If you watch the weather in Orlando, you’ve probably had a Tom Terry sighting over the past 23 years. And if you’re on the Internet in Central Florida, you may have seen a meme or two about his jacket-wearing habits.
It turns out his sleeve-rolling is part severe-weather signal, part tribute to the weathermen he watched growing up in Oklahoma.
Terry sat down for this interview in the middle of September, the height of hurricane season, while he and his team were tracking a system that eventually turned into Hurricane Humberto. His jacket was off at the time but only because it was an informal interview.
People in Central Florida know you from TV, forecasting for WFTV for the better part of two decades. But you started doing the weather at an NPR station 30 years ago. What was that like?
It was a lot of kind of rip and read back in the day. We took a lot of the forecasts that the weather service would output, and we would look at it. Forecast modeling was just in its infancy back then.
But that was my first time to really learn how to talk for a living. And so I learned a lot very early on that served me well later.
Was it there that you got bit by the broadcast bug?
When I grew up in Central Oklahoma, which is known for severe weather and tornadoes, I really got focused on watching the weathermen on TV.
It was only men back then, but that has certainly changed a lot for the better.
I would watch these guys get all excited about severe thunderstorms, about tracking tornados. Gary England at Channel 9 was the dean of Oklahoma City weather back then, and he’s the one I would watch the most. He would get all serious and take his jacket off as the weather got worse, something I’m known for now.
I got a weather radio/alarm clock when I was around 11 for Christmas. It would decide when to go off, and I would press the button and listen.
“Severe thunderstorm warning, Lincoln County.” I would just listen and track it on a map. Then I would run outside and show my parents that the storm was coming. Then I’d run back inside and listen some more and watch the TV.
So I was pre-wired, you could say.
You were forecasting from a young age!
Well, I was now-casting.
I have to ask you about the jacket, which has become a meme on social media. It sounds like Gary England may have been an influence, but why do you take it off?
One thing that people don’t realize is that when you have a weather desk like ours, you wear out your elbows. It gets really thin down here. I had a regular practice of taking off my jacket when I wasn’t on the air, and I still do that today.
Back in 2004, we were doing so much hurricane coverage with three hurricanes in six weeks — or four if you count Ivan — that I was working all the time. I just didn’t bother to put my jacket on. It wasn’t any kind of a conscious thing.
Thinking back to watching the guys that I grew up with, I never really put anything together. It wasn’t a plan.
The next year, I got to where I was comfortable not having my jacket on for a weather tease. “Coming up in 10 minutes, I’m tracking this.” I would just not have it on yet. Well, people noticed. And they were like, “There’s something serious going on. He doesn’t have his jacket on.”
Our marketing department back then did a little bit of research and found people associated severe weather and hurricanes with me not having my jacket on. So they are like, “Well, if it’s really serious, take a jacket off.” And that’s just how it started.
If it’s serious, I will have my jacket off because I think people come to expect that. But it’s always a serious thing for me.
I remember during Irma, people were like, “Oh, it’s not serious. His sleeves aren’t up.” And I’m like, “I’ve gotta roll my sleeves up.”
I’m trying not to play into the whole thing. But if it makes people pay closer attention, and, if I can use that as an indirect barometer of what’s going on, then it works.
You married your wife Selina in Texas, then got a job here in Orlando. Television journalists often have to move around a lot to move up the ranks. Were you both ready for a lot of moves?
I took her out of her nest, if you will, in South Texas. We spent some time in Beaumont, Texas, before we eventually came to Orlando. It was a big change for her. Just moving away was a big change for her as it would be for anybody.
I had already been to college away from home, then I moved down to South Texas. It wasn’t a new experience for me, but it was for her, and she was great. She used to work in retail and was a store manager for TJ Maxx at one time. So she was able to move around fairly easily.
We came here in ’96, and we didn’t expect to be here for 23 years and counting.
What’s the biggest takeaway from raising your kids in Orlando versus growing up in Oklahoma and Texas?
There were 800 people in my hometown. I had a lot to learn about everything when I left Central Oklahoma, but it was a great place to grow up.
Selina grew up in a town of about 25,000, so still relatively small by our modern standards.
We live in Apopka, and our kids have been raised there. It’s kind of a small-town feel, even though it’s growing exponentially each year.
It’s October, and I understand you used to collect horror movies. Do you still watch, and what are some of your favorites?
I had this affinity for the original Universal monsters like Dracula and Frankenstein and the Wolfman. I would collect those and also some obscure movies like Plan 9 from Outer Space. I still have all the original Mummy movies, like the Mummy’s Hand, The Mummy’s Curse.
It’s probably been about 10 years since I was kind of collecting. I used to buy them on laserdisc back when that was a thing. And then they would release them onto DVD, so I would sell the laserdisc and buy the DVD.
I believe I had the Fog on laserdisc at one time. That was pretty scary for me back in 1980. Poltergeist was also one of my favorites at about the same time.
The thing I love about movies is they’re a time capsule. Everything from the clouds in the sky to the cars on the road, to all the technology that you see in a movie — everything is exactly as it was in the past. That’s what makes movies so fascinating to me.