Nancy Edmonds Hanson
Rob Kupec’s fascination with the ups and downs of Red River Valley weather has never been in doubt. After 19 years as a TV meteorologist, his neighbors in Moorhead, Fargo and a broad swathe of the region hang on every word of his three-and-one-half minute segments on the KVRR nightly news.
But few suspect just how long he’s had his eye on the sky.
“When I was in the second grade, we had a science unit on weather. We each had a little calendar to record the highs and lows,” the genial Moorhead expert confides. “I enjoyed it so much that, when the unit was over, I just kept going.” And going, and going: “To my wife’s dismay, I still have all of them.”
That was one clue. Soon there was another. “We didn’t have severe winters where I grew up (in Willimantic, Conn.). The next year, though, a huge blizzard struck Connecticut. We were out of school for a week and couldn’t get out of the house for three days … but nobody – nobody! – had seen it coming. I thought that was fascinating.”
A decade later, he was satisfying that persistent itch as an atmospheric science major at the State University of New York at Albany. But a career in meteorology was still out of reach. After an internship at WKNT-TV in Albany, he turned to sales while his wife-to-be Deb White completed her master’s and doctorate at SUNY. By coincidence, a former Navy weather forecaster hired him for a coffee sales route in the college town. He liked it – “I enjoyed cold calls, and I was pretty good at it” – and continued to rep the beans to restaurants and stores until Deb was ready to find her first job in academia.
“When we started looking, we agreed that Minnesota was about as far west as we wanted to go,” he says, and laughs. “And now we’re nine blocks from North Dakota.” The spot that filled the bill was at Minnesota State University Moorhead, where Deb has taught since 2000. She now chairs the department of sociology.
After two years at home with their toddler son Quinn, Rob was ready to pick up his weather passion where he’d left off 10 years before. First, though, he took several courses in broadcast journalism and TV writing taught by WDAY reporter Kevin Wallevand and KFGO newsman Paul Jurgens in MSUM’s mass communications department. Wallevand brought him to the TV station to meet John Wheeler. “We hit it off instantly,” Rob remembers. “Eventually he said, ‘Maybe we can find a way to get you on the air as a fill-in.’
“I was terrible,” he confesses. “I had never sat at a news desk before. There was a hydraulic chair where the weather person perched, and it rose way up on its own. Then it wouldn’t go down. I tried to scrunch down to look a little lower. I just towered over everyone. Afterwards, a friend told me he’d never realized that Dana Mogck was so short.”
He goes on: “Luckily I got better pretty quickly.” The fill-in job turned into a regular weekent stint in the spring of 2003. On his first “real” show, he says, he started to speak – and his microphone died. “It just shut off. I was like a deer in the headlights,” he reports, shaking his head.
But the show did go on. He worked with Wheeler at WDAY until 2013. One night, he came home to find a message from Jim Shaw, then news director at KVRR. “My son said, ‘I bet he wants to hire you,’” Rob says. “I told him, ‘Nah, he just needs someone to fill in for his class at MSUM.’” But Quinn was right. Last month Rob celebrated his eighth anniversary as chief meteorologist at KVRR.
He’s just as fascinated by the weather of the Upper Midwest as he was as a kid in Connecticut. “We used to say back in meteorology school that the worst place to work would be in San Diego,” he remembers. “Nothing ever changes. That’s sure not a problem here.” While the technology of forecasting weather has grown exponentially, the field he chose so long ago is just as exciting as ever.
He has added his own touch to his two weather segments in the 9 p.m. news program. During the first, he gives the forecast straight. But during the second, in the center of the second half of KVRR’s hour-long newscast, he has developed his own twist.
It all started with the helicopter. Rob “flies” it to spots across the viewing region, giving the forecast specific to an upcoming local event. After it became and instant hit, he came up with the Town of the Week. Viewers nominate their community to go head to head in voting against another Minnesota or North Dakota locale. The weekly winner goes on to the NCAA of hometown pride – the annual 16-bracket challenge to be named Rob’s Town of the Year. Barnesville came out on top last year, crowned during a live visit to the city.
Rob and Deb have deeply bonded with their adopted city. Moving into their 1916 home in the Historic Comstock Neighborhood 20 years ago inspired Rob to research the genealogy, so to speak, of the area, which extends roughly from the Townsite Center on the north to Prairie Home Cemetery on the south. The area’s past has become something of a second personal passion; he has conducted walking tours of the neighborhood.
Meanwhile, Deb has served on the Moorhead City Council since her election in 2018. She is also a member of the board of the Historical and Cultural Society of Clay County. Their son Quinn now works as an aerospace engineer in Washington, D.C. “My son, the rocket scientist,” Rob quips.
After a score of years in the Upper Midwest, Rob is a partisan for their adopted home. “It gets lots colder than Connecticut and New York,” he concedes. But he defends it: “Our average winter low temperature is more than 4 degrees warmer than it was in the 1970s. Our last frost in the spring and first in the fall are spreading farther apart.”
And unlike places like San Diego, the nightly weather report is a highlight of the local TV news, with viewers hanging on the KVRR meteorologist’s every word. They may not all be blue skies … but tomorrow’s forecast is never, ever boring.