fb-pixel Skip to main content

Blizzards and floods, droughts and hurricanes. Meteorologist Harvey Leonard has seen — and foreseen — them all.

Unflappable seer of storm clouds, hurricanes, and monster blizzards

The dean of New England weather forecasting, Harvey Leonard, WCVB's chief meteorologist who is celebrating 50 years as a weather forecaster in New England.David L. Ryan/Globe Staff

NEEDHAM – It’s an unconventional meteorological portrait of winter in New England.

February temperatures reach the upper 60s. There’s a wind advisory up with gusts expected to approach 50 miles per hour.

Then, just as you’re about to reach for the spring jacket, there’s this: A big winter, snow-maker of a storm.

And inside the studios of WCVB-TV, Channel 5 here, Harvey Leonard stands at his forecast map as he has for a half-century now, an unflappable seer of storm clouds and bright skies, of hurricanes and monster blizzards. Of fickle weather winds that have made him a household name.

“Harv, you’re next,’’ a director, her voice amplified over a studio speaker, says.

Advertisement



Leonard smiles, slightly adjusts his posture and then looks into the camera and announces in his familiar avuncular voice: “Another one of those upside-down weather patterns.’’

There’s no razzle-dazzle. No quirky gimmicks. No zany repartee. Just the polished work of a scientist who’s comfortable in front of the camera that he’s made his professional home across the decades now.

“There are a lot of people out there who really do sense the effort, the sincerity, the thought behind it,’’ Leonard tells me in-between his forecasting duties. “You’re really trying your best to tell people what you think is going to happen so they can have an idea. They can be prepared.

Before his broadcast Harvey Leonard took a quick look at some weather forecasts on his computers at his desk.David L. Ryan/Globe Staff

“And you have to be honest. I’ve always had the philosophy to stress what you know as clearly as you can. And be honest about what you don’t know. Communicating uncertainty is part of the job.’’

For Harvey Leonard that’s been a proven recipe for professional longevity and achievement. And he’s got the hardware to prove it.

He’s collected awards and accolades from the Massachusetts Broadcasters Association, which named him its broadcaster of the year in 2019.

Advertisement



He’s got four New England Emmy Awards for outstanding achievement in weather forecasting. He’s been recognized by the American Meteorologist Society.

On his shelf, he’s got Silver Circle and Gold Circle awards from the local chapter of the National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences.

And then there’s this unsolicited bouquet from his colleagues: What a nice guy.

Harvey Leonard, WCVB's chief meteorologist, is celebrating 50 years as a weather forecaster in New England. David L. Ryan/Globe Staff

“When I came here, the curtain got pulled back on Harvey Leonard. And he’s exactly who I thought he was,’’ said Maria Stephanos, a NewsCenter 5 co-anchor. “Exactly. We adore him because we respect him as a scientist and as a human being. And as a friend. He’s so genuine, which is so rare in this business.

“There are so many people who are so busy trying to take pictures of themselves, putting it out there. That’s wouldn’t even occur to Harvey.’’

Murray Feldman, who is now a business reporter at WWJ, an all-news radio station in Detroit, was a news reporter at WPRI, Channel 12, in Providence in the early 1970s when Leonard was a young weatherman there. He said Leonard’s friendship and support helped propel his career.

Feldman recalled an on-air exchange when a local anchor tried to pin Leonard down about one of his snowstorm forecasts.

“When is this going to start?’’ the anchorman said, demanding specificity about the start of the storm.

Leonard did not miss a beat. “Wednesday at 11 a.m.,’’ he boldly predicted.

When the big snowstorm began at 11:09, the station took out newspaper ads .

Advertisement



A lot of people think you can’t predict New England weather but Harvey does it every night … give or take 9 minutes,’’ read the ad, which showed a young Leonard in a suitcoat and thin tie, cradling an umbrella.

Like most success stories, Leonard’s did not occur overnight.

He grew up in the Bronx and graduated from high school at age 16. Too young, Leonard said.

“Terrible. Horrible. Worst thing ever,’’ he said. “But the hard part about that was skipping the eighth grade. I’m young as it is. I’m small. The girls are taller and two years older. It was just too young.’’

But, as it turned out, it served as a launch pad to The City College of New York which, he said, nurtured his love for meteorology.

“There were times when we lived in a row house and I would be upstairs hearing my parents talking to a neighbor,’' Leonard recalled. “And I’d hear them say, ‘We don’t know what’s wrong with him. We try to watch the television news and he keeps changing the station to get every different weather forecast. And then he does that with the radio also.’ ‘’

He was the type of kid who would check the position of the sun while walking to the playground. The kind of kid who would delight in the anticipation of an approaching snowstorm that would frost and redesign the landscape around him.

The kind of kid who would grow into a man, now 73, who was at his post again on Friday as another winter storm blew in.

Advertisement



Lee Goldberg, now the chief meteorologist at WABC-TV in New York, is a Canton native who used to be one of Leonard’s weather watchers, then an intern for him, and an occasional tennis opponent.

“In all the years we played – and we played dozens of years – I only beat him once,’’ Goldberg told me. “He’s the same on the court as he is at the weather center. He’s so steady. There are no cracks in this guy. When you talk about the GOATS of Boston, you’ve got Bird and you’ve got Papi. You’ve got Brady. And you’ve got Harv.’’

Harvey the kid who had trouble focusing on school as a big storm approached.

Harvey, the man who calls his wife Lorraine “my rock’' – the woman with whom he once vacationed in the Caribbean only to leave, at her prompting, so he could track a monster Nor-easter bearing down on New England.

Harvey, the father of two, who now dotes on his five grandkids.

And he still maintains the zeal of a scientist when it’s time to tell New England what’s about to happen outside their front doors.

“What have I sensed?’’ he said, repeating my question about how weather has changed over time.

“I’ve sensed that it’s much more difficult to have long, continuous winters. We can have intense winter periods within the winter. But, on average, the growing season is longer. It’s lasting longer into the fall and starting earlier in the spring.

Advertisement



“That doesn’t mean it will be that way every year. We’re talking averages. The most warming would be at the Arctic. And that, in turn, starts to alter the jet steam and certain patterns become a little enhanced. It’s almost like they’re on steroids. So, you have more droughts, but you also have more high precipitation, more flooding.’’

In other words, weather systems that bear watching.

It’s what Harvey Leonard has been doing all of his adult life.

And with that, it’s time for another broadcast.

It’s time for Harvey Leonard to step into the studio, stand before the magical green screen of television, and to tell his New England viewers what he has learned about what’s going to happen outside from Boston to Bangor, from the Berkshires to Cape Cod.

They’ve been watching him for a long time. They know he’s done his homework.

And on Friday, they had their shovels ready.



Thomas Farragher is a Globe columnist. He can reached at thomas.farragher@globe.com.