Baseball players are known to be a different breed, and in this case, a National Park College baseball player had another lifelong hobby that he worked very hard for.
Zach Hardcastle is a sophomore and is a very bright young man who plays outfield and utility for the Nighthawks.
Hardcastle has a deep love for meteorology.
“I don’t get upset when there are weather delays on the baseball field,” he said. “I become so happy.”
Hardcastle plans to attend the University of Oklahoma School of Meteorology when he finishes playing baseball for the Nighthawks.
“For 10 years or more I’ve had a passion for the weather,” Hardcastle said. “It makes you feel good every time you study and start learning more. It makes me feel good. Later, when I graduate, I can help people.”
Hardcastle likes the scientific side of meteorology. He said he wanted to go into the field chasing storms and performing experiments to help make predictions.
“My dad introduced him to me,” Hardcastle said. “He’s always had a special place in my heart. He’s my role model. He started it all for me and now it’s becoming real. This is my last year here and then I’m going all out.”
Hardcastle pointed out that his hobby will soon become his career.
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“When I was 6 there was a tornado that came through my house but destroyed the rest of the block,” he said. “My dad started explaining what had happened to me as we watched him pass over us and I just wanted to know more and more about it.”
His nickname became the “lightning guy” from his various Twitter videos he posted about thunderstorms around Arkansas.
He said he was a huge fan of Thor, the God of Thunder, from the Marvel movies.
What he loves most about lightning is taking photos and videos.
“No bolt is the same,” Hardcastle said. “Any strike from the sky is never the same.”
Hardcastle chases storms across the state.
“I will normally see the storm two or three days before,” he said. “There are prospects coming out and there is a one in five chance of it being a thunderstorm. There is marginal, slight, increased and high risk. High risk is the big one where everyone wants to go and see a tornado . This is . High risk, high reward system.”
Even when he doesn’t see a huge storm, he still goes out and studies the structure of the storms that form.
“There was a storm, it was December 10, 2021,” Hardcastle said. “The storm passed through Monet, Arkansas, and ended in Mayfield, Kentucky. The storm was about to break the record for the longest tornado on record. The storm formed in Hot Springs. The tornado did not never touched down before Jonesboro I chased the storm all the way back to Cabot and was the first person to see this tornado It was crazy to see because it was like a snowball for the meteorological community No one expected this in December.
Tornadoes of this size and magnitude are rare during the winter months.
“The math side of things is probably the hardest,” Hardcastle said. “It’s like being a math student in college. I will have to take three different math courses in one semester of my freshman year.”
Besides the meteorologists seen on TV, it takes a lot of crew members to make an accurate forecast for the weather room.
Hardcastle used several apps to track its weather systems. From there, it gathers the data it reads, combined with the law of averages to find the average of what is predictable.
“It takes a lot of people professionally,” Hardcastle said. “There are patterns in the atmosphere that we can’t see. There’s a lot of science that goes into reading those patterns. There are several people who are behind the scenes to help with the prediction.”
Hardcastle keeps a log of all its predictions to track its accuracy. He has no instrumentation, but he will add things to his truck to measure wind speed, precipitation and atmospheric pressure.
“My mom is a teacher and I have a reputation there,” Hardcastle said. “They always call me whenever they have questions about the weather. So far I’ve been 100% correct for them.
“If I could recreate the iconic scene from the movie ‘Twister’ where they send the instruments into the tornado, that would be amazing.”
In weather, just like baseball, nothing is 100% correct. However, advances in technology have helped meteorologists be more accurate, and technology is reducing the manual labor that goes into the profession.
“Summer is the hardest to predict in Arkansas,” Hardcastle said. “In the summer you see a lot of pop-up thunderstorms. You never know if they’ll be severe or not. Most of the time it’s random in the summer.”
Hardcastle plans to stay in Oklahoma, Texas and Kansas to study extreme weather conditions where there is a lot of flat land on the plains.
Hardcastle has established a large following on Twitter from his videos and caught the attention of some of Arkansas’ top meteorologists.
“It’s amazing, especially when I’m put on the news,” Hardcastle said. “The other day when the storm came in, I did it on the news. It’s a great feeling.”
Among the best in the weather community, KATV’s Todd Yakoubian and James Bryant established a relationship with Hardcastle for his efforts to turn his hobby into a career.
Hardcastle has set up a summer internship with KATV.
“The plan for me is not to be on TV,” he said. “I will need to get a field report and will have a live broadcast when I am chasing a storm. I will seek sponsorships from weather companies while chasing storms in the field.”
Hardcastle has no plans to play baseball in Oklahoma at this time. However, he told the coaches about his role as team leader when he arrived to fulfill his dream of becoming a professional meteorologist.
Hardcastle is originally from Cabot and was drawn to the national park after his father attended school when it was Garland County Community College.
Hardcastle has been playing baseball since he was 2 years old.
“I’ve been playing since I could really walk,” he said. “I always worked hard. That’s all I ever really knew was to work harder than everyone else, just to chase a dream.”
On the pitch, he doesn’t check his own stats.
“I try to stay away from that stuff,” Hardcastle said. “I haven’t checked my batting average in a long time. I feel like if you don’t do well, you’ll get in your head and if you do well, it will increase your ego.”
Hardcastle only hit one home run in college and he walked off the first pitch he had ever seen as a college player.
“It was like a dream, the first pitch I had ever seen in college,” Hardcastle said. “I got up there and swung as hard as I could. I caught every part of the ball with the bat. I can’t even remember half of it. The only thing I remember is the video.
“I had more adrenaline hitting my home run. I only hit one. I see a lot of storms.”