ALBANY — Bob Kovachick’s weather career started with a snowstorm. He was in junior high at the time when a major Nor’easter dumped two feet of snow on his hometown of Port Chester. The storm arrived on a Friday and lasted into Sunday.
“That really pushed me over the edge,” NewsChannel 13’s chief meteorologist said recently in a studio he’s manned since 1988.
There’s a big part of Kovachick that still feels like the wide-eyed kid, giddy to watch the snow pile up outside his window.
“Seeing how the storm evolved and just the excitement of that really triggered something in me,” Kovachick said.
After that snowstorm, Kovachick began writing down the weather in a notebook every day and delivering forecasts to his parents.
“They probably thought it was a little bit wacko,” Kovachick said, emitting a chuckle now so familiar to generations of Capital Region TV viewers.
But Kovachick was serious about his weather forecasts, and he would eventually turn his intense fascination into a career that has seen him become one the area’s most trusted and well-liked television personalities. It’s a career from which Kovachick will officially retire Monday, “pulling the plug” after the 6 p.m. broadcast.
“I’m going to be emotional about the whole thing. I know I will be because you think of something you’ve done for 40 years in your life,” said Kovachick, who drives a vehicle with plates reading “Weather.” “There are a lot of good people here that I’ve met and worked with, and people out there in TV Land who watch and say, ‘What’s that Kovachick kid doing now?’ except that I’m not a kid anymore. So there’s a lot of emotion with all this for sure.”
Over the years, Kovachick, 72, has watched the seasons change, low-pressure fronts come and go, and, yes, he’s blown a forecast now and again. But through it all, even as technology has advanced in such a way that most people can now find a weather forecast on the phone in their pocket, viewers have faithfully watched Kovachick, delighting in his easy-going manner and good humor coupled with his meteorological prowess and attention to detail.
“He’s a legend, right? I mean, he truly is someone in this market that it’s hard to think of someone comparable to him,” said NewsChannel 13 Executive Producer Josh Koumjian, who grew up watching Kovachick and now has been working alongside him for the past decade. “But off the air, and even on the air, he doesn’t come across that way at all. He’s the most down-to-earth person. You can go in, joke around with him, talk sports with him, talk news with him. He’s just a great guy.”
After graduating from Lyndon State College in Vermont in 1971, Kovachick’s first job in meteorology was at the Universal Weather Service in White Plains, where he made forecasts for pilots. But Kovachick dreamed of working in television. Trouble was, he had no TV experience.
So he filmed a crude audition tape in an audio-video store using borrowed TV equipment and drawing a forecast on a Rand McNally map. That audition tape landed him his first job in TV weather at WTEN in 1976. From there, he spent a few years at a station in Pittsburgh.
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But “the weather in Pittsburgh, to be honest, was kind of boring. Sorry, if anybody’s from Pittsburgh,” Kovachick said. So when WNYT tracked him down in 1988 and offered him a position, Kovachick was glad to return to upstate New York.
“Having grown up in the Northeast, I liked the Northeast. I knew the area and knew the weather patterns around here,” Kovachick said. “I enjoyed the changeability, the variability in the weather we have here. From week to week, month to month, season to season, it’s something that is very challenging to try to forecast.”
Over the decades, there have been many memorable weather events, from the March 1993 blizzard to the 1998 Mechanicville tornado. But it’s the people that Kovachick says he will remember most. Paul Caiano, who jokingly said he will do his best “Bob impersonation” once Kovachick leaves, is chief among them. A University at Albany graduate, Caiano first came to WNYT as an intern. He’s now been with the station 29 years. Kovachick has been a mentor throughout.
“When I first came here I remember thinking that if I’m going to do this, I should be doing it with the best,” Caiano said, adding that working with Kovachick is “like going to school every day.”
Caiano said an early storm stands out. He’d been with NewsChannel 13 no more than two years at the time, and he had predicted a snowstorm.
“I remember coming into the station that morning, and it was just raining. And I was like there’s no way this can’t change to snow, because we’re still forecasting a few inches. And it just never happened. It didn’t pan out. It was a busted forecast.”
Caiano’s boss fumed, and the young meteorologist thought he might lose his job. But Kovachick came to Caiano’s defense.
“He explained in his own way — and in the true Bob way — that this isn’t an exact science. We do the best we can,” Caiano said.
Kovachick told the boss that Caiano was a good forecaster who knew what he was doing and that Kovachick would have made a similar call for snow.
“That really stuck with me that he stuck up for me, as young and as inexperienced as I was,” Caiano said.
Kovachick still sticks up for the station’s young talent.
“There was a snowstorm my very first weekend that I was working here. So I was really nervous about it,” said meteorologist Christina Talamo, who has been with the station since January 2020. “Bob was like, ‘Don’t worry about it. You’ve got it.’ And I was like, ‘No, I don’t got it,’ like, terrified.”
Kovachick has been a calming force for Talamo ever since.
“He’s just always a reassuring presence and can make you feel good about yourself when you need that confidence,” she said. “Coming from Bob it means the world because he’s been here forever, he knows what he’s doing, he’s very intelligent– he knows what he’s talking about. So it really is just incredible to be able to speak to someone like that and to hear their perspective on what you’re doing. Getting that is awesome.”
Colleagues say Kovachick’s personality is a big part of why he’s been able to ride out so many storms at the helm of NewsChannel 13’s weather center. Yes, forecasting technology in Kovachick’s career has evolved from maps drawn on plexiglass to detailed computer modeling, but Kovachick has remained true to his trustworthy, dependable self.
“It’s certainly different the way that people now consume news, but I think when you have that personality that he has that makes that connection with the viewers, they often come back to him because of that,” said Koumjian, the executive producer.
And people continue to return to local news to see the forecast.
“For the most part, from all the ‘research,’ people tune into local TV news for the weather,” Kovachick said. “They don’t always want to hear about the news, which is sometimes not very pleasant. So the weather — again, according to the research people — the weather shows up near the top of lists or at the top of the list of why people watch TV news.”
As a result, people in the region have developed a fondness for Kovachick, caring about him so deeply that even his decision to shave or grow his facial hair can spark a major discussion. Kovachick playfully rolls his eyes when asked about the way his mustache moves people. For the record, he currently has a mustache but isn’t so keen on its color. “So it may disappear pretty soon.”
As for what else is next in Kovachick’s life, he’s not totally sure. Some volunteer work, yes, but beyond that, he said it’s still very much up in the air. Who knows, he may even go back to scratching out forecasts in a notebook.
It may surprise some people to hear that a man who has made his living making predictions isn’t set on next steps. Then again, that’s meteorology — even with advanced technology aiding the forecast.
“You know, we do the best just a couple of days ahead of time. Maybe a day or two, and the accuracy drops after day three,” Kovachick said. “Some days you can see a little further out if the weather pattern is pretty stable, but otherwise it’s just an educated guess.”
Andrew Waite can be reached at [email protected] and at 518-417-9338. Follow him on Twitter @UpstateWaite.