In a marked break from earlier reticence driven by ignorance and fear of reprisal, TV weathercasters across the United States are becoming some of the nation’s most trusted, effective climate crisis educators, communicating both impacts and solutions in a non-partisan frame that speaks directly to local concerns.
The profession’s buy-in is such that “at the 100th annual meeting of the American Meteorological Society (AMS) in Boston earlier this month, a panel of broadcast meteorologists, climate communicators, and policy experts assembled to discuss how solutions to the climate crisis can be woven into TV weather reporting,” Grist reports. One weathercaster outreach program is reporting a 50-fold increase in local climate reporting in just eight years.
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The panel began with the recognition that “while wading into politics on the air can carry career risks for many meteorologists, weathercasters are also uniquely positioned to educate the public about climate solutions in a non-partisan way, whether that’s by delivering locally tailored forecasts of renewable power production or discussing climate resilience strategies in the wake of a major storm.”
Further buttressing their value as climate communicators, said panelist Ed Maibach, is the “consistency of relationship” a TV weather broadcaster typically has with an audience of loyal watchers.
But it is the “seismic shift” in levels of climate crisis knowledge among these local meteorologists that has made all the difference, says Grist. Whereas a 2011 survey of AMS members and the National Weather Association found fewer than 20% who were certain about the reality of anthropomorphic climate change (an uncertainty nurtured, in part, by an “aggressive misinformation campaign” by the climate-denying Heartland Institute, said Maibach), “by 2017 that figure had jumped to 80%”.
Grist also attributes much of the shift to Climate Matters, a climate reporting resource developed by the Princeton-based non-profit Climate Central, in collaboration with AMS and other academic and government partners. The program “includes graphics and interactives that TV meteorologists can use on air to easily illustrate, say, the linkages between an extreme weather event and climate change”. It also hosts “teaching sessions, workshops, and even conflict resolution meetings to bring more broadcasters onboard with the science of human-caused climate change.”
Climate Matters has been hugely successful, with Maibach telling Grist that “over the past eight years, weathercasters telling local stories about climate change has increased more than 50-fold.”
And many of those stories are about solutions. In South Bend, Indiana, ABC 57 News chief meteorologist Tom Coomes talked up the need for policy-makers to stop developers from building on flood-prone land. In Columbia, South Carolina, former WLTX chief meteorologist Jim Gandy has been running Gandy’s Garden, a popular breakout segment focused on the garden he planted for climate education purposes out back of the station in 2013. It has become, and remains, an enormously popular path to connect with loyal viewers on the impacts of and solutions to the climate crisis.
Other weathercasters make use of Weather Power, a Climate Matters resource first made available in 2018 that “consists of locally-tailored predictions of renewable power production based on installed wind and solar photovoltaic capacity and forecasted weather conditions.”
“Weather is going to be powering our future,” Climate Central meteorologist Sean Sublette told Grist. So Weather Power is about making that reality “kind of a normalized part of the conversation.”
Barriers do remain for TV meteorologists seeking to educate and reassure their viewers, most especially pushback from station managers still skittish about seeming too “political”. While communicating the physical science “is easy,” one chief meteorologist said during the AMS conference, navigating the politics “is a whole lot tougher”.
But those challenges aren’t going to stop Elisa Raffa, Grist writes. A morning meteorologist at KOLR 10 in Springfield, Missouri, Raffa is buoyed by the positive listener feedback she receives for reporting on how rising temperatures affect everything from crop yields to fermentation rates for local brewers. For 2020, Raffa has made “more local reporting on renewable energy and clean transit” her goal.
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