“Eye on the Sky” Weather Guys: An Interview with Mark Breen, Steve Maleski and Lawrence Hayes
Most Vermonters are obsessed with weather, probably because we spend so much time working and playing outdoors. And when we want to plan our days, the “Eye on the Sky” guys provide us all the information we need … in exquisite detail.
Since the early 1980s, Mark Breen and Steve Maleski have produced the weather forecast from a small studio located in the Fairbanks Museum and Planetarium in St. Johnsbury. Their report is broadcast on Vermont Public Radio and published in several newspapers around the state. Lawrence Hayes joined the team as an intern in 2008 and then came on full time in 2013. All three men graduated from Lyndon State’s renowned meteorology program.
Here’s a glimpse into what’s behind those reassuring voices and that perfect elocution.
Edible Green Mountains: What are some of the challenges with forecasting weather in Vermont?
Mark Breen: What ISN’T challenging about it?! The varied terrain from mountaintop to lake shore, and the differences from the Quebec border to Massachusetts, always create curious, localized weather situations that I love to ponder and solve. It starts with the challenge of finding out what the weather is doing at the moment. By adding the influences of the winds, the mountains, the valleys, the ocean and the weather pattern, we might end up with a forecast that includes snow, rain, thunderstorms and sun, all in just a few hours.
EGM: Do the three of you ever overlap in schedules, or are you ships passing in the night (and day)? Who works which shift?
MB: I am the “early guy”—something that fits me, in terms of getting up WAY before the dawn even thinks of cracking. But my weather day blends into other Museum duties, including the planetarium and education after 8am. By then, Lawrence takes up the baton and runs with it the rest of the day. Friday finds Steve taking over for Lawrence, and then continuing through the weekend.
EGM: OK, so Mark is the early morning guy. What time do you leave your house and how does that shape your breakfast routine? Steve and Lawrence: Does your work schedule throw any unusual wrenches into your eating habits?
MB: I start my day at 3:15am, but my first few hours are spent at home on the computer. I grab a little juice, maybe a banana, some yogurt, or oatmeal as I work. Then I reward this early push with a mug of hot cocoa, blending Ghiradelli’s dark chocolate mix and one of a number of powdered cocoas from King Arthur Flour—Bensdorp is one of my favorites.
Steve Maleski: I just grab a quick glass of milk or an orange on my way out the door on Saturdays and Sundays to keep me going until my pilgrimage to Anthony’s diner.
Lawrence Hayes: I can’t take lunch until about 1. It’s hard to fit an off-site lunch excursion into the schedule so I usually bring some kettle chips in a sandwich bag and a cooler with an Amy’s Kitchen frozen burrito which I then nuke in the microwave. Milk or Sprite the usual beverage. Sometimes if I’m ahead of schedule I’ll go down to the corner deli and get an Italian sub, which they call “The Pagani.”
EGM: Does the weather ever influence your cooking or eating? For example, the forecast calls for a big snowstorm and you decide to hunker down at home with … or a heat wave in late summer, and your thoughts turn to preparing …
MB: I love cooking down venison bones when the weather is cold, making some kind of soup or stew. Heat wave in the summer: I’ve got a seven-layer Mexican dip that I scoop onto some corn chips.
SM: Winter: My dad passed on this great borscht recipe that I use every December to make a huge batch. I freeze individual quarts in old yogurt containers and on cold, windy nights I will take a container full, plop the contents in a sauce pan, and slowly heat it on my wood stove. Mmmmm. Heat wave in summer: Go to Parker Pie in Glover with my partner. She and I share a large Dave’s Salad.
LH: I’d say I have less of an appetite during the summer; the heat does that to me.
EGM: Describe an ideal day off.
MB: Waking up on a summer day with a fresh, ever-so-slightly moist breeze, reading for a little while with my mug of hot cocoa, then off to the golf course with my wife. Later on, we head down to the lake for a barbecue and an evening paddle in the canoe.
SM: Dawdle in bed for about an hour after waking up, maybe have a cup of coffee in bed and read a while. Fix a leisurely breakfast. Read some more—books, magazine articles. Soak up some sun for 45 minutes through a south-facing window. Take a nap. Read some more—I’ve got a pile of books to read that has been growing just a little faster than I can work through it for the past 10 years. In summer, do some lawn or garden work, if I’m at my house.
LH: Get up, make coffee, get in car, go on photo safari.
EGM: How about a favorite meal or eating tradition of the week?
MB: Making spaghetti sauce. I “learned” from my mother, with no recipe—only a general sense of aromas and flavors. It means I never make it the same twice, but I love the creative process and the anticipation when I slather it over steaming pasta.
SM: Every Saturday and Sunday I go down to the local diner, Anthony’s, for a late breakfast/early lunch. My favorite breakfast: 2 slices French toast or blueberry pancakes; scrambled or poached eggs; bacon or sausage; bottomless cup of coffee. I’m often open to specials—they’ve got a great cook, Keith, who comes up with some really creative stuff. Good food and great company with the regulars at the counter.
LH: Bison burgers topped with lettuce, tomato, onion and horseradish mustard; green leaf salad with diced bell peppers and celery, ground black pepper, sometimes a little sprinkle of cheese. My wife and I try to make this in time to break out the TV trays and eat while watching “Jeopardy.”
EGM: A few ingredients you always have on hand?
MB: Venison, salsa, chocolate, rosemary, oatmeal.
SM: Pasta. Simple and inexpensive; easy to work with.
LH: Elmore Mountain bread, trail mix, kettle chips, bell peppers.
EGM: How do you cook or eat at home?
MB: My wife, Sandi, and I cook together most of the time. Most meals are from scratch, or close to it. I don’t like the “pre-fab” idea of cooking, and the time spent just adds to the enjoyment of the meal.
SM: I cook very basically. Frozen or fresh veggies in season coupled with a pasta or meat serving. I try to have greens with any supper. Baby spinach is one of my favorites.
LH: In a very simplistic manner.
EGM: Any guilty food or drink pleasures?
MB: Takeout Chinese on a Friday evening.
SM: Chocolate—the darker the better. Chocolate milkshakes. Eggnog. Werther’s Original Butterscotch drops.
LH: Cabot whipped cream.
EGM: Favorite Vermont products?
MB: Trout River beer. Maple syrup! So many cheeses … Cabot reserve cheddar and Jasper Hill Alpha Tolman. Lake Champlain chocolates.
SM: Maple syrup, of course.
LH: Elmore Mountain Bread, Cabot clothbound cheddar.
EGM: Best Vermont coffee shops, restaurants, pubs, or eateries? (in your opinion, of course)
MB: Bob’s Diner, just outside Manchester. Miss Lyndonville Diner—deep-fried French toast! The Tap Room in St. Johnsbury. Sarducci’s in Montpelier.
SM: My knowledge of restaurants is too limited to express a well-informed opinion.
LH: The Burger Barn in Jeffersonville (not open in winter), Kham’s Thai Cuisine in St. Johnsbury Center, Trattoria Delia in Burlington (for super-special occasions).
EGM: Seasonal items you eagerly anticipate each year?
MB: My first, right-off-the-vine, homegrown tomato!
SM: Maple syrup. Strawberries. The blueberries in my front meadow. The cherries and plums in my partner’s trees.
LH: The opening of the Burger Barn.
EGM: What are the best aspects of working as meteorologists through the Fairbanks Museum?
MB: I am so lucky to do what I love to do, and to share it through the radio, newspapers and the internet. The partnership of the Museum and Vermont Public Radio has filled my life with great friends that are as fascinated with Mother Nature as I am.
SM: Competent, professional colleagues that are excellent human beings as well and a delight to work with.
LH: Awesome co-workers, this historical building and an aesthetically interesting neighborhood.
EGM: If you weren’t a meteorologist, what would you be?
MB: Either an entertainer, or a lawyer, or an entertaining lawyer!
SM: As an animal?—a hawk. For another human profession?—a gardener.
LH: A landscape photographer.
EGM: Words of wisdom you would impart to anyone who harbors a dream, outlandish or feasible?
MB: I’ve dreamed, and had the great fortune to have some come true. I’ve had dreams that changed, and dreams that changed me. But to dream, to wonder, to hope … that is to truly be alive! Enjoy the dream, enjoy the pursuit and don’t worry about the ending.
SM: 1. Always remain open to wonder and to joy. 2. Many things will happen in your life; you construct their meaning.
LH: Be feasibly outlandish; balance your dreams with your aptitudes.