Q & A: TV weatherman likes winter, glad to be back in Northeast
As a young boy growing up in Guilderland, Nick Johnston discovered two things about himself: He was fascinated with the weather, and he didn’t mind talking about it.
With that combination, it only made sense that his career calling would be as a television weatherman. Earlier this year, he returned to the Capital Region to take a post as morning meteorologist with CBS-6, where he appears with morning anchor Ed O’Brien. Johnston begins the broadcasting day at 4:30 a.m., and his shift ends with CBS-6 News at Noon.
After graduating from Guilderland High School in 2000, Johnston attended SUNY Brockport, where he received a degree in meteorology in 2004. In 2006 he received a diploma from the New School of Radio and Television in Albany, and then jumped right into the business, landing a job as weekend weatherman with KAUZ-TV in Wichita Falls, Texas. In August of 2007 he moved back to the Northeast, getting a gig as weekend meteorologist for a brand-new station in Burlington, Vt., WFFF/WVNY-TV.
In October, just after covering the devastating effects of Hurricane Irene throughout Vermont, he became a certified broadcast meteorologist, the highest level of certification offered by the American Meteorological Society.
When he’s not working, Johnston, who is single, can usually be seen in the great outdoors. He enjoys hiking, kayaking, snowboarding and camping, the latter in all four seasons.
Q: Why did you become a TV meteorologist?
A: When I was real young my parents helped me come up with the ABC’s of weather. I had A for Avalanche, B for Blizzard. I probably had Cyclone for C, and it went on. I don’t remember if I really had anything for X and Z.
There was a time when I wanted to be a pilot, but it’s very difficult and expensive to get into that career. So, when I started looking at other options, it dawned on me that I always had an interest in the weather, and that there actually is a job directly related to that. And I always loved public speaking. During a class presentation or a book report, I always loved getting up in front of the class and talking.
Q: Why did you go to the New School of Radio and Television?
A: After I got out of Brockport I didn’t have a clear path as to how to get on TV. I went to Maryland and worked for energy companies forecasting temperatures, but that got really boring. It was terrible. I knew that wasn’t what I wanted to do, and it wasn’t helping me get to my final goal of being on TV. They didn’t really cover broadcasting at Brockport, so I didn’t know anything about putting together a resume reel. So I moved back to Albany and went to the New School of Radio and Television. I worked at a paper mill and went back to school there for eight months. I learned some video editing, that got me an internship, and then I got my first gig in Wichita Falls.
Q: How do you like the early morning time slot at CBS-6?
A: I get in at 3 a.m., and while it’s tough adjusting to those hours, once you get used to it it’s not bad. Now I think it’s a great shift. It’s a bit laid back, and it’s fun working with Ed [O’Brien]. He’s a real cut-up. He’s got a sharp sense of humor, and as long as they have a sense of humor, I can work with anybody.
Q: Do you have a favorite season?
A: I love the winters, which is one reason why I wanted to come back to the Northeast. I don’t think you can fully appreciate summer without a good hard winter. The first year I was at Wichita Falls it was the third hottest summer on record, so that was pretty rough. If it gets cold, you can always put on another layer. But if it’s hot you can only get so naked. So, I’ve always preferred the cold over the heat. And, I love to snowboard, so this winter was tough. The winter before was fantastic. It was one of the snowiest winters on record. And then we followed it up with one of the least snowy winters on record.
Q: What is your top priority as a TV weatherman?
A: First and foremost, it’s warning people about the weather, and letting them know when they don’t have to worry, and most people know how to stay safe. It’s just important to remind them. It’s also telling compelling stories. In Wichita Falls, the chief weather guy stayed in the office and I went out and chased storms. In Vermont last summer during Hurricane Irene, I went down to Rutland and ended up covering what happened for 25 straight hours. My cameraman and I didn’t sleep. We just kept on sending back footage of the destruction. In Texas I saw what tornadoes can do, how they would just mangle a barn, but in Vermont the destruction was widespread. And Rutland actually became an island. Every road in and out of the city was washed out, so we were actually trapped in Rutland.
Q: How accurate are your forecasts?
A: I take my forecasting very seriously. In Burlington I kept track of my forecasts against three other models, including the National Weather Service, and I was more accurate. You’re not right all the time, and you have to let people know how things can change quickly and how thunderstorms can develop rapidly. In the winter, one degree in temperature can mean the difference between a foot of snow or just a lot of slush. So, you have to let people know what you know. That’s what is so great about social media. I can really stay in contact with my viewers and let them know if there’s anything different about the weather situation.
Q: How do you feel about being back in the Albany area?
A: It’s great. I love the winter, so I love the Northeast. Burlington was great, and the weather there was pretty much the same as it is here. Like I said, Wichita Falls was too hot. I love the mountains and the lakes, and I got to know the Green Mountains of Vermont pretty well. I’m looking forward to getting reacquainted with the Adirondacks this summer.