“Remember this name – Anthony Taylor – a weather person of the future.”
– NewsChannel 5 Senior Meteorologist Lelan Statom, May 2002
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I watched Lelan’s forecasts just about every morning before school. My mother is a teacher, and she kept the television tuned to channel 5 every morning as we get ready to leave the house.
Weather was a big deal to me as a kid. I loved to draw, and my pictures would often depict tornadoes or some other form of weather. Any time my family went somewhere and I happened to spot one, I would ask daddy for 50 cents to get a copy of The Tennessean out of those orange machines they used to have everywhere (do those machines even still exist?) — I didn’t want it for the news but to look at the full-color, half page weather forecast at the end of Section B. I don’t know why I was so fascinated with it, but I always wanted a copy whenever I could get one. For the longest time, I kept a copy from July 2002 with a front-page photo of the BellSouth tower (Batman building) in Nashville being struck by lightning.
Weekends were special. My parents would let me sleep in the living room on Friday and Saturday nights, and I could stay up as late as I wanted to. During the summer, this was an every-night arrangement. As long as I kept the volume down and didn’t watch anything I wasn’t supposed to, they didn’t mind (I have pretty cool parents, not gonna lie). It’s not that my own bedroom wasn’t cool, but we only had satellite in the living room and their bedroom. My room had a little 13 inch TV with rabbit ears.
I kept the TV on those nights. What did I mostly watch?
The Weather Channel.
This was back in the days when The Weather Channel rarely aired scripted programming outside of a couple of shows. It was 24/7 live weather forecasts with Local on the 8s actually at the :08 mark every 10 minutes — sometimes playing for up to two minutes each cycle!
Oh, and going on vacation was a big deal — not just for the vacation part, but it meant getting the cable version of Local on the 8s with an actual local forecast (not the national feed on boring DIRECTV) narrated by the great Allen Jackson (the voice actor, not to be confused with County-Music-Hall-of-Famer Alan Jackson).
Probably the pinnacle vacation moment came on a trip to Destin in July 2001. We were visiting the Gulfarium at Fort Walton Beach and had just finished watching the sea lion performance. There was some commotion going on behind the building at the beach, so we went to check it out. Daddy pulled out the camcorder and started filming the waterspout churning probably a mile or less away in front of us. I was both super excited and terrified. Mama snapped a photo of me ‘cheesing’ in front of the thing, and then we darted for the gift shop. We later found out watching a local TV station that night that the waterspout actually came onto land as a tornado while we were in the gift shop and did a little damage.
That was comforting to hear…
Anyway, I loved weather. I loved everything about it. Tornadoes fascinated me. They were scary as heck, but I loved watching them on TV or reading books about them!
On a random May morning in 2002, Lelan Statom came to speak to us at school. I was in second grade at the time in Mrs. Jill Wilmore’s classroom — my favorite teacher in all of grade school. My mama taught kindergarten there and helped make a cool moment happen for me (having a parent as a teacher has its privileges). Watching Lelan speak was cool — I can’t tell you now what he spoke about, but I was star-struck to say the least. After he wrapped up his talk, mama walked me over to him to introduce me. I had drawn two pictures for him to show on air (Lelan used to feature a ‘Kids Weather Art’ segment just about every morning before his forecasts), and mama wanted me to give my artwork to him personally. I had drawn pictures of both the 1998 Nashville tornado (my eight-year-old depiction) hitting Nashville, as well as a picture of radar showing storms hitting Kentucky and Tennessee on NewsChannel 5 — a true weather nerd thing to draw, the more I think about it.
I handed Lelan my drawings and shook his finger (he had a LOT of other drawings in his hand — getting your artwork shown on TV was kind of a big deal then). My eight-year-old self was over-the-moon excited.
I was glued to Channel 5 the next morning. I probably woke up an hour early just to watch as much as I could to see if he would show my drawings. Mama even put a tape in the VCR to record the newscast in case we missed it. Well, 7:15 is only a few minutes away, and it was time for us to leave. Lelan comes on one last time, and, well, I’ll let you see it yourself:
Fast forward a decade to 2012. I graduate from Smith County High School ranked 11th in my class with plans to go to Middle Tennessee State University in the fall. I was still a bit undecided what pathway I would embark upon there, but I did know the ultimate goal was to become a meteorologist, either for the National Weather Service or on television. That September, I decided to start a Facebook and Twitter page centered around weather in my community. The idea came to me after receiving quite a bit of positive reaction from friends and family each time I would post storm updates to my personal social media accounts. Rather than continue to post updates that way, I felt they might should exist in their own place and be accessible to more than just those who I was ‘friends’ with on Facebook.
Thus, Smith County Weather was born the morning of Sunday, September 2, 2012, at the Gordonsville Waffle House.
I had no idea what would come of it, and I truly had no official plans for it other than to post occassional severe weather updates. I didn’t even think that many people would follow it.
But oh was I wrong.
Not even 48 hours after launch, the Facebook page had accumulated its first 100 ‘page likes’ or followers (now page likes and followers are two different numbers, and it’s super confusing). The page hit 1,000 likes just 11 months later at the end of July 2013.
I made a commitment that first year to always be active during severe weather and never miss a storm. This was a bit of a challenge with college being a thing and working primarily off of an iPhone 3GS as wired broadband access didn’t exist where we lived. I don’t know how I pulled it off other than God blessing me mightily, knowing what the future held that I couldn’t yet wrap my mind around.
The formula remained pretty much the same those first couple of years. I would post a forecast update once or twice a day and provide continuous updates throughout severe weather events. I always made sure to be available during severe weather, and even to this day, I cancount on one hand the number of warnings I’ve missed in nearly a decade of doing this.
Speaking of warnings, I only stuck to National Weather Service products and forecast guidance — never over-hyping storms for attention or issuing my own warnings. Doing so would have been completely irresponsible and a detriment to my mission. Likes and shares were certainly important, but only for the purpose of spreading word of impending severe weather. We could still have only 1,000 Facebook followers to this day, and my motivation wouldn’t be any different than it is now at nearly 30,000 (plus 2,500+ on Twitter and a growing number of subscribers to our YouTube channel).
Fast forward a bit more to 2015, and Smith County Weather had come along nicely. It was well-established as a credible, reliable source for severe and winter weather updates, and folks would often comment about how they would come to Smith County Weather first before seeking out some other form of weather information, which was humbling.
David Drobny, originator of the Nashville Severe Weather (NashSevereWx) Twitter account, approached me in early 2015 about joining the #tSpotter community — a group of (then) eight or so other pages on Twitter essentially doing the same thing I was doing in Smith County (it’s a much larger group now!). #tSpotter is officially recognized by the National Weather Service office in Nashville, and joining the group made complete sense. If ever there was a need to provide an extra level of legitimacy to Smith County Weather and its place as an official source for real-time updates during severe and winter weather, receiving that designation from NWS Nashville solidified my place.
With #tSpotter also came access to NWS Chat — a government-based messaging system reserved for direct communication between the National Weather Service and both emergency management personnel and broadcast meteorologists. We use this service frequently during severe weather to communicate with NWS Nashville and forward storm reports to them that you fine folks submit to us — especially so on Twitter through the #tSpotter hashtag.
Smith County Weather also became officially recognized as a NOAA Weather-Ready Nation Ambassador, a distinction we continue to hold to this day as Upper Cumberland Weather.
2015 would also see the addition of the short-lived ‘Trousdale Severe Weather’ — basically what I was already doing to Smith County but extended to our northwestern neighbors. The page failed to gain much traction, but what I didn’t know at the time is how this experiment would pave the way for adding a whole bunch more counties to the mix less than two years later.
Severe Weather Awareness Day (SWAD) 2017. It’s my second year attending this yearly event hosted by the National Weather Service, and I’m totally in my weather ‘element.’ I was surprised later that day to be announced as the recipient of NWS’s Distinguished Service Award — a very humbling honor to receive. But that actually wasn’t the highlight of the day for me.
David introduced me to Landon Hampton. He is a meteorologist in Bowling Green, Kentucky, and had taken the idea of a social media weather page and turned it into an actual business — one so successful, he was able to leave his television gig to focus solely on his own project!
‘Wx or Not BG’ (Weather or Not Bowling Green) is Landon’s baby, and as opposed to serving only one county, his coverage includes the surrounding area as well (WABBLES, the acronym for the seven counties covered).
We talked for a good hour, and he asked a question of me that made every lightbulb light up. What did my region look like?
Up until this point in time, Smith County Weather had been 100% volunteer-run by yours truly. There were no sponsors. There were no patrons or Facebook supporters. It was an effort I put 110% of myself into for the pure love of weather. This was also at the same time when I was in college to become a television meteorologist.
I won’t say the thought hadn’t crossed my mind to turn Smith County Weather into a business, but by covering such a relatively niche topic in a county of less than 20,000 people, how could I possibly monetize it to make a sustainable living? It just didn’t seem possible. My best hope was it would look good on a resume and be my foot in the door to get into one of the Nashville TV stations, as I had zero interest in moving away from Middle Tennessee for a job (and still don’t to this day).
That talk with Landon opened my eyes to all of the possibilities of where I could take this, and it all needed to start with the area I covered.
Thus a day or two later, Upper Cumberland Weather was born.
I recognized early on that this would be a huge undertaking, as I still had a year of school left and was living at home (Remember me mentioning not having broadband? That was still kind of a thing.).
Despite all the hurdles that awaited me, I went full-steam ahead. I decided on the 12 counties I would consider my ‘coverage’ area, got a ton of drone footage to make a cool promo, built this very website in between classes (and sometimes during), and on June 30, 2017, I officially launched Upper Cumberland Weather to Facebook and Twitter, changing the name of the Smith County Weather FB page in the process.
The growing pains ended up not being as difficult as I thought they would be early on. The only real issue was trying to spread the page outside of Smith County’s boundaries, because while we had a decent Facebook following of nearly 5,000 people at launch, they were all mostly in Smith County.
That would all change the morning of March 3, 2020.
I wrote an entire blog entry of my experience from that day, which you can read here. Leading up to that point, I had been experimenting with live streaming and had just introduced the 24/7 Upper Cumberland Weather Channel. Most severe storm coverage was now live streamed with me on camera controlling radar, and those streams were really catching on.
But not like the stream did on March 3rd.
Upper Cumberland Weather would surpass 10,000 Facebook followers that day and maintain a very fast-paced momentum that brought the follower count to 20,000 later that same year. Folks from all across the region found Upper Cumberland Weather that day.
I had never seen anything like it.
At the time of writing this, we’re now approaching 30,000 followers as growth remains steady. You factor in our other social media platforms, and we’re well over 30,000 followers strong across the board.
It’s taken a few years, but Upper Cumberland Weather is finally on the trajectory to becoming everything I intended for it to be and honestly much more than I ever could have imagined. It’s a legitimate business now with real sponsors and some great folks in the community who contribute monthly towards our mission.
We’re still a very long ways away from what I ultimately want this to become, but we’re well on our way.
I had the opportunity this summer to see a preview of what our future looks like, and I can say it’s a mighty bright one.
Ben Luna of Tennessee Valley Weather invited me to Lawrenceburg to check out their facility and, at least for me personally, gain a much sharper focus of what Upper Cumberland Weather can and will look like with time.
Their operation started out much like mine and has ballooned in size in just a couple short years. He now has a fully staffed weather center with state-of-the-art broadcasting technology, their own weather radar up the street, a good dozen or so skycams with real-time weather instrumentation, a dedicated weather app and so much more — and all of this integrates seamlessly into their own 24/7 live channel featuring dozens of sponsors and on-camera forecasts each and every day.
What really stood out to me with all of it is how they were able to arrive at this point in such a relatively short amount of time with a following very similar to mine. If they can do it, why can’t I?!
I’ll leave this ‘Our Story’ section open-ended, as it’s going to continue to evolve as time marches on. But since meeting with the Tennessee Valley Weather team, my focus has been directly on building up pretty much everything I can in preparation for what’s going to be our greatest year ever in 2022 — corresponding with our 10 year anniversary, as luck would have it.
The live channel has been completely overhauled with new graphics and will have a plethora of additional content added within the next few months. You’ll soon see me on camera daily, as we now have a green screen that will be activated soon for forecast segments and severe weather coverage. We have a couple new sponsors coming into the fold and will be very active in bringing more to our channel and website over the coming months. With more sponsors will come the financial resources we desperately need to invest in the technologies required to provide the best weather coverage possible and allow Upper Cumberland Weather to expand far beyond what it is now. Like I said, the future is indeed a mighty bright one, and I can’t wait to share it with you!
-Anthony Taylor, Upper Cumberland Weather Owner and Managing Weatherman