Shortly after graduating from college in atmospheric science, Ron McQueen traveled the country – from Corvallis, Oregon – to start his first job as a meteorologist in Lubbock.
Unprepared for the local landscape, he drove through a cloud of dust and may have briefly second guessed his wayward decision that landed him in West Texas instead of Philadelphia, where he was also offered a position.
“I thought to myself, ‘Oh, this is Texas, there will be palm trees and beaches’ — maybe not in Lubbock, but not too far. I was expecting warm weather all the time, and I was so naive about it,” McQueen said. “Instead, I drove through a dust storm — that was my welcome to Lubbock.”
From beginning his work at the National Weather Service in the early 1980s until his retirement at the end of June, McQueen worked in all kinds of weather – from powerful haboobs that left layers of dust in the area to vigorous thunderstorms that hit blackout – and of course, the record-breaking droughts that locals are still experiencing today.
“We also had (the remnants of) Hurricane Chico, which developed over the Pacific and came directly over Lubbock in the 1980s,” McQueen said. “There were incredible rain rates and flooding – turned our normally calm lakes and roads into raging whitewater situations. It was very eye-opening to see that.”
“I’ve seen pretty much everything here,” McQueen said, recalling snowy memories of his first winter in Lubbock, which saw powerful snow events.
Coming from the Pacific Northwest, he had always liked the colder weather and he knew there would be less opportunity for snow here in West Texas.
But Lubbock may have teased it a little early, he said.
“Today was the snowiest winter we’ve had in Lubbock,” McQueen said. “There were a number of significant snowstorms that winter. Just before my very first shift, it was about 6 inches that night, then another 6 inches the following week – and shortly after that we had a foot and a half.
As any Oregon native would, McQueen remembers being the only one on the roads because “no one really wanted to be in there.” But instead of driving, he decided to ski downtown.
“I remember thinking, ‘Wow! Lubbock has a lot more snow than I expected, but of course that was an anomaly,” McQueen said.
Settling in the hub city
After nearly a decade at his first job, McQueen joined the National Weather Service offices in Las Vegas and Denver — which are arguably more entertaining than Lubbock.
Even still, McQueen returned here in the early 2000s and has called it home ever since.
“Lubbock is a fantastic place to raise a family and so on,” McQueen said. “It’s a very, very beautiful city and it’s easy to get around. We have good schools and it’s relatively inexpensive compared to other parts of the country.
But beyond the many accolades he gives Lubbock as a city, the main reason he returned was the resilience and tenacity of the local National Weather Service office.
McQueen describes it as “one of the best weather forecasting offices in the whole country”, praising leaders and colleagues for reinforcing an environment so welcoming that he always loved going to work.
“Our scientists are scientifically trained, of course, and don’t really have much reason to do this work other than to help the public,” McQueen said. “Our intention is really, purely, to provide the necessary information to the public and partners as truthfully as possible.”