Well, the return on investment took place sooner than expected, with the covers committee pondering yet another Winter Times cover. And with a quick e-mail to Stevens outlining our idea, Stevens pondering the “good” and “bad” sides of winter, an idea he loved, all that was left was to gather outfits and get him in our office so photographer Michael Davis could get to work.
And as much as Central New Yorkers bitch about winter, it’s not all bad. In fact, there’s something poetic about a 4-degree day with the sun bouncing gemstones off a fresh snowfall. In the chipper Stevens’ universe, it’s as wonderful as the wonderland can be. “My love for winter probably started in my hometown of Jamestown with the lake-effect snows,” Stevens, 24, says, of that Lake Erie city. “I’ve always enjoyed being out in the weather, and it seems the more severe the weather, the fewer people are outside, and it almost feels like you’re out in your own little world.”
Matt Stevens: “It’s all about making sure I’m outside in the weather I’m forecasting."
While some Syracusans might think Stevens, a 2006 graduate of SUNY Oswego’s highly touted meteorology program, is a little cuckoo, there’s actually something refreshing in watching a weatherman get visibly excited at the thought of feet of lake-effect snow falling. His Channel 3 colleague Don Lark has even dubbed him “The Prince of Winter.” It’s all a part of Stevens’ plan.
“When I was younger, I thought, I gotta be a pilot,” he says. “But I had transitioned to meteorology by my freshman year in high school. I would read the weather report every day on the morning announcements all four years of high school. But I still had no desire to be an on-air meteorologist until I was a junior in college. I had a great internship at WSEE-Channel 35 in Erie, Pa., and my mentor asked me if I wanted to be a broadcast meteorologist. I said I wanted to be behind the scenes, and he said, ‘No, broadcast.’”
If only it were that easy: Television meteorology is an extremely competitive business, and the curriculum is technical and math-filled. “There are a lot more meteorologists than there are openings,” Stevens notes. “My freshman class started off with 35 students, and by the time I graduated there were 12. The math is the thing that gets to most people. At Oswego, most meteorology majors automatically get a math minor.”
After graduating from Oswego, Stevens moved to Oak Hill, W.Va., where he worked for four months until landing at Elmira’s WETM-Channel 18; that’s where his fiancee, Vanessa Richards, works, also predicting the weather. “She is a rarity,” he says of Richards, another Oswego alum. “In this business you’ll find a lot of weathergirls, but few female meteorologists.” The pair hope to end up working in adjoining markets or even the same city.
Stevens arrived at the home of Doppler the Weather Cat in April. His regular shift is talking up lake effect on the weekend morning news, but he also fills in when needed for Channel 3’s other weather dudes, Wayne Mahar, Peter Hall and Mike Brookins.
When asked the best part of his job, the tall, jovial Stevens doesn’t hesitate. “I love it all! But, really, it would have to be providing people with a forecast that is usable in their everyday life. Making sure they can either enjoy the weather as much as I do, or making sure they are safe in the face of treacherous weather conditions.”
As for the downside, other than trying to keep up with his hyper-competitive boss, the buff hockey goalie Mahar, it’s the same for most anyone in the news business. “Crazy shift changes, but that comes with the territory, especially when you’re the low man on the totem pole,” Stevens says. “But even if you’re established, you still work nontraditional hours. Very rarely do you find a 9-to-5 meteorologist. It’s either early morning, or afternoon into the late-night shift.”
At the same time, he professes an affection for the weekend morning show. “It’s a cool time slot to get people going,” he says. “It has a morning show feel but it’s a weekend, so I get to cut loose and have some more fun.”
As for fun outside of work, when Stevens is able, he enjoys cross-country skiing and snowboarding in the winter, and running and mountain biking when it’s warmer. “It’s all about making sure I’m outside in the weather I’m forecasting,” he says. “I can’t help but notice that what I’m talking about on the air will be good for skiing and hiking, and I make a mental note to get out and enjoy the weather.”
Most professions have some level of competition. So in the meteorology world, places like Tornado Alley or Lake Effect Land should give the prognosticators a certain basis to boast. Really, now, Stevens is asked, how hard is it to predict the weather in San Diego? Stevens’ response is diplomatic.
“I feel like certain sections of the country demand a higher or lower level of proficiency,” he confesses. “You need to have your act together if you’re going to be a true meteorologist in Central New York. That’s due to the wide variety of weather we encounter. I am still learning, every single time I go to work. I learn something new from Mother Nature every day.”