Current Weather
The Spy FM

Forecasting Climate With A Chance Of Backlash

Filed by KOSU News in US News.
February 19, 2013

When it comes to climate change, Americans place great trust in their local TV weather caster, which has led climate experts to see huge potential for public education.

The only problem? Polls show most weather presenters don’t know much about climate science, and many who do are fearful of talking about something so polarizing.

In fact, if you have heard a weathercaster speak on climate change, it’s likely been to deny it. John Coleman, in San Diego, and Anthony Watts, of Watts Up With That?, are among a group of vocal diehards, cranking out blog posts and videos countering climate science. But even many meteorologists who don’t think it’s all a hoax still profoundly distrust climate models.

“They get reminded each and every day anytime their models don’t prove to be correct,” says Ed Maibach, who directs the Center for Climate Change Communication at George Mason University, and has carried out several surveys of TV weather casters.

“For them, the whole notion of projecting what the climate will be 30, 50, a hundred years from now, they’ve got a fairly high degree of skepticism.”

And yet, Maibach has found many meteorologists would like to learn more, and would like to educate their viewers. A few years back he hatched a plan, and found a willing partner in an unlikely place.

Prepared For A Backlash

“I loved it. That’s exactly what I wanted to do,” says Jim Gandy, chief meteorologist at WLTX in Columbia, S.C.

Gandy had actually begun reading up on climate change several years earlier, when — to his surprise — a couple of geology professors at a party asked whether he thought global warming was real. Gandy was disturbed by what he learned, and game to go on air with it, even in what he calls a “dark red” state with a lot of “resistance” to the idea of climate change.

“We talked about it at length,” he says,” and we were prepared for a backlash.”

Researchers at George Mason University, with the help of Climate Central, tracked down information specific to Columbia, something many local meteorologists, with multiple weather reports a day, simply have no time to do. They also created graphics for Gandy to use whenever the local weather gave him a peg. And Gandy’s local TV station gave him something precious: 90 seconds of air time in the evening newscast.

The segment was called “Climate Matters,” and Gandy kicked it off in late July 2010. He dove in deep, packing his limited time with tidbits usually buried in scientific papers. One segment looked at what Columbia’s summer temperatures are projected to be in 40 years. Another explained how scientists can track manmade global warming, since carbon dioxide from fossil fuels has a specific chemical footprint.

Gandy also made the issue personal for viewers, reporting on how climate change will make pollen and poison ivy grow faster and more potent. He says people stopped him on the street about that.

And the backlash? There were a few cranky comments. “To my knowledge,” Gandy says, “there was at least one phone call from someone saying they needed to fire me.” But generally, the series went over well.

Better Informed Viewers

Meanwhile, researcher Ed Maibach polled people before Climate Matters began, then again a year into it. He says compared to viewers of other local stations, those who watched Jim Gandy gained a more scientifically grounded understanding of climate change, from understanding that it’s largely caused by humans, that it’s happening here and now, and that it’s harmful.

“All of this is the kind of information that will help people, and help communities, make better decisions about how to adapt to a changing climate,” Maibach says.

Maibach hopes to expand the experiment, eventually making localized climate research and graphs available to meteorologists across the country. And there are other efforts to help weather forecasters become climate educators.

Last March, longtime Minnesota meteorologist Paul Douglas, founder of WeatherNationTV, posted an impassioned letter online urging his fellow Republicans to acknowledge that climate change is real.

“Other meteorologists actually e-ailed me and said thanks for giving voice to something I’ve been thinking, but was too afraid to say publicly,” he says.

Douglas is part of a group pushing to tighten certification standards for meteorologists.

“If you’re going to talk about climate science on the air,” he says, you would “need to learn about the real science, and not get it off a talk show radio program or a web site.”

After all, both he and Jim Gandy say it’s becoming harder to separate weather from climate. That means TV weather casters will be busier, and more closely followed, than ever. [Copyright 2013 NPR]

Leave a Reply

5AM to 9AM Morning Edition

Morning Edition

For more than two decades, NPR's Morning Edition has prepared listeners for the day ahead with two hours of up-to-the-minute news, background analysis, commentary, and coverage of arts and sports.

Listen Live Now!

9AM to 10AM The Takeaway

The Takeaway

A fresh alternative in morning news, "The Takeaway" provides a breadth and depth of world, national and regional news coverage that is unprecedented in public media.

View the program guide!

10AM to 11PM On Point

On Point

On Point unites distinct and provocative voices with passionate discussion as it confronts the stories that are at the center of what is important in the world today. Leaving no perspective unchallenged, On Point digs past the surface and into the core of a subject, exposing each of its real world implications.

View the program guide!

Upcoming Events in your area (Submit your event today!)

Streaming audio and podcasts

Stream KOSU on your smartphone

Phone Streaming

SmartPhone listening options on this page are intended for many iPhones, Blackberries, etc. with low-cost software applications available to listen to our full-time web streams, both News on KOSU-1 and Classical on KOSU-2.

Learn more about our complete range of streaming services

We're perfecting the patient experience - Stillwater Medical Center