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A Message To Weathermen: Where’s The Climate Coverage?

By Climate Guest Contributor on August 23, 2012 at 9:15 am

"A Message To Weathermen: Where’s The Climate Coverage?"

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by Daniel Souweine, via Grist

This week in Boston, Mass., the nation’s broadcast meteorologists will meet in their yearly conference sponsored by the American Meteorological Society (AMS). You probably don’t have it marked on your calendar, but from the point of view of the planet, it’s the most important meeting of weather reporters in history. Because the burning question in Beantown is whether weathercasters will embrace their responsibility to communicate how climate change is creating a new normal of dangerous, extreme weather.

Given the climate change-fueled storms, heat waves, droughts, and wildfires that have dominated the past year, global warming will undoubtedly be a “hot” topic at this year’s conference. But, amazingly, many broadcast meteorologists remain lukewarm to the subject: The majority of weathercasters, including many with AMS certification, don’t believe that humans are causing climate change, let alone that it’s dramatically shifting our weather patterns. These meteorologists are missing the opportunity to be journalistic heroes who can inform the nation about our increasingly poisoned weather.

For those weathercasters who want education on the subject, the conference will have plenty to provide, with panels like “Applying Climate Change to Google Earth,” “Climate Change and Ocean Stories,” and “Hot Topics for the Station Scientist.” But the source of the climate communication deficit is mostly not educational, it’s about politics. The ideological bent of some forecasters, and the pressures to avoid “controversial” subjects that might affect ratings, are leading some meteorologists to ignore science when airtime arrives. That’s why the staff of Forecast the Facts will be attending the conference, carrying a message from thousands of our members: that reporting on global warming is a professional and moral responsibility. Below are just a few of their powerful comments:

You have a captive audience and no other single spokesperson would be better to educate people so they can effect changes in their own lives and in how we as a nation or community address and deal with correcting this problem that impacts us all. – Peggy B., Ocean Isle Beach, N.C.

Surely as scientists you know the realities of climate change. We must share this scientific evidence with as many in the public as we can before it is too late. You have a unique position where you can make a real difference and educate the public to this ever dangerous reality. Please use factual evidence to educate our citizens about the difference between weather and climate and to explain the greenhouse effect so that it is easily understood. Thanks for taking on this vital task. — James L., Hardwick, Mass.

Everyone watches the weather and relies on local forecasting. I’d very much appreciate local forecasters/weather experts making the connection between climate change and current weather patterns, based on the latest data, and helping the public to distinguish between long-term variation and short-term variation. You can make a big difference in educating, motivating, and driving critical behavior change. — Henry K., Sparks, Nev.

These Forecast the Facts members are not alone. Most Americans want their meteorologists to report on climate change. According to a March 2012 Yale/George Mason survey, two out of three Americans believe that global warming is changing our weather and want to learn more. The survey also found that 58 percent of Americans [PDF] “would be interested in learning what my favorite TV weathercaster has to say about global warming.” Even those who aren’t expressly asking for that information are clearly in need. Over the past six years, 80 percent of Americans have been affected by extreme weather. Their local meteorologists are the ones who can help them understand what’s going on, and whether they should expect more.

Thankfully, some meteorologists have already heeded these calls. WLTX Chief Meteorologist Jim Gandy of Columbia, S.C., does a weekly segment called Climate Matters, which explores how global warming is affecting the planet and his own community. KMGH-TV Chief Meteorologist Mike Nelson of Denver and WBOC-TV Chief Meteorologist Dan Satterfield of Salisbury, Md., run popular blogs that contribute both breaking weather alerts and informative explanations of how humans are changing the weather. And others, like WPRI-TV meteorologist TJ Del Santo of Providence, R.I., have done stand alone segments on the climate change-fueled heat wave.

These intrepid reporters deserve our sincere appreciation; Forecast the Facts members have already been showing them love online, and we’re excited to convey our thanks in person this week. But too many meteorologists still fall far short of this ideal. If this past year has taught us anything, it’s that when meteorologists refuse to accurately report on climate change, they quite literally put their viewers at risk.

Forecast the Facts is a grassroots community that exists to ensure that Americans receive accurate information about climate change. The growing incidence of climate-fueled extreme weather makes our work more urgent, and polls suggest that the recent heat waves, droughts, and mega storms are convincing the public that global warming is here. But whether Americans get the full story about these climate impacts depends largely on how the nation’s broadcast meteorologists report on the subject. We should know a lot more about where their community is headed after this week’s conference in Boston, and we’ll be filing daily dispatches to keep the public apprised.

The facts of climate change are now blowing in the wind. But the question remains: How many heat waves, droughts, wildfires, and megastorms must we have before weathercasters start to forecast the facts?

Daniel Souweine is the campaign director for ForecastTheFacts.org, which seeks to ensure that Americans receive accurate information about climate change. This piece was originally published at Grist and was reprinted with permission.

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16 Responses to A Message To Weathermen: Where’s The Climate Coverage?

  1. Ben Lieberman says:

    Unfortunately quite a few television weather forecasters, including some in the Boston area, reject climate science.

  2. Zimzone says:

    I’m more likely to hear a TV weatherman talk about some 6 year old’s birthday than climate change.
    Weather reporting used to be about weather. It’s devolved into entertainment, teasers and side stories not applicable to weather itself.

  3. Bleekerstreet says:

    I’m not sure how effective the weathermen could be. Our country has yet to even adopt the metric system. Indeed, such an effort would probably be greeted as yet another conspiracy. Anti-intellectualism in the U.S. has taken on the characteristics of a disease and I’m unsure of the prognosis.

  4. Mike Roddy says:

    Few TV weathermen have serious scientific credentials other than undergraduate meteorology, whose coursework barely addresses global warming. As Ed Hummel once explained to me, on air forecasters are the “talent”.

    It’s a soft, well paying job, whose security has historically been maintained by keeping your mouth shut when it comes to offending advertisers. TV advertising is tilted toward cars (the big ones are more profitable) and conspicuous consumption items.

    I applaud your attending the conference, but here’s what really needs to happen: a full court press on TV station owners, spearheaded by people like Joe, Mckibben, Realclimate staff, Hansen, and others. It’s unlikely we can shame them, but it’s worth a try.

    Not all of the station owners are right wing. We used to have Ted Turner, and Redstone, the Viacom owner, contributes to the Democrats. Plenty of stockholders in media companies vote Democratic. This issue should not be politicized in any case.

    Such an effort will require an organized and persistent strategy, with boots on the ground. 350 could lead here.

    • Mulga Mumblebrain says:

      All MSM owners are Rightwing, either mild Right, hard Right or lunatic Right. The shifting of the ideological goalposts, achieved by totally banning any socialist, collectivist or anarchist opinion from ever being heard or seen, leads to an incredibly intellectually straitened and morally restricted society.

      • Hazel says:

        The MSM is not the only problem. I was at MIT talking with a prominent climate scientist (won’t name names here) who had just spoken to a large alumni gathering in 10-250. I asked him why MITEI hasn’t taken a forceful stand for the science and broadcast the consequences of inaction.

        He replied by saying that it’s important to the MIT brand to maintain the political neutrality of their statements.

        Political neutrality? Getting in the way of stating scientific fact? The National Academies and AAAS were not so timid when Bush was in office.

        The real issue, IMO, is that nobody wants to upset those with money who could cut them off at a moment’s notice by labeling them as “radical”. I’d go so far as to say this is why Obama hasn’t made it a major campaign issue, and I’m an enormous fan of his. It’s sad that so much of American politics has been bought.

  5. Photon says:

    In addition to what’s been pointed out by other posters, I think the reason the even “serious” meteorologists discount the reality of climate change is in their training. They are educated on, and make their living with the idea that every meteorologic phenomenon has an immediate cause. That heat wave is caused by a shift in the jet stream, allowing a large high-pressure system to linger over that area. That line of thunderstorms and tornadoes was caused by moist air from the gulf meeting cool air from this front here. There’s no reason to look any deeper than that.

    It’s just not in their job description to look at the big picture. And the audience they serve doesn’t want them to. I watch the weatherman to learn what the next 5 days are going to look like, not the next 5 decades.

    • Peter M says:

      Really? ’5 decades for climate change to happen’ is no longer a luxury we have to see happen… – its here now. And it is going to become worse as each year goes by.

      I suggest you ‘realign’ yourself to that new reality- along with the cadre of useless TV weathermen.

  6. Peter M says:

    few years ago I called a local meteorologist for NBC Connecticut to discuss climate change- Someone called Garrett Argianas- he said not to worry because the snowfall that winter was ‘more then normal’.

    He later left WVIT for FOX News Connecticut – but was fired from that station & returned to WVIT on a ‘free lance basis’. What for>? He is obviously incompetent.

  7. Jim says:

    The weather man/woman has always been an attractive, well spoken, pleasant person that helps get you through your day by keeping you up to date on weather and storms.

    Now that person is supposed to be the one to let society know that life as we know it is under imminent threat? Seems unlikely in the near term.

    • Ken Barrows says:

      Nor should it be really. Wasn’t Anthony Watts a weatherman? Let weathermen do the weather and let climate scientists expound on climate isues.

  8. Joan Savage says:

    There are successful cross-overs occasionally, so I want to praise a meteorologist who forecast for years in my area, Dave Eichorn.

    Dave Eichorn published a regional almanac that foretold seasonal conditions, and he pulled in concepts like lake effect and ENSO. The almanac was in an educational calendar format for those who wanted to learn more. It also helped with planning for gardening, social events and vacations.
    Dave Eichorn moved on to academics, and I hope we hear more from him again, and soon!

    He recently taught a short course on climate change
    http://www.esf.edu/esfonline/climatechange.htm

  9. Kevin Schmidt says:

    The next time you talk to a climate change scientist about global warming, you should also ask him if it is going to rain this weekend.
    I’m sure his prediction will be very accurate.
    Just kidding!

    Weathermen are not climate change scientists.
    Reports on Global Warming are lead stories, not regional weather reports.
    Stop being so stoopid!

  10. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    Everybody in the capitalist MSM is of the Right, even the janitors, I would imagine. There is extensive vetting for ideological correctness from hiring throughout their careers, and ‘Thought Crime’ is career ending. The process is parodic at Fox News and the like, but just as pernicious throughout the rest of the MSM. Chomsky and Herman in ‘Manufacturing Consent’ and numerous others in academia have outlined how the capitalist MSM acts as a propaganda system to protect the economic, power and ideological interests of the rich, who own the MSM. Weather people honestly outlining the climate disaster is directly contrary to the MSM owners’ economic interest in reaping profits from fossil fuels, and their social interest in keeping the rabble quiescent and quietly consuming.

  11. Doug Grandt says:

    Europe has its Climate Broadcasters Network … what about US?

    From http://cbn-e.eu … “On 16 February 2007, more than 45 meteorologists and weather presenters from across the European Union met in Brussels to discuss how best to raise awareness on climate change amongst the broad public, and how best to communicate effectively, and in an understandable manner, the latest scientific results to citizens. As a follow up to this conference, it was decided to set up the Climate Broadcasters Network – Europe.”

    Our hubris is taking down humanity. Shame on US.