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Meet the 23-year-old Pekin resident behind the 'Illinois Storm Community' Facebook group

Pekin resident Carlos Wyant is the founder of Illinois Storm Community, a Facebook group with nearly 200,000 members.
Pekin resident Carlos Wyant is the founder of Illinois Storm Community, a Facebook group with nearly 200,000 members.

With nearly 200,000 members from across the state, the Illinois Storm Community Facebook group receives over a million views each month and hundreds of posts and comments each day.

On a regular day, the group is a platform for folks to share storm and nature photography and debate the seasons – are you “team summer” or “team winter?”

But during inclement weather — such as the ongoing two-wave snowstorm currently covering the Tri-County area — Illinois Storm Community is a gathering place for Illinoisans to stay informed and to crowd-source real-time weather conditions.

Who’s behind the wildly popular herd of weather enthusiasts?

Carlos Wyant of Pekin.

The 23-year-old founded the group in 2018. When he’s not working at the East Peoria Coscto deli or studying for his meteorology degree, Wyant puts anywhere from 14 to 40 hours a week into running Illinois Storm Community.

While Facebook allows groups of this size to work with advertisers to turn a profit, neither Wyant nor his band of moderators are interested in making money off the group. A designated 501(c)3 nonprofit, Illinois Storm Community does facilitate donations to the Red Cross in the aftermath of storms.

In an interview with WCBU's Hannah Alani, Wyant describes what it's like running such an active Facebook group ... and explains why he thinks so many people are fascinated by the weather.

The following is an excerpt of an interview that aired Wednesday, Feb. 2, on All Things Peoria. It has been edited for length and clarity.

Carlos Wyant: I've lived in central Illinois my whole life. I guess my fascination with weather started, you know, back in first grade. I don't know if you're familiar, but we have a meteorologist named Chuck Collins. And he came to my class and he was talking about the weather. And you know, I really grew interested in it. And as I grew up, I decided I wanted to be meteorologist. So all through junior high and high school, I kind of gave people weather reports. People would ask me, ‘Carlos, what's the weather going to be like today? Is it going to be sunny tomorrow? When is it going to warm up?’ I always had an answer. I enjoyed it. And then I went to [Illinois Community College] and I kind of majored in mathematics with, you know, meteorology, kind of a second or third option. Because, you know, I wasn't, I wasn't really sure if I still wanted to pursue it. But that's when I started the Illinois weather site. It was started as just a page.

And then in 2018, I wanted to try and establish a connection. So I started the group. And then the group really took off. I wasn't expecting it, but it really took off. And then my passion for weather came back. And now I'm done with ICC, and I'm an online meteorology student for Mississippi State University. And I'm hoping to [have] a degree in meteorology. I'm not really sure what I'm going to do with it. I might just continue doing what I'm doing on the side. But I'm definitely glad I pursued a degree in it. I'm definitely glad I started the social media sites. You know, it's, it's honestly kind of living the dream, if you ask me, being able to report the weather to so many people.

Facebook / provided

Hannah Alani: That's amazing. And congratulations on wrapping up at ICC, and starting your degree. Do you have any idea when you'll graduate from Mississippi?

Carlos Wyant: Probably 2024. Just because I work full time. So I'm just kind of a part-time student.

Hannah Alani: Do your coworkers have any idea of how famous you are on Facebook?

Carlos Wyant: I mean, they've always had an idea. They kind of discovered it when I was on WEEK a couple years ago. But it was really kind of this year, when new people that were hired, started to be like, ‘Hey, I know that guy.’ … I kept it kind of on the low, because whenever we had a big event, you know, I would be asked at least 40 to 50 times at work, you know, ‘How much snow are we going to get tonight? How much ice? When is that storm going to hit us? What's the update on the tornadoes?’ That's why I tried to keep it kind of on the minimal because, you know, I don't really … I didn't really want all the attention. You know, I enjoy what I'm doing. But I don't want like to attract too much attention for it.

Hannah Alani: So much of what your group is, you know, sharing photos from across the state. It's not just information sharing, you're really building a community. Is that something that you anticipated this group accomplishing, when you first started it?

Carlos Wyant: I did not honestly. The group was meant only for me to be able to connect with my followers at the time. You know, we had a couple photographers start to post photos. And then once that started, others started to post photos. And then it really, it really grew after that point. Because you know, Illinois, honestly, is a beautiful state. It just needs to be showcased properly. … I don't know how to put it into words, but I definitely did not expect it to become the community it became.

Also another thing a lot of people tell me, you know, they're older, they can't get out. They say they enjoy being able to sit at home and see the photographs. They can't go to like Staved Rock or Shawnee, but they can still kind of leave their house virtually.

Hannah Alani: That's really, really awesome. Do you have a sense of how many people just like, on a daily basis, kind of rely on this group as their primary source of weather information?

Carlos Wyant: I do have a sense because Facebook allows us to have insights … that allows us to see how many people visit the group per month. I think it's about 1.5 to 2 million per month. I know, I was pretty shocked to see that number, too. You know, that just people that come into the group to see what's being posted, see what's see what's going on, you know, view the photos, if any inclement weather is coming up. We're getting a lot of people coming into the group at the moment because they want updates about the inclement weather.

Pekin resident Carlos Wyant is the founder of Illinois Storm Community, a Facebook group with nearly 200,000 members.
Pekin resident Carlos Wyant is the founder of Illinois Storm Community, a Facebook group with nearly 200,000 members.

Hannah Alani: Now, the group does have some moderators. And I'm curious, at what point in its growth did you have to start leaning on people for help? Because there are so many posts every single day.

Carlos Wyant: When I started in 2018, I remember the time was 9:20 p.m. I just made the group out of nowhere. Within the first hour, we had 2,000 members. And once we got to about 10,000, I met some of the moderators, Patty Biggers and Kai and Lori Libby, they came on really at the start of it. I remember Kai telling me, ‘This group is going to be bigger than my woodworking group!’ And his group was 100,000. He's like, ‘This is gonna be bigger.’ And I was like, ‘No way. … People are interested in wood, more than weather.’ But here we are … we exceeded and doubled his group at this point.

So it was adding them at 10k, that really helped. But once we got to 100k, we started having to add tons of mods. There'd be days [where] we get to 10,000 membership applications. And you know, we have to go through all of that. It feels like a full-time job at times. … We look at the name, we look at the profile picture, we look at, you know, when they joined, photos, friends. Other groups is the number one way I go through. It's such a long process to decide who's real, who's not. … Who’s a scammer, who’s a bot. … When you have one to 2,000 applications sitting, you know, you want to get them pushed through as quickly as possible. But you also want to ensure that we don't, you know, we don't put the group members at risk, because you know, the last thing you want somebody to get hacked through the group.

Hannah Alani: Why do you think people are so fascinated by the weather?

Carlos Wyant: Well, you kind of have two groups of people, you know. You have people like me, who are, you know … ‘It's constantly changing. It's different every day.’ It's kind of like baking, every batch is different. So, you know, everybody wants the big storm. Everybody wants the hurricane. Nobody wants to destruction, but it's really fun to track. And then you have the other people that just want to stay informed. They have family, they have their homes, their jobs. They want to stay ahead and be prepared for, you know, the inclement weather.

So it's kind of two groups of people: people that want to stay ahead and stay prepared, and then the others, like me, who are just fascinated by it. We love to see the changing dynamics. There's nothing better than a big snowstorm. … I don't enjoy tornadoes, but, you know, they are fun to predict and watch. It’s constantly changing. That’s the best part of it. It's never the same.

Hannah Alani: You mentioned that running the group is ‘like a full-time job,’ but you have a job, and you also are a student. How many hours per day, per week do you put into Illinois Storm Community? And I'm sure some of our listeners are going to wonder … do you get any kind of financial compensation, like, at all, for any of the work that you do?

Carlos Wyant: On a good week, you know, if the weather's slow, I put maybe one to two hours a day. Whenever we have a big, severe weather outbreak, we need everybody on for eight to 12 hours shifts. … There’s been weeks I've been on the computer for 40-plus hours, keeping up with model data, keeping up with comments, post applications, you know, we have to do all the forecast graphics on top of that, too.

In terms of financial compensation, I've had opportunities to make money from it. I haven't yet because, you know, I want to keep it as advertisement-free as possible for the members. I do it for fun. I do it because I enjoy it. In terms of this year, there's no plans to advertise because, you know, we really want to make it a nice a place for people to kind of get away from the outside world and, you know, enjoy the group as it is.

Pekin resident Carlos Wyant is the founder of Illinois Storm Community, a Facebook group with nearly 200,000 members.
Pekin resident Carlos Wyant is the founder of Illinois Storm Community, a Facebook group with nearly 200,000 members.

Hannah Alani: Yeah, you know, we're hearing so much about how the changing climate the warming climate is leading to more common events, and more frequent events, and then sometimes worse events, events that are more extreme than they would be otherwise. Wait, how old are you?

Carlos Wyant: I'm 23.

Hannah Alani: Okay. Oh my gosh, you've accomplished a lot for a 23-year-old. In your lifetime, you know, since you started following and tracking the weather in first grade … do you feel like you've seen the weather become more extreme, more inclement events happening more frequently? And what's your take on climate change in general? Is it something that you see having an impact here in the Midwest?

Carlos Wyant: It's controversial. You know, I'll say on the record, right now, I do believe climate change is real. I do believe it exists. But so often people will hear ‘climate change,’ and the first thing they think of is, ‘Oh, there’s gonna be bigger events … category six hurricanes, tornadoes, bigger blizzards. It doesn't have to mean that the storms are gonna be more extreme. Which, they have gotten more extreme in recent times. But it just means the pattern is shifting. You know, the weather back in the 50s is not the same as it is now.

One of the big things I’ve noticed and you may have noticed, too, is it's almost as if the seasons are pushed back a month. We’ve been noticing that it snows well into April. It's warm well into October. It's almost as if winter is more December to April, and summer is more like, July, August September … even October has been oppressively hot. I think the past three October's have been in the top warmest. So I would definitely say the seasons have shifted.

In terms of the storms, we've always had big storms. But I would say they are a little bit more frequent. [A few years ago] there were like four or five hurricane landfalls in the country, and I three were major, Harvey, Maria and Irma. … So you know, climate change, it doesn't exactly … people shouldn't be scared of it. We just need to acknowledge it. We need to be better prepared. The ‘one in 100-year floods’ are maybe more like ‘one in 10-year floods.’ You know, the ‘1,000-year events’ are becoming ‘one in 100.’ We need to all learn to accept and, you know, learn to be better prepared for it.

Hannah Alani: Yeah. I mean, more tornadoes, and obviously, snow out of nowhere, can do a lot of damage. But when we’re talking about hurricanes … I feel safe in the Midwest. I feel like the Midwest is going to be the place to be. But what worries me, is farming. … The farmers around here it's, it's not the same fields they worked with in the 50s, just like you said, because of the weather. Do you have any farmers in your group?

A central Illinois farmer plants corn seed into the evening in Farmingdale, Ill.
Seth Perlman
A central Illinois farmer plants corn seed into the evening in Farmingdale, Ill.

Carlos Wyant: So we have a lot of farmers. And actually, when I started the page, farmers are kind of what really got the page up and going because, you know, if there’s one industry that really depends on the weather, that's the farming industry. They have to plan to plant the crops … if the fields are too wet, then you know, then they can't plant because the tractors will sink. If it's too dry, they're going to lose crops. Farmers are definitely a very big part of the group. That's another reason why I don't charge. They're a big part of this community. They produce all of our food. There are a lot of sites that do charge them. … They already work hard enough. They've dealt with not only, you know, the costs of the pandemic. But they've also had to deal with some unusual weather. It seems to be that when it rains, we get a bunch of rain within a week, and then it doesn't rain for two months.

I don't know if you remember the Iowa Derecho in 2020, that was $10 billion in losses, and millions of acres of crops were destroyed. My heart really went out to those Iowa farmers because so much of the agriculture was just flattened from that storm. And we've had that happen here, too.

Hannah Alani: Can anyone who's listening to this donate to you, donate to your effort?

Carlos Wyant: At the moment, we don't really have any donations set up, nor do we plan to. We honestly pledge to never ask for money. If they want to, we might work with them, but usually we just direct them to donate the money to the Red Cross or, you know, disaster relief.

Hannah Alani: Illinois Storm Community is a 501(c)3, and you do sell merch. I know with the calendars, the proceeds went to the victims of this most recent tornado outbreak, right?

Carlos Wyant: We were going to sell the calendars already. But when the tornadoes hit, you know, it's like, we need to, we want to help these people. Especially considering it happened two weeks before Christmas. We're actually designing a hoodie right now. We're looking to get some of the merchandise out by probably March 10. Calendars will come out in October, November this year for the 2023 year.

Pekin resident Carlos Wyant founded Illinois Storm Community in 2018. Today the group has nearly 200,000 members.
Pekin resident Carlos Wyant founded Illinois Storm Community in 2018.

Hannah Alani: Is there anything that I didn't ask you about that you would like to share with us?

Carlos Wyant: Well, you know, we're a welcoming group. We allow anybody from every corner of the state, whether you're from Chicago or Carbondale, Freeport or, you know, Paducah, Kentucky, even. We welcome everybody to join us. If you're interested in weather, if you want to stay ahead of the weather, it's a good place to meet like-minded people. If you love photography, then it's definitely a group for anybody that is really into photography. We'd love to have you. If you have any questions about the weather, you know, you can always ask somebody, somebody will answer it. Just come join us.

Join the Illinois Storm Community Facebook group.

Hannah Alani is a reporter at WCBU. She joined the newsroom in 2021. She can be reached at hmalani@ilstu.edu.