Music City's Hyperlocal Weather Team

How “Dudes With Laptops” Became Nashville’s Go-To Source For Breaking Weather News

Weather is obvious. It’s difficult to go through a typical day without checking the forecast or talking about it with those you meet.

But to some people, weather is more than a point of discussion. To them, every day is as serious as a category-five hurricane, no matter how uneventful the actual conditions may be.

This applies to David Drobny, Will Minkoff and Andrew Leeper, three self-described “weather nerds” who form the team at Nashville Severe Weather. Founded by Drobny in 2010, Minkoff joined a year later with Leeper rounding out the lineup in 2015.
Together they provide their 279,000 Twitter followers @NashSevereWx with weather information specific to Davidson and Williamson Counties. Leeper heads the video component on YouTube @NashSevereWx. But their wheelhouse is delivering up-to-the-moment details during breaking and ongoing severe weather events.

“The biggest differentiator between what we want to do and what was and is happening in weather media is the ability to be hyperlocal,” says Minkoff, who resides near Warner Parks in Northern Williamson County. “We only cover two counties while the (network affiliates) cover 36. There’s no way they can dive into the minutia of a single storm cell in Western Davidson if they’re also tracking storms in Cumberland and Macon and Hickman.”

The team at Nashville Severe Weather is transparent about the fact that they are not meteorologists. However, they utilize the same technology and data provided by the National Weather Service (NWS) and apply it to two specific locations as opposed to the entire Middle Tennessee region.

Nashville Severe Weather began as Drobny’s solo project, shortly after he acquired some high-end radar software. There was no website, only a Twitter account. At about the same time, Minkoff was utilizing social media to disseminate storm damage reports that he curated from multiple sources. After about a year, they met for lunch and decided to join forces. At the time they had a whopping 1,500 followers. “We were just two dudes with laptops and an interest in weather,” says Minkoff.

Due in part to their location in a region that experiences all four seasons, an abundance of severe weather, and their good-natured, often humorous presentations, their following began to grow. “We wanted to convey uncertainties that many other outlets are unwilling to convey,” says Minkoff. “If we don’t know what’s going to happen, we say so. We don’t make deterministic forecasts so we can say you can trust us. But we’ve earned that trust for being right. We don’t want this to be stodgy or alarmist either. And we want to have fun because, most of the time, weather is boring. But our tone and words change when there’s a severe weather threat. We know when it’s game time and our tone reflects that.”

In the early going, Nashville Severe Weather was lumped into a rather large group of social media sources that were not looked upon fondly by the greater weather community. But that changed on July 7, 2011. A torrential downpour developed over Cool Springs, dropped four inches of rain in two hours and flooded the parking lot at the CoolSprings Galleria. The severity of the event went unreported by the legacy outlets until @NashSevereWx broke the news. That prompted a meeting with NWS-Nashville that resulted in Nashville Severe Weather earning a seat at the table alongside the local mainstream media outlets.

Since then, Nashville Severe Weather has earned a stellar reputation within the weather community at large, even winning the National Weather Association’s Walter J. Bennett Public Service Award in 2016. “We showed (the NWS) that we were in this to take the best information we could gather and provide it to them with an open hand,” says Minkoff. “We don’t exist to sell ads or sensationalize content.”

At its core, Nashville Severe Weather is a public service. Team members invest in expensive equipment but they are not compensated. In addition to the radar system, they deploy high-flying drones and weather balloons. Generators keep them “on air” when the power goes out. All these gadgets and gear do not come cheaply but nearly 1,000 patrons help defray the costs.
Additional information, including a donor portal, is available online at NashvilleSevereWeather.com.

"The biggest differentiator between what we want to do and what was and is happening in weather media is the ability to be hyperlocal." 

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