TV Weathercasters ask Climate Scientists:
How to Explain ‘Unequivocal’ Warming
… and Uncertainty

“This was not a debate or argument, but a chance to ask questions.”

That’s how veteran WDIV-TV, Detroit, meteorologist Paul Gross summed-up a recent American Meteorological Society four-day Denver, Co., conference bringing TV weathercasters and climate scientists together for information sharing.

Those expecting (and perhaps even hoping for) fireworks may have left disappointed, as attending meteorologists and weathercasters peppered the climate science panel with scant skepticism that climate change is occurring. Instead, most of the weathercasters during the half-day “FACTS About Our Changing Climate” Q&A workshop raised questions such as:

  • “What are some of the uncertainties in climate models?”
  • “Do we know why there have been carbon dioxide spikes in the past?”
  • “How do we explain to our viewers that climate change is ‘unequivocal’ while still presenting the uncertainty in its effects?”
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AMS Panel Discussion: Station Scientist Session
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NCAR’s Kevin Trenberth emphasizes a point.
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WDIV-TV Meteorologist Paul Gross.
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(All photos courtesy of NOAA photographer Will von Dauster)

AMS’s Committee on the Station Scientist, comprised of 12 broadcast meteorologists and meteorology and environmental science experts and chaired by Gross, developed and presented the session to help broadcast meteorologists “present the complexity of climate change in a meaningful manner to viewers.”

“Many people commented that it was some of the best education they’ve received on the climate change subject, and that they would like to see more of it in future conferences,” Gross said. That did not mean, however, that there were not some “secondhand grumblings” from some TV weathercasters concerned, in effect, that they were being provided a script, another observer commented.

Senior climate scientist and panelist Kevin Trenberth, of the National Center for Atmospheric Research, NCAR, pointed to several examples of issues he said broadcast meteorologists might address to improve public understanding of climate change: the role of natural variability, weather phenomena such as El Niño and La Niña, and strengths and limitations of climate models.

“It seems like there is scope for a number of short bits about various topics that could be folded into the news when appropriate, as certain events occur,” Trenberth said.

The Committee on the Station Scientist is planning to provide input to the National Environmental Education Foundation’s current collaboration with COMET® to develop a two-hour interactive online course on climate change for broadcast meteorologists. Broadcast meteorologists attending the AMS meeting were invited to provide input and suggestions for that effort.

AUTHORS

Sara Espinoza and Ann Posegate are employees of the National Environmental Education Foundation, which helped sponsor this workshop.

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