Q&A with: Meteorologist Al Kaprielian

When the Southwest-based company that bought what is now WZMY TV-50 in Derry first looked at videos of the telecasts, they paused over the station’s lone meteorologist and his peculiar bouncing, squealing and hopping about in front of the weather map.

“We wondered, does this play?” recalls Gene Steinberg, an executive with the company. “Then we went to the Lowell (Folk) Festival and everybody wanted Al’s autograph.” They realized that in addition to a channel and its airwaves, they were getting a media star as a meteorologist.

“Weather with Al” began when Channel 50 did in 1983, when then-WNDS-TV hired the 22-year-old Al Kaprielian fresh out of Lyndon State College in Vermont to be the weather anchor for its twice-nightly newscasts.

The newscasts have come and gone a time or two, and the ownership and management of the station has changed a number of times, but Al abideth unchanging. Well, almost unchanging. He admits he has calmed down a little, mainly because his weathercasts have been shrunk to one-minute each, allowing less time for the histrionics about the humidity that make his voice rise several octaves. (“Look at that dew point!!!”)

Still, he is not abandoning his style, which has worn well with supposedly conservative northern New Englanders. The Natick, Mass., native has outlasted not only everyone at the Derry TV station, but meteorologists at other stations as well. Here, the 47-year-old bachelor discusses his 25-year (so far) marriage to “Weather with Al.”

Q. When did you first decide you wanted to be a meteorologist?

A. Probably in elementary school. I used to look up at the sky, and I was just fascinated with the weather. I used to give the weather to my 6th-grade class. I just continued the interest when I went to college. They had a TV station at Lyndon State, and I did some TV newscasts. I made tapes of it, and that’s how I got started.

Q. Is the excited, animated persona that you project something you have developed to be distinctive and set yourself apart from the competition?

A. That’s just myself. It’s my sincerity. When I got the job, the first owner wanted somebody from New England, and they wanted somebody a little different. The tapes I sent from my college showed the enthusiasm and sincerity and it was from a New England college. It fit all the criteria.

Q. What is it about the weather that fascinates you?

A. I think it’s anything about the weather. For me, it’s something to live for. It’s just something that’s in us.

Q. You get really excited when a storm is on the way or a heat wave or cold spell. Does a stretch of mild, pleasant weather disappoint you?

A. Not really. I get excited about good weather, too.

Q. It’s a standing joke that people blame the weatherman for the bad weather. Do you find people getting grumpy around you during a streak of bad weather?

A. Some people think we can control it. No meteorologist can control the weather. Our number one job as meteorologists is to protect lives and property, whether in a snowstorm or whatever.

Q. How is it you have outlasted so many other meteorologists at so many other stations?

A. I have my own style. I can just be myself. People have sort of been watching me all these years. Once you establish a following, then, as long you do a good job, you’re going to keep that following.

Q. Are you surprised at all that your style has gone over so well?

A. Not really — not if you can uplift people with a smile and enthusiasm. Some people say, “There’s the crazy weather guy.” The enthusiasm comes over. I think people realize that I take the job seriously.

Q. Some people might think it’s a strange way to do a weather report.

A. They probably say that. Chances are, nine times out of 10, they still watch. I’m just being myself.

Q. Why is it so important for people to know in advance what the weather is likely to be?

A. Snow. Ice. A lot of people commute to work or have plans for sporting events. A lot of people spend a lot of their time outside. With something like a hurricane coming, it’s dangerous stuff. You need to remind people to pick up yard objects because high winds can make something on the lawn a projectile.

Q. How important are weather forecasts to businesspeople in general?

A. It affects businesses in the summer. If it’s a wet summer, people who haven’t already made vacation plans, may put off vacations until October.

Q. You are from New England and have never lived or worked anywhere else. Nonetheless, do you think this is the best area in which to be a weatherman?

A. Oh yeah. You have the ocean, the mountains. The Cape has its own environment. I think because storms can track so many different ways, some areas get snow, some, like the Cape, get rain. You get fog along the coast, as it rolls into Hampton Beach. New England has so much going for it.

Q. If you had to leave New England, is there another area that would interest you as a meteorologist?

A. The Rockies have a lot of blizzards and stuff, but I’m so used to New England. I’ve lived here 47 years. If I went somewhere else, I’d have to start all over again. I’m established here.

Q. Are weather forecasts more precise than they used to be?

A. We have more computer models than we had in the Blizzard of ’78. We still have a margin of error, but we have a lot more data.

Q. What do you think of the controversy over global warming?

A. That’s more of a research issue. We don’t have enough data right now. We’ll have to wait and see what future weather brings.

Q. Have you thought about trying to break into a larger market?

A. Boston is kind of difficult to get into. There aren’t that many openings. Even when there are openings, there are a lot of applications. It’s more difficult, it’s a lot more competitive area for a meteorologist to get a job.

Q. You visit a lot of schools. What do you tell students about a career as a meteorologist?

A. There’s a lot of math involved. It’s not easy to get a four-year degree. There’s a lot of calculus, a lot of physics. I think people know the fascination, the excitement of studying weather. Any kind of weather phenomenon fascinates them.

Q. Were you a good student?

A. I used to look at the clouds a lot. I was always looking out the window. But yes, I worked hard. Homework was very important to me. Homework was very critical.

Q. And it still is in your job?

A. Oh, yes, Homework is most important in keeping up with your work.