New England’s Weatherman
Dave Epstein ’86 has become the region’s most respected forecaster by keeping things simple
Others may complain when the temperature in Waterville plunges to sub-zero territory and drifts of snow pile up on the College campus like fantastical sculptures left by an unseen hand.
But not Trustee Dave Epstein ’86, a meteorologist and horticulturist who happens to love weather, especially the wilder, colder, muddier kind. It’s been that way since his childhood in Portland, Maine, when he experienced the snowiest winter on record in 1970-71.
“I think there was probably some wonder in what was going on with the world around me as a little boy that probably made me curious about snow and snowstorms, which was kind of my first love in terms of meteorology,” he said. “And that has just continued to be part of my life. I have also really grown over the years to just absolutely love explaining it.”
Epstein, a biology major who now lives in Natick, Mass., has been explaining the weather to TV viewers, radio listeners, and newspaper readers across New England for a long time. Along the way, he has become one of the region’s favorite and most trusted forecasters because of his straightforward, uncomplicated approach to informing people what is happening in the skies and why—and how it will impact their day.
The weatherman has been freelancing at WBZ for nearly a decade and prior to that spent 16 years as a meteorologist at WCVB in Boston, WTIC in Hartford, and WGME in Portland. He started his TV career at WVNY in Burlington, Vt. Now, among his many other weather- and horticulture-related pursuits, he blogs for the Boston Globe, is a freelancer for CBS Boston, and last summer was named the meteorologist for WGBH in Boston.
‘My favorite month’
He also keeps close ties to Maine, where he and his husband, Mark Powers, own a cottage in Harpswell. But it’s to Waterville where, like a contrarian snowbird, Epstein has returned every January for the last 17 years to teach a Jan Plan course on meteorology and climate. On a recent snowy day, he was steeling himself to wind up his course for the year, something that always makes him a little sad.
“This is my favorite month of the year, without question,” he said.
One thing that makes Epstein special is his way of writing and speaking about climate and the weather that makes it particularly useful for people who don’t want storm hyperbole. Epstein’s straightforward approach to meteorology has won him many fans, and attracted nearly 60,000 followers to his Twitter feed.
For the meteorologist, it’s simple. And during complicated times, that matters.
“I try to convey the experience that you’re having, whether I’m on TV or whether I’m writing about it,” he said. “I think, rather than just say, ‘Snow in the afternoon, one to three inches,’ well, OK, what’s happening to me? What’s happening to my world?’”
You also won’t catch Epstein naming, or hyping, winter storms. That’s not his style. Instead, he prefers to paint a picture of the forecast with small details that could make a person’s day a little better. Should they leave extra time for the commute? Expect their kids’ buses to be late coming home? Put their windshield wipers up at night to prepare for ice? He’ll let them know.
“We live in a world where everybody’s trying to get everybody to click everything,” he said. “You don’t want to do that, because you’ll get people to click a few times, but then they’ll realize it’s just white noise in the background. And so you really want to be measured by how you convey this thing that’s about to happen.”
Leading with kindness
As a teacher, Epstein also aims to lead with his humanity. At the top of his Twitter feed, for example, he has pinned a post that includes several charts and graphs that illustrate human-induced climate change for those who may not understand how climate works. But he doesn’t insult or make fun of people. Instead, he invites them to become more informed.
“I try to be very kind about it. I think that you just continue to try to illuminate people with facts and education,” he said. “You also don’t come at it from a standpoint of, ‘This is dogma.’ Science evolves. I have evolved. I wrote something that you can go find in Colby Magazine from a decade and a half ago that played down climate change. It wasn’t necessarily meant to be denial, but it was certainly overly measured.”
He also has a pretty good recollection of what it was like to be a college student, the joyful parts and the hard ones, too, such as the lonely feeling of eating alone in the dining hall sometimes. That helps to inform his teaching style and is a reason why he strives to be an ally for his students, even if they only cross paths for the month of January.
“I’ve had lunch with pretty much everybody over the course of all those years. It’s kind of an opportunity to get to know them for who they are,” he said. “How did they get to Colby, and what are their challenges, and what do they love and what don’t they love? And how do they see their world moving forward?”
Epstein would like to encourage students to communicate what’s going on in their lives.
“Opening your world to other people will allow other people to help make you the best version of yourself,” he said. “It’s not as hard to navigate if you’re letting people navigate with you.”
Lighting a spark
His approach resonates with Caitlin Burchill ’12, who took meteorology as a first-year student to fulfill her science requirement. When she saw Epstein’s name in the course book, she realized he was the same weatherman she had seen on TV in Boston.
“It was such a joy to get to know him,” said Burchill, who is now the consumer reporter for NBC CT Responds.
One moment from that time has remained a crystal-clear memory for her: the day they took a field trip to the WGME studio in Portland. At the time, she didn’t know what she wanted to do, beyond playing college volleyball. But sitting in the anchor chair lit a spark that continues to burn.
“At that moment, I was like, ‘Wait a second—this might be my future,’” she said. “Dave has mentored me the entire way through. It’s all because of Dave that I’m in this business. There’s no question. I didn’t find his passion in meteorology, but he introduced me to the TV world. He catapulted my career. He’s a special, special person.”
A January beginning
Epstein knows that Jan Plan can be instrumental in a person’s life, as it was for him. He spent his senior-year Jan Plan filling in for a radio meteorologist in Palm Beach, Fla., his first paid weather gig. He stayed with his grandmother, borrowing her car to drive to the radio station to be on air for the 5 a.m. weather update.
After he graduated, he started out substitute teaching for a year in Portland, and then got his first meteorologist job at an ABC affiliate in Burlington, Vt., before landing in Boston while still in his 20s. It didn’t take him long to realize that “just doing weather on TV was kind of boring.” He wanted more out of life than talking in front of the TV studio’s green screen.
Epstein expanded his focus. For a time, he worked in the software industry with a company that produced weather graphics. He teaches, writes, landscapes, and runs a horticulture-focused YouTube channel called Growing Wisdom, which has 71,000 subscribers. And he’s a stalwart cheerleader for the College, having attended many dozens of Colby events over the years, and serving as a former chair of the Alumni Council, former president of the Alumni Association, and more. He’s been a trustee since 2019.
Such diversity of interests helps him explain the weather to a growing number of people who may only have in common the fact that they are experiencing the same snowstorm, rainstorm, unseasonably mild winter—or whatever the day’s forecast may be.
“Weather is cool,” Epstein said. “Everything is cyclical, and everything changes. You know, it’s snowing a foot today, but in a week, it’s going to look really different out there. I’m not quite sure how yet, but I’m pretty sure it will.”
‘I Just Like Puzzles’
A three-time Pulitzer winner, Matt Apuzzo ’00 leads the new international investigations team at the New York Times
Connecticut House Speaker Seeks, and Finds, the Middle Ground
Matt Ritter ’04 had shown a gift for politics since his time at Colby
Adventure and Survival in the High Sierras
Jennifer Walker Hemmen ’94 tackles the extreme outdoors to honor members of the Donner Party
The Gift that is Acting
Whether it’s Broadway, television, or film, Will Hochman ’14 embraces the humanity he finds in acting
Colby Women Ice Hockey Players Return for 50-Year Celebration
They’re coming back to play in an alumnae game and support the current team