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When I was in high school, I was a card-carrying member of the National FFA Organization (Future Farmers of America, for you "old schoolers"). I was a chapter president & district chaplain, participating in all kinds of contests. From parliamentary procedure to tool identification, we traveled all over the country for various events. I even participated in a poultry judging competition, even though I knew absolutely nothing about poultry. To be honest, I only joined the poultry contest so I could hang out with a certain girl who was also on the team. Things turned out well in long run- we've been married for nearly 10 years now!

Every time the first real "chill" of autumn comes around, I think back to those days in the FFA. The soil judging competition was usually held in November, close to Thanksgiving. We would pile into our instructor's pick-up truck and head to the competition, which usually resided in a local farmer's field. We would analyze the soil type, calculate slope of the land, and make recommendations for planting. You many not realize this, but soil type plays a major role in weather forecasting.

Remember, some surfaces "heat-up" faster than others. Whether a soil is sandy, loam, or clay-based has huge implications on its ability to warm or cool. Differential heating leads to changes in pressure, which in turn drives the wind. Before you know it, mesoscale weather systems are being created. The Piedmont trough is a local weather feature which forms along the soil differential between the Sand Hills and Piedmont. It often provides a focus for afternoon thunderstorm development, particularly during the summer when temperature extremes are more common.

Such local weather features are not always handled well by computer models. Only a seasoned meteorologist can provide consistently accurate forecasts, and even we get fooled sometimes.

(You can send a comment/question to Jerry at

By: Jerry Jackson