Saturday, June 22, 2024

Big weather, Smole solutions

Azle Weather Center creator speaks on passion for local meteorology


AZLE — When Azlelites want to know the weather, Azle Weather Center’s Ralph Smole has them covered. Smole, a self-described weather fanatic, started posting local real-time and forecasted weather updates to Facebook around nine years ago. While he’s not a professional meteorologist, Smole’s interest in meteorological phenomena started at an early age.

“My dad was attached to a weather squadron back during WWII up in Alaska,” Smole said. “From the age I was old enough to read, probably 4 or 5-years-old, he would show me weather charts, how to interpret them and stuff like that. It’s just something that stuck with me my whole life.”

Smole uses doppler radar and apps like RadarScope to deliver hyper-localized, up-to-date weather information for Tarrant, Parker and Wise Counties. Smole is a certified SKYWARN spotter through the National Weather Service and before starting his site he volunteered as a storm chaser for NBC 5 Dallas-Fort Worth where he got to meet many local greats in meteorology and news broadcasting. Today, the AWC page has more than 11,000 followers, or nearly three-quarters of the population of Azle proper. Through this page and a companion website, Smole alerts and informs residents from across the area.

“It just really took off,” Smole said of his page. “What I hear from a lot of people is ‘you’re more accurate than the TV guys’ and I’m like, ‘well that’s nice but the TV meteorologists have to cover so many more counties.’

Along with telling residents the direction and time of incoming storms, Smole tries to help educate his website’s visitor and allow them to track weather themselves using the AWC classroom. Here he has compiled videos, links and other information that can help the novice get their start in amateur meteorology.

The 64-year-old has lived in Azle for over two decades, most of that time working as a Walmart greeter which he says gives him a lot of time to watch the weather outside the store’s automatic doors.

Smole has had a number of inspirations and lasting memories that have influenced his passion for the weather since childhood. One instance came while training at the Eagle Mountain Fire Department when Smole got the chance to go “spotting” when an F3 tornado hit downtown Fort Worth in March 2000.

“We actually saw the beginning of it come over the area and it was like, ‘wow this is wild,’” Smole said. “What really hit me most of all is back when I was a child. You see we grew up in Wisconsin and Illinois. When I was a little kid, we lived outside of Milwaukee. When we would get occasional severe weather (my dad) would always tell my mom and my siblings to go to the basement and we would sit out and watch and he would tell me ‘this is this and this is that.’”

The AWC is not just the work of one Smole, it has grown into a family affair. Smole runs the AWC page and website along with a local news and worship page with the help of his son, Ralph Smole III and his daughter Elfia Flowers. With his team behind him, Smole has dedicated countless hours, late nights and early mornings to keeping the people of Azle updated on current weather.

“They love it. They’re always very supportive of it, as is my wife Tammy (Cooley),” Smole said. “They know when severe weather is forthcoming, I’m going to be busy for a while no matter what time of day or night … I just feel blessed that if I can help one person stay safe from severe weather, I feel blessed. I feel really good about helping people. I’m just so appreciative of the community for their support.”