Analysis

TV weathercasters are more convinced than ever climate change is happening and that human activities are a major contributor suggest the results of a new report.

More than 90 percent of 464 broadcast meteorologists who responded to a 2015 survey agree climate change is happening and, of those, 74 percent believe human activity is at least half responsible, states “A National Survey of Broadcast Meteorologists About Climate Change: Initial Findings”, from the George Mason University (GMU) Center for Climate Change Communication.

These numbers represent about a 10 percent increase from survey results published by GMU in 2011 when 82 percent of respondents agreed global warming was happening and, of those, about 65 percent felt human activity was at least half to blame.

“The current findings do suggest a higher level of engagement in climate change among members of the broadcast meteorology community,” said Ed Maibach, lead author of the report.

Changes in survey wording, however, make it impossible to say how significant the changes in views are.  “We don’t know if the community has changed, or if we are now merely asking better questions,” Maibach said.

The 2011 survey used the terminology “global warming” whereas the 2015 survey uses “climate change” based on the American Meteorological Society definition. The use of different terms introduces some uncertainty when making direct comparisons between surveys.

Dan Satterfield, a broadcast meteorologist in Salisbury, Maryland, blogged that the report results echo what he has observed anecdotally among his peers: More television weathercasters are accepting climate science findings.  “I’m not the only one who has noticed it, because I frequently hear talk about it from colleagues at various conferences,” Satterfield wrote.

Survey results show a large majority (over 75 percent) of broadcast meteorologists now believe climate change will affect the weather in their regions over the next 50 years, from increasing heat waves to hurricanes.


(From report: A National Survey of Broadcast Meteorologists About Climate Change: Initial Findings)

But broadcast meteorologists views about the human role in climate change still lag those expressed by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), an international group of climate scientists, which in 2013 concluded “it is extremely likely [greater than 95 percent chance] that human influence has been the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century.”

About half of broadcast meteorologists have not fully bought into the IPCC’s conclusion that most to all recent climate change is human-induced, survey results show:


(From report: A National Survey of Broadcast Meteorologists About Climate Change: Initial Findings)

Within the community of television weathercasters, there has long been a contingent unconvinced human activities are substantially contributing to climate change. As recently as 2010, a quarter of broadcast meteorologists agreed with the statement “global warming is a scam” according to a previous GMU survey. At the time, the New York Times wrote about the “divide” between broadcast meteorologists and the climate science community:

“In a sense the question is who owns the atmosphere: the people who predict it every day or the people who predict it for the next 50 years?” said Bob Henson, a science writer for the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research, who trained as a meteorologist and has followed the divide between the two groups.

Perhaps this divide has shrunk as groups like Climate Central and the Yale Forum on Climate Change and The Media have worked to educate broadcast meteorologists about climate science and the tools used to monitor and predict climate change.

Lending a helping hand, the globe has experienced its warmest year on record (2014) while summer Arctic sea ice shrunk to a record low (in 2012).

Meanwhile, broadcast meteorologists appear to be stepping up climate change communication efforts on-air, on the web and in community appearances. The 2015 GMU survey reports nearly 7 in 10 TV weathercasters believe it is appropriate to present the science of climate change to audiences.

Climate Central has developed a program called Climate Matters, which provides broadcast meteorologists with a range of tools for educating viewers about climate change.

“We are seeing a growing demand for Climate Matters content, where we are now creating analyses and visuals for over 200 meteorologists nationwide,” said Bernadette Placky, Climate Matters program manager, a co-author of the George Mason 2015 report, and formerly a broadcast meteorologist herself.

Key findings from George Mason 2015 survey…

(From report: A National Survey of Broadcast Meteorologists About Climate Change: Initial Findings)
(From report: A National Survey of Broadcast Meteorologists About Climate Change:
Initial Findings)