At the time, WNEP had a non-meteorologist reporting the weather. Paul became the station’s first meteorologist and, after graduating, he and Tom moved their business, called Total Weather, to Wilkes-Barre. Paul worked for WNEP while Tom continued to handle the radio forecasts.
Tom had always imagined himself working as a behind-the-scenes meteorologist, but fate brought him to audition to forecast in WNEP’s backyard. “It was a wonderful, wonderful opportunity,” he said. “I got to tell my story, the weather story, in front of an audience and that was great.”
Tom never imagined he’d make a lifelong career out of forecasting for WNEP nor that he’d do it with his wife by his side. Noreen Clark, also a weather forecaster at WNEP, met Tom at Penn State when the two had a meteorology class together called “Natural Disasters.” They married in 1982, around the time when Tom began working full time as WNEP’s chief meteorologist.
“At the time, female meteorologists were a rare commodity,” Tom noted. “And having a husband and wife weather team, that’s still pretty unique.”
What’s even more unusual is that the couple’s daughter, Kristin, who was born in 1985 and grew up with her famous parents constantly signing autographs in public, went on to become a meteorologist herself, for a television station in Minneapolis. The station is owned by Paul Douglas.
“If it wasn’t for him, I wouldn’t be where I am. Paul opened the door for me, and, ironically, he opened the door for her, too,” Tom said.
“She’s a great meteorologist,” he went on of his daughter. “It makes me so proud to hear her talk scientifically about the weather. We have these discussions. It’s just great to think that my own daughter is a professional meteorologist.”
Weather isn’t just something discussed at home, but wherever Tom goes. His experience reporting the weather for over three decades gives audiences a feeling that they know him.
“People invite you into their homes and they develop a bond with you,” Tom said. “That’s the magic of television. And you develop a trust over time. If they like you, they’ll trust you a little more.”
Asked if locals express disappointment in Tom about the weather or his forecasts, he laughed and said that most of it is good-natured teasing. But, he said, people aren’t shy about telling him what they think.
“If they see me, they’ll let me know,” he said. “You have to have a thick skin in this business. But a lot of comments from people are that I’m doing a pretty good job. Only a small percentage of people give me a hard time.”
Asked if he and Noreen ever disagree about weather predictions, Tom smiled and said that, while that does occasionally happen, each meteorologist at WNEP does his or her own forecasting, and the colleagues try to keep their reporting as consistent as possible. At home, he said, sometimes the weather is left at the office.
The complexity of weather
At WNEP, Tom’s responsibilities are far more involved than just appearing on television and reporting the weather. He spends 10-hour days there, using technical equipment to analyze weather patterns and conclude, from that data, what the future weather will be. From those conclusions, the seven television broadcasts that Tom appears in each day are scripted.
“You have to decide what you want to say, how to say it, how to present it to the audience,” Tom explained. “Then you prepare the visuals to show on air.”
Making accurate forecasts is vital to his credibility, Tom continued. “Once you make it formal, once you go on the air, your reputation is on the line. You have to have faith and confidence in yourself that you know what you’re doing,” he said.
“The job can be stressful as, you not only have to be accurate, but you have to be there every day to put on your best smile, your best face,” Tom went on. “Some days, that’s harder than others.”
With 34 years of predicting the weather in this area, Tom noted he feels comfortable that he can rely on his experience and expertise to help him forecast accurately.
Of Northeast Pa, he said, “This is a great place for weather, for the challenge of predicting it.” With WNEP covering 22 counties, many with varying elevation levels, forecasting the weather for the entire area can often be a struggle. The proximity to the Atlantic Ocean and the Great Lakes also makes for significant, sometimes unexpected, transitions in weather patterns.
Snow forecasts seem to prove the most difficult as, Tom noted, “people are obsessed with inches.” When snowfall can be measured by anyone, they often criticize him if his prediction is off. Sometimes the weather doesn’t pan out as he’s predicted, Tom said, which is humbling. Still, he said, smiling, “I’m right more than I am wrong.”
Two major blizzards, one in 1993 and 1996, are still memorable to Tom, as are a number of local tornadoes, one which hit Mountaintop several years ago. Record flooding, like that of the Susquehanna in 2011, also stands out in Tom’s mind.
Tom continued of how social media now affects his job, in that many people can spread rumors of upcoming weather events, such as storms or massive amounts of snowfall that can make the public panic.
“You have a lot of ‘mediarologists’ out there and rumors start to fly,” Tom stated. “It’s very disappointing and disturbing to the professionals out there when you have people spreading the word about storms prematurely.”
Another way Tom’s job has changed over the years is that, now with technology, people can access news and weather 24 hours a day. Not only has the number of on-air broadcasts Tom does at WNEP increased over the years from two to seven, but he must now work to update the station’s website, Facebook page, and Twitter accounts with the latest forecasts.
Still, he said, live television gives viewers a different kind of interaction than that of using a smartphone for information. “On television, there’s an emotional connection there between the viewer and the reporter,” he said. “That will never go away.”
Tom had planned to retire at age 66, so being offered a buyout from his employer at age 64 just moved his plans forward by two years. Having worked at WNEP for so long, though, he noted that many of his colleagues at WNEP are like family and that his leaving will be emotional.
In his retirement, Tom plans on spending more time on his golf game and working in his garden, as well as traveling, to visit his daughter more often in Minnesota and his mother in Drexel Hill.
Weather predicting and measuring will always be a hobby of Tom’s. With sensors and other tools placed all around the backyard of his home and with weather-reading equipment linked to the computer of his home office, Tom will maintain that hobby.
And his longtime reporting of Mountaintop’s weather to The Eagle will continue. He remembered having the idea to submit his findings to the newspaper about 20 years ago. “I take observations every day at home. I keep a log, so I said, ‘Hey, let’s put it in the paper. Let’s share it,’” he recalled.
“I’m really looking forward to it,” he concluded of retirement. “I can just sit and watch the weather coming and going. If the weather’s bad, I can sit home and watch. I don’t have to deal with traveling on that mountain.”