Weathercasters hone climate change reporting skills

NCAR hosts workshop for broadcast meteorologists

March 11, 2016 | Nearly 30 broadcast meteorologists from around the country converged on NCAR earlier this month to learn how to communicate climate change issues more effectively.

"A number of broadcast meteorologists are looking to find ways to educate their viewers about the local impacts of climate change," said Edward Maibach, director of George Mason University's Center for Climate Change Communication. "The point of the workshop was to help the weathercasters become more competent and confident in the skill of climate change education."

NCAR scientist Claudia Tebaldi discussing climate change science with broadcast mets.
NCAR scientist Claudia Tebaldi explaining climate change computer models to a group of broadcast meteorologists. (Photo by Ed Maibach, George Mason University.)

The intensive one-day "Climate Matters" workshop was sponsored by George Mason University – using National Science Foundation grant funds and private donations – and hosted in partnership with Climate Central, Yale University, the American Meteorological Society, NASA, and NOAA. NCAR|UCAR Communications helped line up speakers. Maibach said this is the first workshop specifically for meteorologists who participate in Climate Central's Climate Matters program.

Lawrence Buja (RAL) welcomed the broadcasters at an evening reception, emphasizing the importance of their role in communicating climate; Gerald Meehl and Claudia Tebaldi (both CGD) gave presentations on the science of climate change. Kevin Trenberth (CGD), Jeff Lazo (RAL), and Andrew Gettelman (CGD) also were involved in hosting and in advisory roles. Weather Underground blogger Bob Henson, formerly of NCAR|UCAR Communications, talked about the impacts of El Nĩno, and Seth Geiger of SmithGeiger discussed effective climate change reporting. The meteorologists produced 30- and 60-second broadcast pieces as a final exercise.

More than 90 percent of 464 broadcast meteorologists who responded to a George Mason survey in 2015 agree climate change is occurring and, of that group, nearly three-quarters said they believe human activity is responsible for at least half of the impacts. In her remarks, Tebaldi, who provides scientific oversight for the Climate Matters program, told the group that computer models show that human activity is the dominant driver of a warming climate.

Many of the broadcasters who attended the workshop talked about the challenge of communicating climate change science at a time when political sensitivities linger, station management is averse to upsetting viewers, and weathercasters face severe time constraints. Social media has become a way for weathercasters to provide additional detail.

Megan Parry, a meteorologist with KGTV in San Diego, said her audience is keenly interested in understanding the changes they are experiencing in weather and climate, such as the area's four-year drought.

"People want to know whether this is the new normal," Parry said. "That's the question they want us to answer."

Jeff Smith, Science Writer and Public Information Officer