When your résumé includes experiences like standing atop Piez Hall measuring the wind speed as the Blizzard of ’77 rolls in off Lake Ontario, where else would your career take you but before the cameras of The Weather Channel as the Winter Weather Expert?
Luckily Tom Niziol ’77 made it down off that roof safely. Now he draws on his Oswego snow schooling and a 30-year career with the National Weather Service in Buffalo in his role with the country’s premier source for consumer weather information.
Niziol joined The Weather Channel in January 2012, and immediately took to the air to explain extreme weather conditions around the country.
He is featured regularly during winter weather coverage on The Weather Channel, which reaches more than 100 million American homes. Niziol also contributes his expertise with content on The Weather Channel’s digital platforms including weather.com and social media outlets.
Niziol enjoyed being a student in Oswego’s meteorology department, he said, not only because of the school’s excellent reputation in the field but because the program was small enough to get individualized attention and the opportunity for hands-on research with faculty members. The late Professors Emeriti Eugene Chermack and Robert Sykes were his mentors and heroes, he recalls.
“Professor Sykes used to take us onto the roof of the meteorology building to begin class each day and he spent time to train us how to connect and ‘feel’ the weather. I particularly remember one day when the winds were very light, they did not even rustle the flag and he asked us to tell him the wind direction,” Niziol recalls. “We all looked for signs to help us but could not find any. Then he asked us to smell the air. It smelled sweet like chocolate and we all immediately knew that was the aroma from the Nestle chocolate factory in Fulton. Now that’s meteorology at its finest.”
Niziol’s interest in weather started young. He remembers watching the sky and following the weather as a kid, but it was his high school earth science teacher who triggered his interest in meteorology as a profession. “However, once I arrived at Oswego, it kicked my interest into high gear and meteorology became a passion,” Niziol says.
Oswego was a logical choice for the budding meteorologist. “I picked Oswego mainly because it was one of only a couple of state schools that offered a reasonably priced college education and had a meteorology department. I also picked it because of its idyllic location on the shores of Lake Ontario — what other college campus can offer the type of sunsets and connection with storms that Oswego can?” he says.
That connection spawned a host of memories for the weather expert, like pulling a couple of co-eds off the fence at the tennis court next to Seneca Hall when they could not navigate the icy sidewalks in 60-mph winds.
“The friends, the dorms, the meteorology lab, the wrestling team workouts, the sunsets, the winter storms, the lightning over the lake — it was all wonderful and it is so nice to revisit those memories from time to time,” Niziol says. “If I had to go back and relive those days, there is very little I would change.”
After Oswego, he went to work for the Cornell Aeronautical Laboratories in Buffalo, now CALSPAN Corp., and from there joined the National Weather Service. He worked his way up the career ladder, eventually becoming the officer in charge of the Buffalo office.
After three decades at the government’s weather service, Niziol expected to finish out his career there, until a call came “out of the blue” from The Weather Channel, asking him to audition to explain winter’s extreme weather to a national audience. He made the trip to Atlanta, auditioned and was invited to become part of a Weather Channel team that includes Oswego grads Thomas Moore ’74, who serves as coordinator of the weather forecasting program and now works hand in hand with Niziol, and Al Roker ’76, who hosts the channel’s popular “Wake Up with Al” morning program.
And how cool is it to be The Weather Channel’s winter storm expert? “I’m the luckiest man alive,” says Niziol, who cherishes his “very understanding family” and loved his dream job with the NWS in Buffalo. Now he has another dream job telling the whole nation about the weather phenomena he came to love and understand at SUNY Oswego.
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