Watch: Television News Starts Covering The Link Between Climate Change And Superstorm Sandy

Coverage of climate change from television news outlets has dropped precipitously since 2009. And during the lead-up and arrival of Superstorm Sandy, the climate connection to extreme weather was conspicuously absent.

But as broadcast journalists transition from tracking Superstorm Sandy to covering its aftermath, some television outlets are starting to explore the role of climate change in more detail. Starting yesterday afternoon, there was an increase in climate-related stories, with extensive segments appearing on Al Jazeera, Current TV, MSNBC, and NBC. (There were also a couple segments on Fox, both of which were used to raise doubts about climate science).

Below are some of the top pieces covering the link between a warming planet and extreme weather events like Superstorm Sandy.

NBC News science reporter Robert Bazell had a terrific piece on yesterday’s Nightly News called, “Dramatic weather patterns the ‘new normal’ “:

Chris Matthews hosted an extensive eight-minute segment on MSNBC’s Hardball last night, featuring geosciences professor Michael Oppenheimer and Rep. Edward Markey (D-MA), a vocal advocate of climate action:

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Also last night, Al Gore was featured on Jennifer Granholm’s show, The War Room. Gore discussed the link between “dirty weather” and “dirty energy”:

Al Jazeera’s Inside Story featured a wide-ranging discussion of the science and politics of climate change, using Superstorm Sandy as the platform for the segment. The conversation featured Penn State climatologist Michael Mann, Rick Piltz of Climate Science Watch, and Climate Progress’s Joe Romm:

Interviewing Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy about the impact of Sandy last night, MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow asked a direct question about how warming-fueled extreme weather changes the game for disaster planning and infrastructure build out:


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Even comedians are talking climate. Seth Meyers, the head writer for Saturday Night Live, was on the Late Night with Jimmy Fallon show talking about Sandy. Meyers lamented the lack of climate discussion in the presidential debates and used the “steroids in baseball” analogy for extreme weather that has gained popularity among climate communicators:

CNN and ABC both featured original stories on the link between climate change and extreme weather, but neither featured any extensive on-air segments.

The increase in stories comes as major public figures raise the climate connection to extreme events like Superstorm Sandy. Yesterday afternoon, Former President Bill Clinton criticized Mitt Romney for mocking Obama’s pledge to “slow the rise of the oceans” by addressing climate change. And New York Governor Andrew Cuomo lamented the “new normal” for extreme weather.

“There has been a series of extreme weather incidents. That is not a political statement, that is a factual statement. Anyone who says there is not a dramatic change in weather patterns is denying reality,” said Cuomo.

Some of the television coverage was driven by these statements from Clinton and Cuomo. This illustrates how the current climate silence in the U.S. is somewhat of a “chicken and egg” problem.

Even as scientists make increasingly strong statements about how human activity is heating the planet and making today’s weather more extreme, political leaders have fallen silent while broadcast press coverage of the issue has dropped precipitously in the last three years.

But statements from prominent political figures on big issues, including climate change, make headlines. The broadcast press tends to follow those statements closely, molding them into a bigger news story. And when political leaders avoid the issue, the broadcast press tends to do the same. This takes away some of the pressure on politicians — particularly the presidential candidates — to discuss the issue.

So you get what we had this month: the first time in nearly 25 years that climate change wasn’t mentioned in a presidential debate by a moderator or a candidate.

However, climate coverage on television outlets picked up a bit last night, partly driven by this iterative relationship between prominent policymakers, journalists, and commentators.

28 Responses to Watch: Television News Starts Covering The Link Between Climate Change And Superstorm Sandy

  1. Zimzone says:

    Anyone else find it supremely ironic that the AlJazeera network is covering climate change in the most depth?

    How many more ‘sandys’ will it take for our major networks to ‘find time’ to report on AGW?

  2. Mark Kowal says:

    Take a look at this great cartoon – finally the Climate Silence ends by force for these two victims….,0,5019826.story Will Obama and Romney see climate change in Hurricane Sandy?

  3. Mike Roddy says:

    It’s nice to see our slumbering media wake up a bit. MSNBC and Current have long been on top of events, while NBC and ABC occasionally broadcast good journalism like the story above. CBS, which used to be the muckraking network, is now the laggard, due to ownership changes.

    The media could be key to changing the world, and performing the sacred duty of educating the public. Most brave reporters have been ousted, replaced by timid corporate types. Let’s see if the survivors find their souls, and begin the urgent change from within.

  4. Mark Kowal says:

    See Jeff Masters Blog for a class on the new climate science behind the track Sandy took:

    A strong ridge of high pressure parked itself over Greenland beginning on October 20, creating a “blocking ridge” that prevented the normal west-to-east flow of winds over Eastern North America. Think of the blocking ridge like a big truck parked over Greenland. Storms approaching from the west (like the fall low pressure system that moved across the U.S. from California to Pennsylvania last week) or from the south (Hurricane Sandy) were blocked from heading to the northeast.

    Caught in the equivalent of an atmospheric traffic jam, the two storms collided over the Northeast U.S., combined into one, and are now waiting for the truck parked over Greenland to move.

    The strength of the blocking ridge, as measured by the strength of the North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO), was quite high–about two standard deviations from average, something that occurs approximately 5% of the time. When the NAO is in a strong negative phase, we tend to have blocking ridges over Greenland.

    Arctic sea ice loss can cause blocking ridges
    Blocking ridges occur naturally, but are uncommon over Greenland this time of year. According to NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center, blocking near the longitude of Greenland (50°W) only occurs about 2% of the time in the fall. These odds rise to about 6% in winter and spring.

    As I discussed in an April post, Arctic sea ice loss tied to unusual jet stream patterns, three studies published in the past year have found that the jet stream has been getting stuck in unusually strong blocking patterns in recent years.

    These studies found that the recent record decline in Arctic sea ice could be responsible, since this heats up the pole, altering the Equator-to-pole temperature difference, forcing the jet stream to slow down, meander, and get stuck in large loops.

    The 2012 Arctic sea ice melt season was extreme, with sea ice extent hitting a record lows.

    Could sea ice loss have contributed to the blocking ridge that steered Sandy into New Jersey?

    It is possible, but we will need to much more research on the subject before we make such a link, as the studies of sea ice loss on jet stream patterns are so new. The author of one of the new studies, Dr. Jennifer Francis of Rutgers, had this say in a recent post by Andy Revkin in his Dot Earth blog:

    “While it’s impossible to say how this scenario might have unfolded if sea-ice had been as extensive as it was in the 1980s, the situation at hand is completely consistent with what I’d expect to see happen more often as a result of unabated warming and especially the amplification of that warming in the Arctic.”

  5. Sanders says:

    Yes, let’s be clear, Up with Chris Hayes on MSNBC has been covering climate change since the show began a year ago. He has even devoted an entire hour, with Bill McKibben, Michael Mann, and several other experts on his show.

  6. Len Conly says:

    Alan Colmes of KKSF (910 FM) interviewed Michael Mann yesterday. A number of denialists called in. One wanted to know about climate change and its effect on Mars and the other planets. A new one to me.

    KKSF carries a number of conservative commentators.

    “Climate scientist Michael E. Mann responds to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s suggestion that extreme weather is linked to global warming.”

  7. Bravo for Cuomo! We need much more of that from many more leaders in response to specific events like this.

    Baziel has been good. They just don’t let him out enough, for all the reasons MSM networks don’t want to bring up boring, complex, downer, non-personality-based issues like climate change.

  8. Tamara says:

    I was thinking, while watching news coverage before and during the storm, that climate change was not being mentioned because at that time, there was a need not to alienate any viewers who might be in harms way.
    If Joe thinks you’re a tool of a grand conspiracy when you talk about climate change, he might be more likely to ignore you later when you tell him he needs to evacuate. At that moment, climate change was not “need to know now.”
    Now, while Joe is dragging debris out of his yard and thinking “What the &%##!! happened?” he might be a bit more receptive to discussion of how climate change made this storm meaner and uglier than it might have been.

  9. noen says:

    How global warming helped transform Sandy from a hurricane into a Frankenstorm

    “So, is climate change causing a storm that could do record amounts of damage to the US eastern seaboard and disrupt trade all over the globe? Perhaps the more salient question is: Will climate change lead to more frequent extreme weather events everywhere, including rare occurrences such as Sandy? And the answer to that one is a resounding yes.”

  10. TonyLoman says:

    It is true that finally! the media has begun asking about this. But just this morning I have read several comments from climatologists and hurricane experts that were very guarded about attributing Sandy to global warming. I am sure they are correct in this, but I wonder whether they are being asked the right question. The question should be why did Sandy not follow the usual pattern for late season tropical storms and hurricanes and veer out into the mid-Atlantic? Or more simply, why did Sandy veer to the west? They should be asked about blocking patterns that are emerging due to melting of the Arctic ice and warming arctic oceans. See for example and the general review by Andrew Freedman: I would like to see this question addressed.
    Tony Loman

  11. Scott says:

    It seems that many politicians who agree that the climate is changing are afraid to speak out for fear of taking political hits. Politicians who deny climate change (or who may believe in it but want to exploit the issue for gain) are like attack dogs on the subject. I think that there will be a lot more damage done from stronger and stronger storms before the politicking will subside enough to allow average Americans to see and believe what’s going on.

  12. rmwarnick says:

    Worth noting:

    — Storm damage at least $50 billion
    — New York and vicinity shut down for more than 2 days, including stock market
    — More of these storms coming due to climate change
    — We have seen the devastating effects of a mere 14-foot rise in sea level

  13. Dan Hue says:

    That storm surge is going to open a few people’s eyes. 14 feet is almost half the tidal wave after Japan’s Tsunami.

  14. Joe Romm says:

    Coming shortly!

  15. TonyLoman says:

    I just noticed an AP story by Seth Borenstein that quotes Jennifer Francis of Rutgers on this very topic. I think this will emerge as a primary cause of extreme weather than seems to go on forever (like this summer’s drought) or follows paths that diverge from historical patterns.

  16. DonB says:

    A metaphor that might be useful:

    The current climate change plan advocated by the fossil fuel industry is equivalent to asking that President Franklin
    Roosevelt sell tanks and ships, etc. to Germany, Italy and Japan rather than the United Kingdom.

    What is scary about that analogy is that losing this coming battle will be more devastating than losing WWII would have been.

  17. sandyh says:

    How could anyone look at the images from space of the size of this thing and not wonder where in the heck it came from and why when we have never seen anything like this in recorded history in this nation.

    Even the Big Box Church crowd has to be somewhat curious about where the next one might be coming from and how their prayers might not be able to stop it.

    Jesus did healing, food donations, and raising the dead not altering weather patterns. He told us that the Father only helps those that help themselves and gave us a brain and science to work on it.

  18. Chris Winter says:

    This may not prove to be the “climate change Pearl Harbor”, but it’s certainly making an impact on thinking.

    The numbers are devastating. From page A21 of today’s New York Times (31 October edition):

    7,000 reports of downed trees in the city.
    18 deaths so far.
    6,400 New Yorkers in shelters as of Tuesday night.
    300 patients evacuated from NYU Langone Medical Center after backup power failed.
    3 vehicle tunnels closed Tuesday evening.
    3-4 days until power is completely restored.


    In addition, the article notes that 8 million are without power nationwide, and 18,000 airline flights have been cancelled. Other stories tell of 100 homes burned to ash in Breezy Point, Queens; of lower Manhattan and 90 percent of Long Island without power due to transformer explosions and downed lines; hundreds of thousands of customers lack power in Connecticut, New Jersey and Pennsylvania. New York’s subway system suffered the worst damage in 108 years, and airports and surface railways were also damaged.

    The Times has a live blog carrying data on the area at

  19. Chris Winter says:

    That’s good! I also like #2 in the slide show — the one about Romney’s creepy house.

  20. Aaron says:

    There are ONLY 3 reasons why anyone denies climate change:

    1) They are owned by self-interested oil companies which fear that green energy will hurt their profits.

    2) They are extremely religious and have been told that mankind can’t possibly affect God’s creation (which is BS even if you are religious, because the Bible says nothing about the greenhouse effect or burning fossil fuels)

    3) They fear that acknowledging climate change will help advance other progressive values in society.

  21. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    I am become my own troll!

  22. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    Sandy was also rather large and its central pressures rather low. The backtracking and cavilling by ‘climatologists’ is simply job protection in a world where the Right are quite happy, enthusiastic even, in punishing those who speak truth to power.

  23. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    Mad, bad and dangerous to know.

  24. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    You forgot the category who are simply stupid and easily led.

  25. Will Fox says:

    Limbaugh is a truly repugnant man.

  26. John McCormick says:

    Mulga, at least you are self employed.

  27. 4cramer says:

    Zimzone: Not ironic, at least not recently so. AlJazeera has been one of my favorite news sources for in depth, unbiased, real journalism since 9/11 – now that was ironic.