I want to tell you about Tom, and how I got to know him.
In May of 2011, I emailed Tom Johnstone, the Warning Coordination Meteorologist at the National Weather Service office in Nashville. I was trying to gain access to NWSChat, which I wanted to support the work I was doing on @NashSevereWx.
He rejected me, as he should have. But he did so politely. I went back and dug up the email I got from him:
OHX Office 05/11/2011
SUBJECT: Rejection of application to participate in National Weather Service
(NWS) Instant Messaging (IM) Service (NWSChat)
NWSChat facilitates simultaneous real-time dialog among the emergency management community, the electronic media, NWS, and other government partners during weather-related threats to public safety to improve understanding of the evolving threat and to aid decisions by the participants to mitigate these threats. NWS limits participation in this service to organizations that meet the attached standards, and the information you have provided do not justify including you as a participant.
You are free to reapply, providing additional materials supporting your standing in relation to the attached standards for participants.
Thank you for your interest in NWS services.
I thought, “I’ll appeal!” So I sent Tom a personal email, laying out what @NashSevereWx was all about (all 475 followers at the time), and what I’d hoped it would be. His response:
NWSChat is for TV Meteorologists/news room types/radio stations who carry Wall to Wall severe weather coverage only.
That being said, we closely monitor Spotter Network, and as I’m sure you are aware reports made on SN show up directly in NWSChat. We also monitor twitter for reports…especially #tnwx and #wxreport hashtags. I’ll be sure to add your twitter feed to my list.
Thanks for your interest and we really need and appreciate your information.
That made two rejections, but I kind of felt good about it. He was listening to my crazy ideas and gave value to the work being done. There’s a retiring judge in Murfreesboro who has this skill — telling your idea “no,” politely and professionally, in a way that didn’t make you feel like you’d wasted your time. Tom shares this ability.
It’s one of the reasons we’re losing him to a promotion as Meteorologist-in-Charge at the NWS office in Corpus Christi, Texas.
Another reason: he took a meeting with me, a total stranger—an internet stranger, twice rejected. After I took NWSChat access off the table (which I later got), I asked if I could meet with him after he’d had a chance to review the work of @NashSevereWx. On May 23, he wrote me:
I’d love to have you stop by the office. The week of May 23rd is pretty wide open. Do any of those days work for you?
We met the morning of May 23, 2011, and had a long conversation. Tom and I launched a vision for how the NWS could benefit by leveraging the power of social media in Nashville and Middle Tennessee. I learned more listening to Tom during those two hours than I have at any other time during this @NashSevereWx journey. At the end of that meeting, we set several goals.
All those goals were met, and then some. Today there are official NWS partnership Twitter accounts covering Davidson, Williamson, Montgomery, Robertson, Sumner, Macon, Overton, Putnam, Smith, Trousdale, Wilson, Cheatham, Dickson, Hickman, Rutherford, Coffee, Marchall and Lawrence Counties, with well over 70,000 followers, carrying a reach far beyond that. The #tSpotter program has improved NWS Nashville’s service to Middle Tennessee, dramatically increasing the number of severe and winter weather reports received. It accounts for almost 1/4 of all traffic in our NWS Chat room, and has been presented at numerous professional meteorology conferences as a model of success.
This all happened because of Tom’s leadership, support, vision, and kindness. Or, to state it more bluntly, none of this would have happened without him. This success is just one small part of the legacy he is leaving here in Nashville and Middle Tennessee. I asked a few people from the NWS Nashville office to share their thoughts as Tom, his wife, and daughter pack up for Texas:
Larry Vannozzi, Meteorologist-in-Charge
I had never met Tom before January of 2009. I hired him based on his accomplishments and outstanding references – and man did he deliver! NWS Nashville’s products, services, and customer relations are much better thanks to Tom’s hard work, flexibility and commitment. Tom is a complete package – hard worker, very dedicated, good forecaster, good on radar, computer expert, social media whiz, excellent dealing with and relating to customers – especially media, Emergency Managers and amateur radio operators. He was particularly helpful to me as someone I could confide in. His insight and advice really helped me throughout his 5 and 1/2 years here, from small issues on up to big ones like the May 2010 flood. Tom quickly became the face of our office, from numerous conference call/weather briefings, to media, Emergency Managers, and other key customers. Many of them commented about how well Tom conducted those briefings – especially those snow-day briefings at 430 a.m.! I’m really going to miss working with Tom on a daily basis, but I’m so happy to see him to achieve his goal of becoming a Meteorologist-in-Charge.
Angela Lese, Science & Operations Officer
I’ve known Tom for a while from my Louisville days, but I’ve had the pleasure working with him closely for the past two years. I couldn’t ask for a better partner in a manager, and I’m not sure how I can perform my job as well without having him around. Tom has set an outstanding precedent here in Middle Tennessee, and has accomplished some great things here at the NWS Nashville office. He’s a hard worker, a great mentor, and a friend – we’ll miss him here dearly, but I wish nothing but the best for him in this promotion! It’s well deserved! 🙂
Trevor Boucher, Meteorologist Intern
Tom has been the kind of leader that you hope to have as an intern. I have heard time and time again about managers, not just within the weather service, that treat interns like they are less than average: making them feel like they shouldn’t, or worse they can’t, do the things they are passionate about because of their position. Tom is the antithesis of that kind of leader.
Not only does he open doors for you professionally and give you the respect and trust needed empowering you to walk through those doors, but he also makes it fun. He will be the first to start singing along to goofy songs on the radio, even if he doesn’t get the lyrics right, and crack jokes to keep those long car rides moving. The kind of light-hearted, positive environment that he creates will be sorely missed at NWS Nashville. Good luck in Corpus O’ Captain, my Captain!
Through the years, Tom has patiently explained to me meteorological concepts I didn’t understand. He did that because he’s a friend of mine, and because he knew I couldn’t explain it to you if I didn’t understand it myself.
He allowed me to join NWS-hosted media workshops, present our social media ideas at spotter classes, and speak at Severe Weather Awareness Day. He sent an Associated Press reporter to me and funneled other media requests in our direction. He allowed me to tag along on the survey of the EF-0 tornado in Franklin on April 26, 2012. Through all this, we became friends, and I’ll miss him.
Tom is one of many at our NWS office who’ve walked us through the floods and the storms. He has surveyed tornadoes, and taken the information back to his office to see how the NWS can better serve our communities.
Will said it best. When learning of Tom’s promotion, he immediately said: “It’s about time!” He’s right. Tom really deserves this promotion. He’d want me to say (BTW, we didn’t screen this through him) he’s just one of many dedicated NWS public servants working in relative anonymity serving you the best way they know how.
For me, Tom gave @NashSevereWx a chance. We are who we are–whatever that is—because of him. He gave me a chance to do something I love. For that, I’m forever grateful.