Your city’s weather announcer could change his mind about the climate crisis
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Local television meteorologists have become foot soldiers in the war on climate misinformation. Over the past decade, a growing number of meteorologists and weather presenters have started to address the climate crisis either as part of their weather forecast or in separate, independent reporting to help their viewers understand what is going on and why this is important.
And reports have an impact.
Studies by the George Mason University Center for Climate Change Communication show that in communities where local meteorologists report on the climate crisis, “public opinion changes more quickly,” said Ed Maibach, director of the center and author of the studies. “We showed a very strong impact – people who saw the climate reports came to understand that climate change was more relevant on a personal level,” he said.
The change came as meteorologists and forecasters themselves shifted their minds about the climate crisis and its causes. In 2008, a survey of some members of the American Meteorological Society found that only 24 percent of weather presenters agreed with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) that warming was man-made. In 2010, a study by Maibach found that 54% of them agreed that global warming was happening. But in 2017, 90% agreed the climate crisis was happening, and 80% said it was man-made.
“There has been a huge change,” he said.
The change was in part brought about by Climate Central’s Climate Matters reporting program, founded after Maibach published a study showing that the public has a high degree of trust in local forecasters.
“All weather forecasters on television are very good science communicators,” says Maibach. Not only are they scientists, but their viewers trust them because they usually don’t report on politics or other controversial topics, he says.
Today, more than 600 TV weather presenters participate in the program, which provides training, scientific information, graphics and videos for education and newsroom use.
Here’s a look at four of those local TV news forecasters.
“You have the possibility of shifting the public’s gaze a little”
Keith Carson, WLBZ / WCSH, Maine
Early in his career, Carson didn’t quite agree that the climate crisis was happening and that it was man-made. Carson began working in the field in 2006. Today, however, he says, “Frankly, it’s getting harder and harder to deny it scientifically. And now he knows how easy it is now for anyone to twist the facts and create even more divisions.
These days, Carson regularly shares information about the climate crisis and other science topics with viewers through a nighttime science segment called “Brain Drops”.
For Carson, the problem goes beyond simple climate change. “If people are going to reject science and the scientific process, it opens the door to further regressions” in scientific thought.
Carson talks about climate change with his viewers about once every two weeks. “I think it’s important to do it, but not to hammer it daily. It’s against human nature to change your mind, and hammering it around at home every day would cause some people to dig deeper. He approaches the subject like many of his colleagues do, simply presenting the facts about what is going on.
Weather presenters, he says, have a unique opportunity because they are an integral and valued part of the community, “and you have the chance to change your mind a bit.”
Although Carson is berated by viewers, most of those who comment on his climate reporting are not his viewers, he says.
From brewery stories to ranchers: find a way to communicate
Elisa raffa, from KOLR10 / KOZL, Springfield, Missouri
Raffa, a self-proclaimed science geek, believes her job is to educate her viewers about the impact of climate change on them. She has done independent reporting on the impact of climate change on fishing at local lakes, a local cafe and a local brewery. One play explained how herders need to be more careful with their livestock as black vultures move through the area due to warming temperatures.
“It causes people to look at climate change outside of the political realm,” she says.
Raffa is careful to ask objective questions about things like precipitation and temperature, and rarely outwardly points out climate change as the problem. Its sources usually do it themselves. It hits home with viewers seeing climate change from a relevant perspective.
“Climate change will affect us in so many ways, and I love teaching my viewers and helping them learn how they can prepare, adapt and be more resilient,” she said.
In addition to his special reporting, Raffa speaks about the climate crisis in subtle ways during his forecast. She pointed to a recent rise in high morning temperatures in hopes of showing her viewers that nighttime temperatures are rising.
“That’s what I signed up for,” she said. “It’s a scientific question. It is my duty to communicate it to the public. If I don’t, who will? “
“Before, I was more subtle… but now we are seeing more effects”
Jorge Torres, KOB-TV, Albuquerque, New Mexico
Over the course of his career, Torres, chief meteorologist at KOB, has become more daring in the fight against climate change. “At first I was more subtle, but as more and more facts become apparent I’m more open now to saying it’s human induced. For me, the most important aspect is carbon dioxide, ”he says. “We are seeing it increasing globally and we are seeing the effects locally. “
Earlier this year, Torres made a detailed report on the water issue in New Mexico and the impact of a smaller snowpack on the state’s water supply. Temperatures are also getting hotter and hotter, he says, a fact he points out in his daily forecast.
“Anytime the weather history lets me say,” something about the climate crisis, he does it, but he makes sure it’s in the right context.
The bottom line is that he wants viewers to be open-minded about this. “Don’t just hear something and reject it.”
The forecaster quoting Bubba Gump
Heather waldman, WGRZ, Buffalo, New York
As a trusted “station scientist,” Waldman says talking about the climate crisis is a natural fit for her and other weather presenters. “It matches our identity.
Waldman and his station have unveiled a series of short, entertaining and informative videos called “The Climate Minute,” which are online and are slated to air this week on television.
The one-minute videos take a long time to produce, because while Waldman uses information from Climate Matters, she also does her own research, reading the IPCC and other reports.
She says she chose short one-minute videos because she doesn’t want to lose the audience’s attention.
“The audience won’t pay attention to anything for more than a few minutes and we use succinct, eye-catching images. The goal of finding some sort of thing, where people say oh, it’ll have an impact – it’s affecting me right now.
In an upcoming article on how ocean acidification affects shrimp populations, she uses quotes from Bubba Gump shrimp to keep it fun.
“Intrinsically, we have a responsibility to present not only the weather facts, but also the climatic facts – we don’t want to pontificate, but we want to make them actionable and entertaining.”
This story originally appeared in The Guardian. It is republished here as part of Next City’s partnership with Covering Climate Now, a global collaboration of more than 250 media outlets to strengthen coverage of climate history.
Pam Radtke Russell is an editor at Engineering News-Record in New Orleans and an expert on climate adaptation.