Central Arkansas forecaster Brian Smith, known for passion about climate, weather maps, dies

This photo shows Senior Forecaster for the the National Weather Service in North Little Rock Brian Smith around Christmas in 2013. (Courtesy of John Lewis)

A senior forecaster at the National Weather Service in North Little Rock died unexpectedly Saturday morning, the agency announced Sunday on Twitter.

Brian Smith was in his forties and had worked there for more than 20 years, said John Lewis, another senior forecaster at Smith’s office and a longtime colleague of his. 

Smith was known as a climate and weather history enthusiast, and for his social media posts that provided Arkansas weather facts as well as hand drawn analysis of weather maps to the public. 

“It’s a different office without him. I keep expecting him to pop up around the corner any moment,” Lewis said Monday morning, “We’ve been talking about him all morning. He was so much of a presence, and he still is.”

Smith is said to have served the state in many ways, specifically by providing climate data. “You know how they say everyone can be replaced? Well, Brian had 100 irons in the fire. He can’t. He was original,” Lewis said. “He did an awful lot of research, a lot of it on his own time. That’s how passionate he was.”

About Smith’s social media contributions, he said, “In a lot of ways he was like a kid with his colored pencils drawing these maps. If there was a big storm, especially in the old days, we’d analyze them by hand. He’d post the hand drawn analysis to show what we do.”

Smith worked through several weather events, including the 2014 fatal tornado event. On Twitter, the agency said that event changed him and made him realize how fragile life is.

“Yeah, that event really changed him,” Lewis said, “But what had a really profound effect on Brian was the snow. The arctic events in February were exciting, but especially to him. It lit him up like a Christmas tree and just motivated him to work harder.” 

The forecaster left behind a folder of weather happenings in Arkansas’ history for every day of the year. It contains past events the agency uses for its “#OnThisDay” posts.

“People really enjoy that. They get to go back in time and the post will jog their memory. In the comments below, they will stop and tell their own story about that day and start a conversation,” Lewis said, “Really, that's what social media is about, us talking to one another.”

Outside of the weather service, Smith was known for his interest in trains, movies and cartoons, specifically Looney Tunes, said Lewis. He was at the agency when Smith arrived there.

“I watched him grow up, find a girl, marry her, have kids,” Lewis said. 

Several NWS offices across the nation have responded to the news of Smith’s passing via Twitter, offering condolences from Boston, South Carolina, Colorado, Maine, Kentucky, Oklahoma and Louisiana. 

“Brian was the kindest and nicest guy. We were lucky Brian started off in our office. Our hearts go out [to] his family, friends, and coworkers,” the Shreveport office tweeted. 

Lewis said, “You just don’t find that kind of work atmosphere where people care about each other in many offices. But we care here. We lost a member of our family.”