bellemont may be somewhat loathe to go out on limbs for long-range forecasts, lest they risk credibility by predicting patterns that fail to develop, but Broyles has no such qualms.
“I’m fine with being wrong,” he said, laughing. “(Long-term forecasts) are out there, but you have to go looking for it. But with computer models, the farther you get away from today, the harder it is to know what’s going on. I’m not always right, but I’d rather know two weeks in advance that, hey, I better be paying attention. A storm could come.”
Don’t get Broyles wrong. He’s not out to compete with the NWS — or even some jovial, helmet-haired TV meteorologist.
“I think the Weather Service really does do a good job,” he said, “They are really conscientious and try to get a good forecast out there.”
But, he added, the NWS aren’t extrapolating several weeks in advance. In his blog, Broyles does. Call it a public service.
“I enjoy hearing from people, people planning a vacation up here and they come across the blog,” he said. “It’s nice to help people out with what they’ll be dealing with up here. I remember one of the storms last year, a family from California kept asking me, ‘What should we do?’ I give them (the data) but I always try to say, ‘And I could be totally wrong.’
“It’s funny how many people you run into who are in Flagstaff in the middle of a snowstorm and they had no idea what was coming. They’re driving from Arkansas to California or wherever. My wife and I went out to eat during one snowstorm last winter — I-40 was closed, I-17 was closed — and we went to the Galaxy Diner and talked to other people wondering what happened. They were in shorts and T-shirts saying, ‘what happened?’”
Broyles, who has a square jaw and short-cropped brown hair, seems the type who likes order and hates surprises. He was a nuclear trained Naval officer for seven years before getting his Ph.D. at UC Davis. In fact, it was during his business-related travels for Gore that he hit upon the idea of being an amateur weather forecaster.
“I came back from the East Coast once,” he said. “Before I left, I was sitting in the Philadelphia airport and they had the Weather Channel on. No weather for Arizona, nothing coming. Walking through the airport in Phoenix – nothing about the weather. So I get out to my car and it starts to rain. I start to drive up to Flagstaff. By the time I got to Stoneman Lake, there’s eight inches of snow on the ground. I had no clue about it.”
That incident, of course, came in the early 2000s, before the internet became a 24/7 source of information. But Stu was an early adopter and narrowed his niche to Flagstaff weather. It’s not a money-maker, nor does he want it to be. In the years since he started, many regular people have started weather blogs — skiers musing about mountain conditions; climate-change activists about local and global patterns — but Broyles keeps his hyper-local in focus.
“I think the biggest political agenda I have,” he said, “is that I wish it was easier to get a good forecast a few days in advance.”
Sam McManis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (928) 556-2248.