Categories: Family Faces
      Date: Apr  1, 2007
     Title: Head in the Clouds

Meteorologist Wayne Mahar and his feline sidekick, Doppler, help Central New Yorkers weather the worst

By Tammy DiDomenico

To live in Central New York is to lament the weather. This past winter gave us our share of snow days and wind chills, and it’s almost certain that the summer will have us grumbling about humidity and thunderstorms.

To live in Central New York is to lament the weather. This past winter gave us our share of snow days and wind chills, and it’s almost certain that the summer will have us grumbling about humidity and thunderstorms.

But Wayne Mahar, a transplanted New Englander who has called Baldwinsville home for more than 20 years, finds all of this amazing. What started as a keen boyhood interest grew into a deep fascination and fulfilling career.

Today, Mahar is president, owner and chief meteorologist of Precision Weather Service, the meteorological consulting firm he started as a teen. The firm has clients in business, government and industry across North America. But Central New York residents are probably more familiar with Mahar’s broadcast work. He has been chief meteorologist at WSTM-Channel 3 for more than 20 years.

For all his expertise, Mahar’s success on-air is perhaps equally attributable to his easygoing manner and approachability. He prefers to give his forecasts out in the elements, sans tie. And for the past several years, Mahar has shared his “weather deck” at WSTM with a unique partner: Doppler the weather cat. Mahar adopted the friendly feline from a local SPCA and held an on-air contest to select his name. Visitors to the station can often find Doppler lounging in the lobby, resting up for his next on-air appearance.

Mahar and wife, Dianne, have two daughters in college—Caitlin and Emily—and they visit family in Maine whenever they can.

Mahar and Doppler managed to squeeze some time out of their packed schedule to share part of an afternoon with Family Times.

Q: What was it about meteorology that captured your attention at such a young age?

A: It started when I was 4 or 5 years old, in Maine. I’d see the snowplows, watch the snow and watch the weather on TV. I spent hours reading about it. I started going to the National Weather Service in the (early to mid-1960s). I used to go every weekend and spend hours, and they would teach me weather. Also, we had the naval air station back in Brunswick, Maine. I went to the library and read every book I could.

My interest was so intense that by the time I was 11, I was actually selling weather information to two radio stations and two newspapers in Brunswick. By the time I was 17 I had my own private weather business with 75 clients across the country. I had seven meteorologists working for me.

(Today) we have 15 meteorologists and we forecast all over the world. Our clients range from a lot of locals to movie companies in Hollywood. We’ve done the forecast for the Oscars for the last four years. We forecast for the Grammys, the Golden Globes and even the Cannes Film Festival in France. We’re diversified. Sometimes I’ll do court cases, give expert testimony on the weather in court. I was just in state Supreme Court a couple of weeks ago.

On the TV side I’ve been here now for (nearly) 23 years, chief meteorologist for WSTM and WSTQ-Channel 14 (available on Time Warner Cable’s channel 6). I was the first full-time meteorologist on the air in Syracuse, back in January of 1985.

Q: Were you surprised by all the national media attention Oswego County got during the February storm?

A: It was exciting to share the intensity of our weather. I don’t want to speak for all Central New Yorkers, but I think there is an underlying pride among Central New Yorkers of how much weather we can withstand. There’s that Golden Snowball Award for who gets the most snow between Syracuse, Rochester and Buffalo. I’ve heard it from people, there is almost a pride in defending the fact that we are the snowiest city most of the time. So, if I do national stuff, it’s sort of a pride of, “Well, Central New York, yeah we’re a hearty bunch. But we can take it and we’ll deal with it.” And the bottom line is, when the snow melts, we still have our homes. I try to relay that, too: We’re not dealing with tornadoes or hurricanes.

Q: Is there a downside to being a local celebrity?

A: It’s interesting. A testament to how long I’ve been here is the State Fair. This year a woman came up, and she said “I remember when you came to my school to do a weather talk. I was in the third grade!” And now she’s got the stroller, and she has a 5-year-old! I think to myself, “Boy, I’ve been around a long time.” But I appreciate everybody that remembers that I came to their school.

The important thing is that you’re still coming in to people’s homes, they’re depending on you. They’ve grown to know you, trust you, hopefully like you if they watch you. My feeling is, it doesn’t matter how you feel, you always have to be friendly. I’ve always tried to do that. The one thing people have in common is the weather. Everybody wants to talk about the weather. What I’ve found funny is that people don’t expect to see you out in public. But I’m a regular guy. I go out, do chores, shovel the driveway. I think I’m the only one in my neighborhood who shovels my driveway! (laughs)

Q: What have been some of your most memorable weather moments over the course of your career?

A: The Labor Day (1998) storm is the most notable. One of the reasons is because we forecast the weather for the New York State Fair. I remember the Labor Day storm starting on a Sunday night, going into Labor Day. A concert was getting over, they had many people up into the Grandstand taking down all the lights, working overnight. Well, I remember placing a phone call to the fairgrounds at like 1 in the morning about the storm coming in, and nobody knew it was going to be as intense as it was. They cleared the Grandstand area, and the storm blew through two hours later.

Two people were killed at the fairgrounds that night. I remember coming down here the next morning; Mayor (Roy) Bernardi was down on our set; hearing about the two people killed and seeing the damage—that was one of the most memorable events in all my years following the weather.

Q: What season do you enjoy most?

A: Spring. We’re busy here year-round, but we’re even busier in winter. By the time March comes around, we’re ready for the ski areas to wind down, we’re ready to stop making forecasts that are so intense and tricky with lake effect and things like that. I look forward to spring.

But any meteorologist will tell you, they like storms. And to me now, it’s like I’d just as soon the weather be calm, but if we’re going to have a storm, it better be a good one. That’s what we live for, the big storms.

Q: Did you ever have any concerns about making Doppler such a big part of the newscast?

A: Generally, if I don’t have him on every few days, we get calls and e-mails asking about him. We had a contest to name him and we had 11,000 people write in over three weeks. I don’t think there is anything else in Central New York that you could get 11,000 people writing in three weeks; but if it’s Name the Weather Cat... (laughs).

If I’m talking about a storm, I won’t bring him out with me. If we have a serious news story, I won’t bring him out. We tell people, “If you want to see him, come on over.”

Q: Do you think the extremes in our weather cause us to focus a bit too much on it? Maybe we overreact to those changes?

A: It comes back down to everybody talks about the weather. It’s the one thing everybody has in common. It doesn’t matter who you are, you’re concerned with the weather for driving, the weather for getting dressed, the weather for getting the kids off to school, the weather for trips.

What I’ve found is that generally, the weather balances itself out. December was very easy. We were doing stories at Christmas about people out golfing, there was no snow on the ground. And then February comes around, and it (ends up) the second coldest and second snowiest on record. So what will probably happen is that we will look back on this past winter and the numbers are going to be somewhat close to normal. If you look back years from now you’ll say, “Well, it was an average winter.” The weather balances out.

Q: I always ask people what the biggest challenge of their job is. I’ve already posed some potential negatives and you haven’t flinched a bit.

A: (Laughs) The one lesson I always give when I visit schools, even at the college level, is work toward something you enjoy doing. I tell students that even at an early age. Granted, what I did at a young age was maybe a little extreme. But it ended up that I’ve done something all my life that I enjoy doing.

So I tell kids, whatever it is you like doing, pursue it, read as much as you can about it, and if you really enjoy it, work toward it, go to school for it; then maybe, you can do it all your life. I tell them to talk to their parents. Most people are going to work 30 or 40 years, that’s life. But wouldn’t it be great to, if you have to work, do something you enjoy doing and look forward to going to every day? Not everybody does that.

The toughest aspect of what I do is not so much time management, but the time itself: juggling both TV and a private business. But even just TV, it’s not an easy industry, and it’s not always healthy for family life as far as time commitment. You turn on the TV at Christmas, or New Year’s Eve and there’s people there—doing news, doing sports, doing weather. It’s not taped, you know. People are there working. We have people working here all night producing the morning shows.

After the 11 o’clock news, I go to bed at 1 in the morning, then get up at 4 or 5 in the morning for the private business. I choose to do that, I’ve been doing that for many years.