Sitting at his desk inside Pacific Gas & Electric Co.’s Energy Education Center in Avila Valley, John Lindsey laughs easily about his job being one of the few where an individual can be incorrect and stay employed.
“It’s the only job I know where you can be totally wrong and still keep your job,” Lindsey says with a big smile about his role as PG&E Corporate Relations Representative & Marine Meteorologist.
“It’s hard, very difficult to predict (the weather),” he adds. “I mean sometimes you are pulling your hair out. Every morning you get up and it could be different.”
Lindsey began forecasting weather at PG&E’s Diablo Canyon Power Plant in 1992 after responding to a job posting at Cal Poly’s Career Center. The Santa Rosa native was attending school at the university at the time, having earned a degree in electronics at Santa Rosa Junior College following a four-year stint in the United States Navy.
He chose Cal Poly to further his studies after hearing San Luis Obispo was very much like Santa Rosa before it exploded with growth.
“That’s what everybody told me,” Lindsey said. “In the Career Center, they had a job opening at Diablo Canyon, an environmental monitoring group. They needed someone to help out with weather forecasting and that’s how it started.”
Lindsey transitioned from working for that environmental monitoring firm to PG&E in 2003, although his entire career has been spent working at Diablo Canyon forecasting local weather and marine conditions. His weather forecast is seen by more than 7,300 individuals who subscribe to his daily predictions that are emailed to everyone on the list.
“The big thing about the forecast that we put out is the marine conditions,” Lindsey explained. “It started with just the people at the plant site, and then, ‘Hey, John can you send me this forecast at my home site? It has just kind of gradually been building.”
Lindsey enjoys being able to predict the weather to the degree that’s humanly possible, as he says the atmospheric conditions outside your front door affect everyone — from emergency first responders to Caltrans workers and construction workers to farmers and ranchers and beyond.
“It’s such a cool public service because you are helping so many people and that to me is the best part,” Lindsey says about his job, which also entails getting calls from people looking for advice about whether they should drive on a certain day, launch a boat or visit the ocean.
“I tell them just put the trip off for a day. It’s going to storm. You don’t need to go out,” he explained. “Stay away from the ocean for a couple of days. It’s going to be really rough.”
He adds,” I used to be worried about telling people about that. Now I don’t even think twice. Do you really want to become a statistic? Do you want to become a number? Just stay home.”
In addition to his daily weather forecast, Lindsey also pens weekly weather-related Sunday columns for The Tribune, Santa Maria Times and Lompoc Record newspapers, something he didn’t imagine doing when he started his career. Recently retired Tribune publisher Sandy Duerr saw Lindsey speak at Rotary meeting and approached him about writing a column for the paper. That was in November 2008.
“I never thought I would be a writer. It’s been 10 years now. To be a writer is pretty amazing. People come up to me all the time (who have read the column). It blows me away,” Lindsey says, noting English was never his strong subject in school. “I made a terrible mistake growing up. I thought I don’t need this and then brutally discovered that English is probably the most important skill set.”
If there was one thing he could back and tell himself in his younger years, it would be to pay attention in English class and apply himself in the subject because being able to write well and speak articulately are all important in today’s world.
“I would tell any kid that is your most important skill set,” Lindsey says. “Your ability to write well and speak well but especially writing. It’s not getting any easier.”
Growing up in Santa Rosa with his two younger sisters and dad — his mother died when he was 6 — Lindsey remembers many stormy nights when the power would go out and PG&E linemen would be on his street working in the dark to restore the electricity. He said those nights had a profound impact on him and most likely the choices he eventually made that led him to his career path.
“Almost like your house catches fire and the firefighters coming to put out the fire, but here are these guys trying to restore the power in all kinds of weather, “ Lindsey says. “It made a lasting impact on me.”
He adds, “I have always been fascinated by how things work. As a kid I tore everything apart; How does this thing work? I just had a lot of curiosity about the world around us and then that just sort of carried over to the ocean, which is so mysterious, and the atmosphere, where you are essentially trying to track chaos.”
As well as spending four years of active duty in the Navy following high school, Lindsey also devoted 20 years of his life to the reserves and says as cliche as it may sound, he has a deep love for the United States and felt it was his duty to enlist.
“I wanted to serve my country. I dearly love this country,” Lindsey says when asked why he enlisted in the Navy, pointing to favorite quote from a speech General Joshua Chamberlain gave to a group of deserters in Gettysburg. His words changed the course of the Civil War.
“It’s what it means to be an American,” Lindsey says about the speech before reading Chamberlian’s quote aloud.
“We are an army out to set other men free,” he reads. “America should be free ground, all of it, not divided by a line between slave states and free — all the way from here to the Pacific Ocean. No man has to bow. No man born to royalty. Here we judge you by what you do, not by who your father was. Here you can be something. Here is the place to build a home. But it’s not the land, there’s always more land. It’s the idea that we all have value — you and me. What we are fighting for, in the end, we’re fighting for each other.”
“To me it doesn’t matter who your parents are, it matters who you are,” Lindsey says. “It doesn’t matter your skin color, your religion, your sex. It just depends on you, on who you are. That’s the way I look at things. Everyone is born with gifts and you have got to use those gifts to the best of their ability, as a team.”
Lindsey lives in Los Osos, where he was named citizen of the year several years ago, with his wife, Trish, and their 14-year-old son, Sean, and 20-year-old daughter, Chloe.
In his free time, he enjoys photography, community service, reading and spending time with his wife and kids. He also serves on the Point San Luis Lighthouse and Central Coast Aquarium board of directors and is involved with PG&E Veterans ERG and the Lost at Sea Ceremony in Cayucos.