Matt Noyes – Man on the Ones

Andy Smith on December 22nd, 2007

Rich is the first person I meet when I arrive at the New England Cable News headquarters in Newton, Mass. He is smoking a cigarette outside the front door and asks if I’m a new hire. 

I am not, I tell him. I’m there to write an article about NECN  meteorologist and Haverhill native Matt Noyes. 

“Awesome guy,” Rich says without solicitation. “Really, Matt is a wicked nice guy. Wicked nice. You’ll see.”

This assessment marks a troubling start to my investigation into Matt Noyes. My professional mission is to document the life and times of one of the Merrimack Valley’s most recognizable faces. But my personal agenda is to steal a glimpse of the weatherman’s more sinister, unlikable side. It must exist. That’s what I tell myself each morning. Yes, man is capable of goodness.  But the real Matt Noyes cannot possibly be so kind, so cheery, and so refreshingly sincere as the TV personality who feeds me the weather every ten minutes. Can he? 

My skeptical thesis is already deteriorating and I have yet to walk through the front door. Matt’s a wicked nice guy, Rich tells me. I’ll see.

It is 4:30 in the morning. Life appears rather dreamlike to those of us unaccustomed to being awake at that hour, much less in full work mode. There is no commuter traffic. No morning DJ on the car radio. No real weather outside. Just darkness. It is bleak. Early. I hardly remember the drive. And then he appears like he does every morning, only this time I’m not watching TV and it’s really the weather guy and I’m shaking his hand and I’ll be darned if he doesn’t look exactly like he could be standing at that weather map right now, telling me it’s a sweater day.

“Great to see you, how are ya? I’m so glad you could make it. Welcome!”

Noyes’s workday starts at 4 a.m., and his first live broadcast is just after 5 a.m., when he gives both the news and the weather. The morning anchors take over news duties at 6 a.m., and every ten minutes thereafter—for at least the next six hours—Noyes will deliver the Weather on the Ones. He will share breakfast with viewers in 3.6 million New England homes. His forecasts will influence their wardrobe, scheduling, and financial decisions. He will say more words by noon than most of us say during an entire day. And on this particular day, two of those words will be Daisuke Matsuzaka. The opportunities for mishap and failure are endless.

Noyes scans his notes with Good Morning Live co-host Karen Swensen. Photo by Kevin Harkins.

Yet a couple minutes before that 5 a.m. broadcast, surrounded by news copy and notes, Noyes seems most concerned with my comfort. Sit wherever you’d like. Put your jacket anyw–here. Can I get you a drink? My thesis is taking a beating.

“Matt’s like Eddie Haskell from ‘Leave It To Beaver,’ only he’s sincere,” says NECN’s assistant news director Tom Melville. “When he tells Mrs. Cleaver, ‘You really look lovely today,’ he really means it. And that’s the great thing about Matt. He’s exactly what you see on the screen, which is a terrific and tremendously genuine guy.”

As Melville notes, that folksy, aw-shucks onscreen persona makes it easy to forget that Noyes is also an extremely bright and passionate scientist. His time between the ones is spent in a measured but frantic quest for more information. Bouncing between websites and weather charts and guidance systems, he narrates the inner workings of his mind, muttering about upper-level energy availability and converging air masses and mixtures of atmospheric density. When I interrupt him to ask if this monologue is a rehearsal for what he will say on-air, he laughs.

“Oh no. This is just to let you know what I’m looking at. If I said all that, I’d confuse the hell out of people. The greatest challenge is making sure you get the forecast right. But if you can’t accurately convey the information to the public in a simplified, understandable way, you’ve failed.”

Noyes hates failure and goes to great lengths to avoid it. He brings a lifetime of research, knowledge, and well-honed instincts to his forecasts. But he can succinctly state his everyday goal: Don’t blow it.

“You can really only have precise, scientifically valid data for thirty-six hours. So that’s my greatest concern. Don’t blow today, don’t blow tonight, and don’t blow tomorrow.”

When Noyes, 28, talks about falling in love with the weather as a child, you can almost hear Paul McCartney singing “I Saw Her Standing There.” Hurricane Gloria captured his imagination in 1985, and the smitten little boy would never be the same.

“I remember watching the trees sway back and forth and watching our driveway and the street get washed out,” he recalls. “I was just so amazed by everything about that storm.”

The son of a state trooper and a school teacher, Noyes started cutting weather maps out of the newspaper and pasting together his own five-day forecasts. By age nine, he was drawing warm and cold fronts. By age ten, he was using dad’s police scanner to pick up weather forecasts from Vermont, Maine, Boston, and Hartford. But throughout his education at Hampstead Academy and then Phillips Academy, Noyes had never thought of meteorology as anything more than a hobby.

Noyes catches up on some reading in the studio. Photo by Kevin Harkins.

At Cornell University, Noyes realized he could forge a career out of meteorology, and decided to do it on television. He considered working behind the scenes, and interned with the National Weather Service in Maryland. But Noyes was motivated by a desire to help people understand the weather, a desire that stays with him today.

“What drove me to television in the first place was I wanted to get the best information possible to the highest number of people possible. I wanted to improve people’s lives and make their lives easier. TV is the best way to do that, and that’s still my motivation.”

After graduating from Cornell in 2000, Noyes spent two years at a small station in Binghamton, New York. In June of 2002, NECN hired Noyes to be the weekend weatherman, which was something of a risk considering his relative youth. Melville said any concern about age or experience disappeared during the job interview process, as Noyes showed a remarkable and comprehensive knowledge of New England’s tricky weather—not only in greater Boston, but from the northern tip of Maine down to the Connecticut suburbs of New York City.

Noyes’s resume tape also revealed a charismatic personality that NECN executives believed the audience would embrace. They were right. “He’s turned into one of our stars,” Melville says. “Viewers just love the guy.”

In June of 2002, Noyes was assigned to his current position as morning and early afternoon meteorologist. His on-air time is split between the news studio and the NECN Weather Center, where he broadcasts updates and puts together his forecasts with weather producer Jodie Frazee. The Weather Center resembles an emergency bunker, with seven computers, four television monitors, and a variety of random items that a TV meteorologist might need in a time of crisis. An umbrella. Facial powder. A jar of parmesan cheese.

The seven computers initially seem excessive. But the more you watch Noyes in action, the more you realize you are wrong, not only about the number of computers needed, but also about your other preconceived notions. Noyes laughs when asked about the common perception that weathermen are just talking heads, collectively reading from the same script. In truth, he says, there is a wide variety between the forecasts available to viewers of different stations. And there is no script.

The work that goes into the forecast is extensive, ongoing, and conducted entirely by Noyes and Frazee. In a rolling chair, Noyes glides from computer to computer until the very moment he goes on air. Once he is off, he returns to the computers again, working them for another nine minutes. Tweaking. Updating. Refining. Perfecting. His entire day is a well-orchestrated exercise in multi-tasking, executed in ten-minute intervals. He is scientist, graphic designer, fortune teller, and talker. Talk, talk, talk, it seems he is always talking. The smooth back and forth repartee with the news anchors. The humorous exchanges with the traffic guy. The contractual plugs that he effortlessly slips in without a thought. It is not just the Weather on the Ones, after all. It is the New England Ford Weather on the Ones, and welcome to it. He talks and talks and talks, and he admits that by Friday afternoon, he is a more than a little weary of hearing his own voice.

Watching all this talking, what amazes me most is how infrequently Noyes drinks. Three hours into the broadcast, he has yet to sip from any beverage. When I point this out to him, he thanks me, saying he often forgets to eat or drink. He takes the cap off a Propel energy drink, but before he can remove the protective seal, the director is calling him to the studio. It’s the New England Ford Weather on the Ones. And it’s time to go talk again.

Noyes doesn’t mind that casual observers don’t recognize the intense work that goes into his forecasts. But he is bothered by the assumption that TV meteorologists don’t care when they’re wrong.

“When I get a forecast wrong, I don’t even want to go out in public,” he says. “I take honesty and accuracy in forecasting very seriously, and when things go differently than what I’d expected, I take it to heart. I have a very hard time dealing with letting people down.”

As his popularity has grown, Noyes has become even more aware of the responsibility he has to viewers. He makes a couple personal appearances a week, meeting with various groups from schoolchildren to farmers to event planners. He is thrilled to meet them, he says, but each is a reminder of one more person whose day he could screw up. The Little League commissioner deciding whether to cancel the game. The public works director scheduling plow drivers. The anxious bride-to-be, hanging onto his every last word and praying for sunshine.

“That never gets less overwhelming,” Noyes says. “In fact, it becomes more so as you meet and interact with more people that are basing their expenditures of time, money, and resources on what you say. If you let folks down at a time they really care about, you risk the fact that they won’t come back to you. There’s so much riding on that forecast for some people.”

And when the forecast goes wrong? The reaction may not be as severe as the Big Gulps and cheeseburgers thrown at Nicholas Cage in the movie The Weather Man. However, Noyes says, “If I make a bad forecast, people definitely let me know it.”

Even when the forecast is right, its content is not always well-received. During a trip to Wal-Mart when he was still in Binghamton, Noyes said “hello” to a woman who was staring at him with utter disgust.

“She said, ‘If we get any more snow, I am going to be so upset with you, I am never going to watch you again,’” Noyes recalled. “I thought she was kidding, but she was very upset. That doesn’t happen a lot, and I don’t think those people believe you make the weather. But sometimes you do meet people who don’t realize that we’re the messenger as opposed to the deliverer.”

On the whole, Noyes relishes his visibility and the opportunity it gives him. Never was this truer than last spring, when he covered the extensive flooding throughout the Merrimack Valley.

“On a personal level, that was certainly very difficult, especially when we learned that the large sewer pipe had broken in Haverhill and raw sewage was flowing into the Merrimack River,” Noyes said. “But it was very important to me to be on the air as much as possible, because that was my hometown and my home area being affected. I knew the buildings and places and faces being affected by the rising waters, so I could offer a perspective that most couldn’t. I knew offhand exactly which roads would flood and when.”

As the day gets later, Noyes wears down as any human would. His rolling chair rolls a little slower, and he will soon hand off the baton to the afternoon meteorologist. At home, he will continue to track the weather throughout the day, updating his website, mattnoyes.net, and scouring the Internet for any information that might enhance the next day’s broadcast.

When I leave the studio, Noyes walks me out and repeatedly thanks me for visiting. By the way he talks, you’d think I’d done him a great service. You’d think I’d made his day. And yet there is not one syllable that sounds the least bit phony or contrived. Rich was right.

Outside, two other NECN staffers are smoking a cigarette, and we stop to chat with them. Noyes talks to them like he talked to me and like he talks to the camera—as if the listener is unquestionably the most important person in the world. That strikes me as a useful, rare, and wonderful quality not only for a broadcaster, but for a human being.

And appropriately, it strikes Noyes as nothing unusual.

“The way that I look at it is folks are kind enough to open their homes to me every day. They welcome me into whatever room it may be where they’ve tuned into NECN,” he says. “So just like any good houseguest, I want to make sure I’m someone they’re always happy to invite over. That’s the feeling I want to foster, and that’s a big thing that I love about the job.”

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