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Local man turns passion for weather into community service

MURRAY – Public service takes many forms. Commonly, public servants fulfill their roles through working in service-oriented fields and volunteering. Seldom do people choose self-imposed, voluntary second jobs as their public service path; but they do exist, and Justin Holland, the creator of the Facebook page Murray/Calloway County Weather, is one of them. 

Holland’s hyper-local weather page recently celebrated its 10th anniversary. The page boasts nearly 15,000 followers, most of whom live in Calloway County, but he has quite a few in west Tennessee and several who moved away but still have ties to the area.

“It definitely has been a lot of fun,” Holland said, “and it’s definitely been a lot of work because I have been doing this pretty much every single day for 10 straight years. There’s been times that I’ve been up all night, doing stuff, whenever severe weather comes in. I’ve done stuff on Thanksgiving Day, on Christmas Day. There’s never a dull moment around here. We have a lot of severe weather – we have a lot of winter weather, a lot of flash flooding – we get a bit of everything around here, locally.” 

Surprisingly, Holland’s passion for weather developed at a young age. When most children were watching cartoons, he was watching the Weather Channel. 

“I loved seeing all of the colorful maps on TV,” he said. “They would show pictures; they would show videos of snow, of tornados, and I thought that was really, really cool. Something about science, something about the atmosphere really fascinated me as a young child, and that has stuck with me throughout most of my life.” 

Holland is the Official Weather Observer of Calloway County for the Paducah National Weather Service (PNWS), a post he has held for the past 13 years. PNWS covers Kentucky, Illinois, Indiana and Missouri; and in each county, there is a co-op observer who reports weather conditions at the county’s official site back to PNWS daily. In Calloway County, the official site is just north of court square.

At 7 a.m. every day, Holland reports the temperature and precipitation reading along with high and low temperatures, total rainfall and total snowfall, if applicable, within the previous 24 hours to PNWS. That data is then sent to the National Climatic Data Center for entry in the national database used to determine county-level weather records – high and low temperatures and maximum daily precipitation. 

“I will often get people to say they live in Kirksey or Coldwater or they live in Lynn Grove, and their rainfall total was different from what mine was; that’s because rainfall totals vary all across the county,” Holland explained. “Some places have a bit more; some places may get a bit less; but all of Calloway’s official weather numbers come from two blocks north of the court square.”

Holland’s role with PNWS is voluntary; in his day job, he is the GIS and safety coordinator for Murray Electric System. He is responsible for mapping the utility’s grid, which includes poles and lights as well as underground and overhead lines. He also conducts safety training and ensures OSHA guidelines are met. 

A Murray native, Holland graduated from Calloway County High School in 2001 before attending Murray State University where he earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Earth science. While Earth science is a broader field of study than meteorology, there is crossover between the subjects.

“They offered some meteorology courses, but they don’t have a meteorology program; so, therefore, I don’t have a meteorology degree,” he said of Murray State. “Earth science was about as close (as I could get) out of what they did have. So, I don’t have a meteorology degree like people you see on TV or the people who work for the Paducah Weather Service.” 

But that does not mean Holland is not well-educated in the field. In addition to taking every meteorology class on offer at MSU, he has taken several storm spotting courses and regularly attends PNWS’ spring and winter weather conferences. 

“I’ve always loved weather, and I’ve always loved to help people,” Holland explained about his motivations behind starting his Facebook page. “I thought I would put my weather background and my weather expertise to good use. I wanted it to be local; I wanted people here in Murray and Calloway to be able to have a place to go to view current conditions, to have a place to go to see what the weather’s going to be like for the next couple of days. 

“It’s just something that everybody needs to be aware of; everybody needs to be aware of when the weather’s going to turn because it affects their life – it affects their family’s life – every single day. From things as simple as, ‘What should I wear to school?’ ‘What should I wear to work?’ Will their son’s soccer game get rained out? Will their kids have school because of snow? Every day isn’t sunny and 75 degrees. You have to plan your day, your week, based on what the weather’s going to do.” 

Every day of the year, followers can look to Holland’s page to find current conditions updates starting around 6:30 a.m., followed by mid-morning, afternoon and evening updates, yesterday’s weather almanac and tomorrow’s forecast along with six- to 10-day predictions. And when severe weather threatens, they have come to rely upon Holland’s frequent updates and his responsiveness to comments.

“One of the cool things with Facebook is that you can see how many times that a post gets shared and viewed,” Holland shared. “I had a post back a couple of years ago that was viewed 750,000 times; three-quarters of a million people saw that post. That was not the norm; that was a very big post that dealt with a winter storm. And when it’s shared over and over, it just gets viewed multiple times. Most of the posts, on a typical weekly basis, can be viewed anywhere from 15,000 up to 100,000 times.” 

Recognizing the popularity of the page, a local business approached Holland around four years ago about advertising. Until that point, the thought of monetizing Murray/Calloway County Weather had not occurred to him.

“They sponsored a weather update, and they loved it,” Holland said. “They got a lot of good feedback; they got a lot more business and a lot more customers because people were seeing their business logo on my weather page. So, that grew into another business doing it and then another one doing it. Now, on a typical basis, I’ll have anywhere from 12-16 businesses per day that will run an ad with me.” 

Holland also offers a texting service. For $1 a month, subscribers receive severe weather alerts via text message. It is similar to the CodeRED service offered by the County that sends phone calls or texts about severe weather warnings, but Holland’s service offers more. In addition to warnings, he sends a “heads-up” text two days before severe weather is expected, an update the day of and a text when the “all-clear” is given. 

“My weather texting service has become really, really huge,” he said. “There are hundreds and hundreds of people in this county that use that texting service. It’s only $1 a month. I’m not trying to get rich off of it; I want to provide a good service for the citizens of Calloway County. 

“I am constantly monitoring the weather situation, and if anything is threatening people here in Calloway, they will hear it from me first. My wife gets messages through service within 30 seconds of me hitting send. You don’t have to wait a minute or two minutes; because if a tornado’s coming, seconds matter.”

Regardless of the added features of his service, Holland said people should subscribe to CodeRED, too, which can be done by visiting www.onsolve.com/landing/sign-up-for-codered-emergency-alerts. Having multiple ways to receive alerts is important because you never know when “your cable may go out; your NOAA radio may not sound out for whatever reason; the one weather app that you have may not work; but if you have four or five ways, you are bound for one of those ways to work.” 

“My system has never failed me,” he added. “I’m not saying that it can’t, but in the three years that I’ve used it, it has always worked, it has always notified people when I send out messages.”

To sign up for the texting service or get information about advertising, contact Holland through the Murray/Calloway County Weather page on Facebook.

Sentinel Staff

Jessica Paine
I’m Jessica Paine, founder of The Murray Sentinel. You may know me from my time as a citizen journalist, running the Calloway Covid-19 Count page on Facebook, or you may be familiar with my more recent work for another local news outlet. Being that I’m “from here,” you may have known me since I was “knee-high to a grasshopper,” although you knew me as Jessica Jones. But whether you know me or not, I’m glad you found your way here.

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