Weather here in New England is and always has been a fascination and a conversation starter. Iconic storms like “The Blizzard of ‘78”, “The Perfect Storm”, ”Hurricane of ‘38” and many others are part of the New England lore. Native New Englanders know, “If you don’t like the weather right now, well then just wait a minute” as it is apt to change.
The following 4 gents are New Englanders, and more specifically, from the South Shore, with a deep passion of the weather here in our region. Enjoy!
~ By Suzette Martinez Standring
Meteorologist Tim Kelley loves to meet people. As a boy, he noticed how weather made this happen. “It’s an invitation to start a conversation, something we have in common,” said Kelley, who has been forecasting with NECN since the station’s launch in 1992.
Before his time with NECN, he was a meteorologist and environmental reporter at WLNE-TV in Providence, Rhode Island. He began his career at WMUR-TV in New Hampshire, after earning his degree at Lyndon State College in Vermont. His best education came from his family. “My dad taught me a good work ethic and how to read a barometer. My mom taught me manners and how to smile.”
Early in his career Kelley worked to conquer shyness. “I was very introverted and I used to mumble. I taught myself to talk before a crowd, to talk in front of a camera and to get along with society. Now I’m always invited to speak. It’s a great honor,” said Kelley, who is 48 and lives in Scituate with his wife Janet.
Kelley was born into a family of fisherman and builders and grew up on Cape Cod. As a child, he had a fascination for storms and a love affair with snow. “As a child I really didn’t like school, and snow always cancelled school. Who doesn’t love a snow day?”
But scientific training was key to his career, according to Kelley who loves the science of weather. “You’re born with a passion for studying weather, but you have to understand physics because it’s about fluid dynamics, the study of bodies in motion, and all forecasting is based on mathematics.”
Screen time aside, nothing beats raw nature. “ I’d rather be out in the field measuring it, experiencing it. I love going out to the mountains during the storms.”
Kelley has kept a detailed weather journal continuously since 1992, and it’s thrilling to document record-breaking weather. “You feel like a professional athlete winning a championship. Every storm is a trophy, and you want to experience extremes, an experience that doesn’t come along very often.” He believes weather is a common bond and even disasters can bring out the best when people pull together. Making the weather understandable in an entertaining way is a driving force for Kelley. “I’m the Robin Williams of weather.”
Robert Skilling, 73, is the Chief Observer at the Blue Hill Meteorological Observatory in Milton. His lifelong excitement for weather almost rivals his passion for polkas. “I’m watching the weather and I’m listening to German polkas coming out of Appleton, Wisconsin,” laughed Skilling, who is a professional musician. He plays the accordion and Hammond organ.
As a weather observer, Skilling takes atmospheric measurements – temperature, rainfall, snowfall, wind speed, barometric pressure, visibility readings and cloud formations. The data is vital to forecasting and research.
He began as a sixth grader recording temperatures from the kitchen thermometer. As a teenager, he kept detailed local weather reports, complete with cloud charts, codes and symbols, which he learned from zealous self-study. In 1956, he entered his weather records from 1953 to 1956 to the Science Fair at Hingham High. “I was 18 years old and I won first place. Later I heard about people who could be official observers and have their data published.”
Such a job became his quest despite his so-so school grades. Later, jobs at Hitchcock Shoes Wide Size and at Bethlehem Shipyard in Quincy didn’t last, but he always kept a meticulous weather log.
In 1960, Skilling became the official “Climatological Observer” in Hingham, a volunteer job. He soon became a salaried technician at the Blue Hill Meteorological Observatory. After serving in the U.S. Army, he returned to weather work, and in 1978, he became Chief Observer at the Blue Hill Observatory. Right after his 1999 “retirement,” he began training college interns at the Blue Hill Observatory Science Center, a non-profit, educational outreach. “I began as an observer in 1960 and I received my 50-year award in 2010.”
Married for 41 years to wife Beverly, Skilling has two grown children and three grandchildren. He still calls his son whenever a weather record is broken.
The Blue Hill Meteorological Observatory opened in 1885 and a project is underway to computerize over a century of handwritten data. Likewise, Skilling’s volunteer records tracking Hingham weather patterns dating back to1953 are being scanned. His work is part of the written weather history of Massachusetts.
A lifelong weather observer and professional musician, Skilling loves modern technology. “It’s a tremendous revolution and I’ve enjoyed every bit of it. Besides I’m a polka man, and I found polkas on the Internet radio in 2000 that I never thought I could hear.” Skilling has a hearty laugh.
Since Colonial times, the weather has fascinated New Englanders. Meteorologist Rob Gilman of WATD 95.9 FM Radio said, “Sam Adams, George Washington, Ben Franklin were ‘weather watchers’ who were interested in how the weather affected the colonies. It’s what early settlers like Cotton Mather wrote about, weather and religion.”
Gilman, a Hull resident, devotes his utmost to weather reporting that is precise, which he points out is different from being accurate. Reporting that a snowstorm will arrive by Thursday would be an accurate but general forecast. Precision reporting accounts for the hour of first snowfall, inches expected by the commute hour, and the different conditions forecasted for various towns and cities. Gilman bases his career on precision.
Storm events could cost a municipality $50,000 an hour, so advance planning can save thousands of dollars. Gilman’s private business, New England Weather Science (www.snowandice.com), offers Precision Weather Forecasting, which serves over 125 cities and towns, including the City of Boston. “In a large city, every time there’s a six inch snowfall it’s a million dollar cost,” said Gilman.
What is his greatest goal? “I really want to elevate the usefulness of meteorology.” He has. Through New England Weather Science, Gilman also serves as a forensic meteorologist helping to solve crimes or to reconstruct accidents.
Gilman was educated in weather science, a boyhood passion, at Northeastern University and at Pennsylvania State University. He worked at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission in Washington, D.C., and then decided to forge his own career path. “Bureaucracy doesn’t work for me. I could make a much bigger difference with my education and passion with a more direct and local approach.”
With entrepreneurial spirit, he opened New England Weather Science in 1979. He wrote Weather Watch for The Patriot Ledger from 1979 until 2009. Since 1982, Gilman has forecasted for WATD 95.9 FM. “We’re like a family and it’s the only locally owned radio station on the South Shore. Their awards in news casting are unbelievable.”
About his family, Gilman said, “I have three wonderful children and a wife who likes to ski. Betsy’s always asking, ‘When is the skiing going to get better?’ and nobody would have a better answer than I.”
At age 21, student weather forecaster Michael Page is well known on the South Shore. Weather watchers often visit the website he founded, HinghamWeather.com. This summer, Page returns to intern as a weather producer at WCVB-TV News Center 5 in Boston in the summer. It’s the city where he would love to work.
A Hingham resident and a junior at Pennsylvania State University majoring in meteorology, Page was fascinated by weather at an early age. He recalled a “perfect storm” while he was trick-or-treating in 1991, and the time he was on Martha’s Vineyard during Hurricane Bertha. “My perfect weather is a nor’easter all the way.” It’s the unpredictability he loves.
His desire to work in the public eye was sparked in the winter of 2003 when a local TV station asked viewers to submit a snowfall count. “I sent in my snowfall total and they put it on TV with ‘Michael Page in Hingham.’ It was very exciting and I already had an interest in the weather.”
The 13-year old then pursued reporting by contacting meteorologist Todd Gross at Channel 7 who recommended reading material about weather forecasting. Page devoured the technical information, and later created an amateur website. “Just a few people stumbled on it, but it was a way for me to convey my weather observations to the TV stations on something I created.”
Later as a student at Hingham High the young entrepreneur created a professional niche through a new website, HinghamWeather.com. “I learned how to code the website myself so it would look more professional. Local newspapers wrote stories about it, and then it really took off.”
Since then, Page forecasts every night on HinghamWeather.com and continues to pursue a degree in meteorology at Penn State, where he is on the Dean’s List and is the On-Air Meteorologist and Head of Communications of the Campus Weather Service. He’s a member of the national meteorology honor society Chi Epsilon Pi.
Computer models are used in forecasting technology, but Page will never be tethered solely to a screen. “Lots of students look at pretty pictures all day, but there is something to be said about being outside, looking at the sky and experiencing what is going on. I live and breathe weather.”