“I think growing up in Oklahoma, seeing all the different types of high-impact weather and just the variety of it around the state intrigued me and it made me curious why certain things happen.” – Dr. Christopher Nunley
TVLSE, Okla. – When a television viewer flips on their monitor to catch a nightly news broadcast, it is unlikely they are to find a meteorologist who has a Ph.D, or has Indigenous heritage for that matter. Dr. Christopher Nunley happens to have both. It was recently announced that Dr. Nunley will take over as chief meteorologist at KTUL News Channel 8 in the Tulsa area. Dr. Nunley replaced Dan Threlkeld, who had spent decades working in the field and in the Tulsa market.
Dr. Nunley is an Oklahoma native with Choctaw heritage. Growing up, he attended powwows and actively participated in his culture. He credits his grandmother, and great-grandmother for instilling a sense of high importance in learning and passing down their family’s culture.
When it was announced that he would have the opportunity to return to his roots in Oklahoma, he was ecstatic to be closer to family.
“It was really surreal to receive that phone call,” Dr. Nunley said. “To this day it does not feel real.”
Like any other kid that grew up in the Sooner State, Dr. Nunley had first-hand experience living in an area that saw different severe weather events year round. This would lead him to develop a fascination with natural weather phenomena, eventually leading to a career in meteorology.
“I think growing up in Oklahoma, seeing all the different types of high-impact weather and just the variety of it around the state intrigued me and it made me curious why certain things happen.” Dr. Nunley said.
One distinct local severe weather event that Dr. Nunley recalled was the 1999 Moore tornado. During that weather event the city of Moore saw an EF5 tornado rip through the area, leaving behind a 17 mile-long trail of destruction.
Dr. Nunley also recalled 2007’s Tropical Storm Erin, a severe weather event that extended into parts of Texas and even Oklahoma. That storm made landfall near Corpus Christi, made its way across the western Texas plains, eventually finding its way through central Oklahoma.
Standard severe weather events like these, and unusual anomalies drove Dr. Nunley to learn as much as he could about the science of meteorology. This would lead him to study meteorology as an undergraduate student at the University of Oklahoma. Later he pursued graduate studies at the University of Mississippi, eventually earning a Ph.D. in Earth Science and Atmospheric Sciences. On top of receiving the highest academic achievement possible, Dr. Nunley is also a first-generation college graduate.
“I really wanted to do it for my family and my culture,” Dr. Nunley said. “Some of my ancestors on my dad’s side did not have the opportunity to go to college, much less get a graduate degree. I just wanted to make my ancestors and my family proud.”
As an Indigenous meteorologist and television talent, it is not a role Dr. Nunley takes for granted. It is a position very few Indigenous people have fulfilled. Dr. Nunley shared that he hopes to increase visibility and representation for the Choctaw people, and more broadly Indigenous communities across Green Country through storytelling.
“The magnitude makes me feel emotional thinking about it,” Dr. Nunley said. “In this industry minorities, whether Indigenous, black, LGBTQ or female, I feel like there is a lack of representation. I think that it’s gotten better, but I still think there’s a lot to do on the Indigenous side. I do feel like our population is underserved and I hope I can make an impact.”
For Native Americans that live far away from their tribes and families, it can be easy to feel a sense of disconnection from their culture. Dr. Nunley shared that he is excited to be back with his family, and his tribe. Particularly he is looking forward to attending one of the largest powwows hosted by Choctaw Nation in November.Northeastern Oklahoma television viewers can catch Dr. Nunley for evening weeknight forecasts on News Channel 8.