WGN-TV names new chief meteorologist as Tom Skilling’s farewell tour hits Groundhog Day event in Woodstock

As WGN-TV chief meteorologist Tom Skilling prepares to sign off after nearly 46 years at the station, a successor has been anointed to follow in the Chicago weather legend’s footsteps.

Demetrius Ivory, 48, who joined WGN in 2013, was named the station’s new chief meteorologist Thursday, a promotion that carries with it the challenge of filling the void left by the imminent departure of Chicago’s longest-tenured and most-trusted TV weathercaster.

“It’s a big task,” Ivory said Friday. “It’s not replacing him, just kind of continuing the work that he was doing and the incredible things he’s done for the city and for the weather community.”

Skilling, an esteemed meteorologist and broadcaster who has been the face of Chicago weather since joining WGN in 1978, is retiring Feb. 28. Ivory will take the reins on Feb. 29 — leap day — leading the WGN Weather Center Team into the post-Skilling era.

A Cleveland native who earned a degree in atmospheric sciences at Ohio State, Ivory was a meteorologist at stations in Pennsylvania and Ohio before coming to Chicago to work under Skilling.

“I came here with a dollar and a dream,” Ivory said. “Basically me and everything I owned in a car.”

Ivory put down roots in Chicago and at WGN, where he met his future wife, Erin McElroy, an anchor and reporter at the station. The couple divorced about a year ago but remain amicable co-parents in the northern suburbs and co-workers at WGN, Ivory said.

As chief meteorologist, Ivory will deliver weather forecasts on WGN afternoon and evening news. Viewers, he said, can expect the same kind of accurate information they depended on from Skilling, but delivered in his own way.

“I’m going to basically cover the same things that he covered, but then we’re going to start to put our own kind of spin on things,” Ivory said. “I’m not Tom, I’m different. I’m just going to kind of keep the same things that he had, and then just try to add to it.”

In a news release, Skilling offered an enthusiastic endorsement of his successor, praising Ivory’s “accurate, compelling forecasts” and rapport with the audience, the very same qualities that made his own career such a success.

Meanwhile, Skilling, 71, is on something of a farewell tour for the station and his legion of fans.

That tour took Skilling to northwest suburban Woodstock early Friday morning for the community’s annual Groundhog Day celebration. The filming location of the 1993 movie “Groundhog Day,” starring Bill Murray, has evolved into a festival rivaling the original, which takes place in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania.

Hundreds of revelers were on hand in the town square on a gray, chilly morning, bolstered by Skilling fans, some bearing signs, others chanting his name, who came before dawn to see their favorite TV weathercaster as much as Woodstock Willie, the long-running star of the show.

By tradition, if the groundhog sees its shadow, there are six more weeks of winter ahead. If not, get out the short-sleeved shirts for an early spring.

The groundhog was ceremonially pulled from a faux tree stump just after 7 a.m., and Skilling delivered the winter forecast.

“The seer of seers, prognosticator of the prognosticators, emerged reluctantly but alertly in Woodstock, Illinois, to wish the faithful followers a happy Groundhog Day,” Skilling announced. “Willie looked skyward to the east and behind to the ground and he stated clearly, ‘I definitely did not see my shadow.’”

As the crowd erupted in cheers at the prospect of an early spring, Skilling reveled in the least scientific but perhaps most enthusiastically received weather forecast he’d delivered in nearly a half-century on the air.

“How about that,” Skilling said. “There’s the official word right there.”

rchannick@chicagotribune.com