CHICAGO — Tom Skilling, longtime WGN meteorologist and perhaps one of Chicago’s most recognizable broadcast personalities, will retire from the role next year after 45 years delivering local weather forecasts.
Skilling made the announcement on WGN Evening News on Thursday night, reminiscing on his storied career over archives clips of him in action.
Skilling’s final broadcast will be Feb. 28, 2024.
He started working with WGN in 1978, saying with a chuckle: “I had hair back in those days.”
“If you had told young Tom Skilling that he would go on to have a career in weather spanning seven decades, working in Chicago, with some truly wonderful people, I think he would be overjoyed,” Skilling said. “And that’s how I feel today. Overjoyed at the colleagues I’ve worked with, the viewers I’ve met, the stories I’ve covered. Overjoyed and grateful. I wouldn’t trade a single minute of it for anything.”
Skilling was just a teen when he started his broadcasting career.
His first job was at WKKD in Aurora when he was 14 and attending West Aurora High School, according to his bio. He worked several TV and radio jobs before joining WGN and becoming an iconic Chicago figure, beloved by neighbors who relied on him for critical information.
“The events he’s been here for read like a history of Chicago; the brutal winters of the ‘80s, the Plainfield tornado, the 1995 heatwave, the Groundhog’s Day Blizzard of 2011. You name it, he’s covered it,” WGN-TV News Director Dominick Stasi said in a statement.
Skilling also has reported from Alaska, Las Vegas, an ice-breaking ship in the middle of Lake Huron.
He also was famously chased by a tornado in Oklahoma in 2010, his first such experience for an expert used to doing his work indoors and away from windows.
In the clip, replayed numerous times over the years, Skilling at one point pokes his head out the window to get a better look, prompting someone in his caravan to yell at him to get back inside before he got hurt.
“I have never been out in the field to actually see one of these developing,” Skilling told the Tribune at the time. “This is my first tornado. … At so many levels it’s fascinating — both a scientific level and aesthetic level and all the rest — and I am so happy I did this.”
He’s similarly revered among fellow journalists. You’d be hard pressed to find a Chicago reporter who hasn’t tackled a local weather story and was told by an editor to call Skilling for comment. Generous and affable, Skilling rarely wouldn’t accommodate an interview or give more than enough quotes and context to meet a deadline.
A longtime Edgewater resident, the neighborhood’s chamber of commerce honored him with the “Pride of Edgewater” award in 2017.
He told DNAinfo in 2017 his Far North Side home offered the ideal weather viewing spot in the city.
“The fascinating thing about living in Edgewater is you get to see the whole range of weather here as nowhere else,” Skilling said at the time. “I love to watch the state of the lake change. As a meteorologist, it’s a dream location because you can sit here and watch the vagaries of Chicago weather unfold before you in a way you can’t in many other places.”
In his off time, he’d be a regular at the beach, Loyola University’s lakefront campus, Lickity Split Frozen Custard, Indie Cafe and Waterfront Cafe.
Naturally, he said, people want to chat with him about the weather — and he’s happy to oblige.
“I never tire of talking about the weather,” he said. “It’s funny because some people say, ‘I’m sorry to ask you about this, you’re probably flooded with questions about this,’ and I say to them, and I honestly mean it, ‘Please, I’m not bored talking about it.’”
Skilling elevated the profession with his expertise, detail and ability to help audiences understand complex meteorological issues, Stasi said.
“There was a time when weather forecasting was seen as a not-serious profession,” Stasi said in a statement. “But Tom has taken it to a much higher level. He carefully explains complex meteorological concepts in layman’s terms, support by graphics often featuring isobars and upper-airs charts. Nobody was doing that when he started. Bottom line, he has always treated the audience with respect.”
Skilling also has hosted severe weather seminars at Fermilab near suburban Batavia for nearly four decades.
“Tom Skilling is a Chicago institution. There isn’t another meteorologist in history of the city, or the country for that matter, who has been more impactful doing what he does,” Paul Rennie, WGN-TV vice president and general manager, said in a statement. “His enthusiasm for the weather, backed by the constantly evolving technology, is simply unmatched. And above all else, he cares about people, from our viewers to his colleagues, he truly cares about the well-being of others. I’m not alone in saying we’ll really miss him.”
Skilling has won multiple Emmys from the Chicago/Midwest chapter of the National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences and funds a scholarship to assist a local college student each year. He also accepted the Illinois Broadcasters Association “Broadcast Pioneer” award in 2018.
“A colleague of mine once said ‘Chicago is like Broadway for weather people,’” he said in a statement. “And I couldn’t agree more. From Lake Michigan to the storms that roll in from the plains to tremendous heat to gobs of snow, if you want a variety of weather to forecast, it makes the job awfully interesting. And you know it’s also true in another fashion, and that’s ‘the show must go on.’ And the show will go on; I just won’t be in that starring role.”
Skilling said he wouldn’t be going away entirely and will remain in the Chicago area. He was not yet sure about his post-retirement plans beyond some traveling and one key detail:
“I’ll not have deadlines,” he said.
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