Most states now have climate offices recognized by the AASC. But Tennessee’s history is patchy at best on that front, Joyner said. The Tennessee Valley Authority appeared to have a state climatologist in the 1990s and early 2000s.
“But to our knowledge, they weren’t providing anything,” Joyner said.
“Yes, it was mainly an intern [position], like, just VAT stuff, ”Tollefson said. “And that was one of the many hats they wore – it wasn’t a full time job.”
The position appears to have disappeared around 2005 or 2006, Joyner said.
He said he started working at ETSU with the goal of establishing the Tennessee Climate Office there. But it wasn’t until he hired Tollefson in 2014 that the process really started.
Modest origins and great hopes
Tollefson is tall, stocky, and noticeably less talkative than Joyner, but like the latter, he’s easy-going and laughs quickly. The two met at LSU, as Joyner was working on his doctorate and Tollefson was getting his masters degree in geography and climatology.
“I convinced him to come here for, say, a few cents as an auxiliary, and then it eventually turned into something more,” Joyner said.
The pair established an unofficial national climate office for Tennessee in 2016, with the blessing of ETSU and AASC.