TV Meteorologists Warm to Climate Science
August 16, 2016
In June, I flew to Austin TX, for a conference that brought together prominent regional television weathercasters and scientists, for a concentrated update on climate science and communication.
For years, it seems, there has been a disconnect between those who are the most familiar and trusted sources of weather information, and the climate transformation that is affecting the stories they seek to report and interpret. In a summer like this, more and more weathercasters are being beseiged with questions about climate, and how it is impacting the seemingly endless parade of extreme events that are hitting all around the country, and the world.
The TV Mets I interviewed were smart, thoughtful, had science training, though not at the PhD level, enough to have begun digging into the data on their own to draw conclusions. Some, like Amber Sullins of ABC 15 in Phoenix, had initially been skeptical, “10 or 20 years ago”, she told me. But after doing what a scientist does “..take in the information, question, and research it yourself” – she came to understand the problem was real. Likewise Greg Fishel of WRAL in Raleigh, formerly a self described “hard core skeptic”, who finally realized that he was only seeking “information to support what I already thought..” – and began searching independently for answers.
Dan Satterfield, of WBOC in Maryland spent his own money to travel to the high arctic, where he witnessed the change first hand, as did Fishel.
I followed up with Jason Samenow, Washington Post meteorologist, who serendipitously was working on a piece on the same topic, which I’ve excerpted below.
Importantly, all the Mets I interviewed spontaneously grasped the importance of communicating their sense of conscience, responsibility, and simple right and wrong – exactly the components of the story that help non-scientists make sense and meaning of it.
It is perhaps the most frustrating response I encounter as a meteorologist when I write about climate change. It stems from doubts about climate change or the view that it’s a political issue, one that shouldn’t contaminate straight weather reporting.
“Stick to the weather,” people say.
But climate change is a scientific reality, and it’s one that is modifying the weather in important ways.
However, despite overwhelming evidence that climate change is impacting weather, George Mason University’s Center for Climate Change Communication found that only “a minority” of television weathercasters “feel very comfortable” presenting climate change information on air. Most say discussing climate change won’t help their careers. Some fear discussing the role of climate change on weather will upset their viewers — or even newsroom management.
But TV weathercasters need to find the courage to communicate about climate change responsibly. The science is on their side.
Greg Fishel, chief meteorologist at WRAL in Raleigh, N.C., shifted from climate change doubter to climate change instructor after a long, self-led education.
“Broadcast meteorologists have the least amount of formal education [on climate change] of all atmospheric scientists,” Fishel told the Capital Weather Gang. “But even though we have the least education, we have most responsibility to educate ourselves so we can educate the public in the right way.”
The TV mets close to the bone moral sensibility is what hits home. Greg Fishel told me his transformation was more a matter of conscience than anything else. Leading climate scientists have been working to bring more of that content into their own communication, as the video below shows.
I’ll be posting more from my interviews with Meteorologists throughout the week.