PCC Reflects on Career of Legendary Meteorologist Tom Skilling
News Feb 27, 2024

PCC Reflects on Career of Legendary Meteorologist Tom Skilling

By PCC Past President Dominic Calabrese

He is the iron man of Chicago meteorology who had a unique ability to report the city's often volatile weather in a way that viewers could easily understand.

Now after a decades-long tenure as WGN-TV's chief meteorologist, Tom Skilling will deliver his last forecast this Wednesday, February 28, then head off into a well-deserved retirement.

Along the way, Skilling was transformed into a Chicago icon who not only became the city's most trusted weatherman but a figure who impacted the local media landscape by garnering a loyal and vast audience.

A Pittsburgh native who spent his early years in Westfield, New Jersey, he moved with his family to west suburban Aurora. As a student at West Aurora High School, Skilling began his legendary broadcasting career at the tender age of 14, working for stations, WKKD and WKKD-FM. He started reporting on the weather and made it a point to deliver accurate forecasts, which became a staple of his on-air presentations.

From there, Skilling attended the University of Wisconsin in Madison to study meteorology and journalism.  He also garnered additional broadcast experience and landed his first major market television position as the lead forecaster at WITI-TV in Milwaukee.

His record 46-year tenure at WGN-TV began in August, 1978, when Skilling began wowing audiences with his personable style along with utilizing the latest technological innovations in computer imagery and animation techniques.  He would go on to win acclaim for both his detailed reports and accuracy.

Skilling's encyclopedic knowledge of the weather could also be seen in his narration of documentaries, It Sounded Like a Freight Train and When Lightning Strikes, which he did for the station.  A member of the American Meteorological Society and National Weather Association, he hosted annual tornado and severe weather seminars at the prestigious Fermi National Accelerator Lab in Batavia, Illinois.

After earning his niche as one of the most influential weather forecasters in Chicago history, Skilling announced last fall that he would retire February 28.

The tributes began coming in droves.  Among them were special profiles by the Chicago Sun-Times, Axios Chicago and WBEZ Radio.  In addition, the WGN Morning News team hosted a farewell event at the Music Box Theatre.  In a most fitting honor, WGN-TV announced earlier this month that the WGN Weather Center will be renamed the Tom Skilling Weather Center.

EarIier, Skilling received an Honorary Doctorate of Humanities from Lewis University in Romeoville, Illinois and a statement honoring his career was read into the Congressional record on November 1, 2023.

PCC also wanted to celebrate Tom Skilling's amazing legacy and impact on Chicago media.  Here are comments from several prominent members.

"All I could say from years of inviting him into my home and watching him report the weather was that he obviously was very trustworthy," says Karen Brown, a past PCC president.

"Whether good or bad, he made the weather easy to believe and that it would turn out just fine."

Another past PCC leader, David Brimm, who earned distinction as an iron man himself for serving five terms as club president, notes that Skilling is the pinnacle in a tradition of excellent Chicago weather forecasters.  He points to names like PJ Hoff, Harry Volkman and John Coleman which many old time PCC members will remember.

"Tom Skilling was Mr. Dependable who really connected to his audience, making him  a beloved figure," Brimm says.

What may have set Skilling apart was his down to earth style that made viewers feel that they were connecting with a real life person. 

"Tom always came across as honest and trustworthy," says Jill Stewart, who also served as PCC President.

Her husband, David, a former WGN-AM newscaster knew Skilling as a colleague when their paths crossed at the station.

"When I think of Tom Skilling, the word that comes to mind is genuine," Stewart says. 

"The guy you see on TV is the guy you meet in person. He gives the impression that he’s as interested in what you’re saying as he is in the science that he so loves." 

Past PCC President Jane Canepa who is president of her own agency, the Eventors, also has fond feelings for Skilling and spoke of his gravitas.

"I think Tom had the longest segment devoted to weather in television history," she says, "and shared so much valuable information with his viewers that he became must see TV!"

In addition, Canepa saw a charitable side of Skilling.  

When her Columbia College events students were planning "Jammin with Jane," their final exam fundraiser, they could always count on a donation to the silent auction from Tom Skilling!

"Through coordination with Diana Dionisio, PCC member and Director, Sponsorship Solutions at WGN-TV, we would acquire an autographed and colored drawing from a weathercast.  It was signed and authenticated and made a great donation to our causes," Canepa says.

She sums up the feelings of all PCC members about Tom Skilling with her comment:

"I wish Tom some beautiful sunrises and sunsets and hope he knows what a positive impact he has had on all Chicagoans.  God bless!"

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