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Robert Henson UCAR Communications AMS Short Course: Covering Climate Change Science 21 June 2009 Tomorrow’s climate: a look back How weathercasters.

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Presentation on theme: "Robert Henson UCAR Communications AMS Short Course: Covering Climate Change Science 21 June 2009 Tomorrow’s climate: a look back How weathercasters."— Presentation transcript:

1 Robert Henson UCAR Communications AMS Short Course: Covering Climate Change Science 21 June 2009 Tomorrow’s climate: a look back How weathercasters and reporters have covered climate since 1950

2 The ultimate “station scientist” challenge limited time limited time perceived lack of authority perceived lack of authority insufficient information insufficient information insufficient support from station managers insufficient support from station managers personal skepticism about climate change personal skepticism about climate change Some factors in the mix... Many weathercasters say little or nothing about climate change. Some are vocal contrarians. Others talk about the mainstream science and its implications.

3 This may sound familiar... “Was this past mild winter just part of a natural cycle?... Is the warming-up process worldwide or merely regional?” “Is the World Getting Warmer?” Saturday Evening Post July 1, 1950

4 Science and weathercasting Late 1940s and early 1950s: Early broadcast meteorologists call on cartoons and other techniques they used in World War II flight training. As they present tomorrow’s forecast, they also teach the public how weather works. (Courtesy Roger Turner.)

5 Science and weathercasting “The visual style of TV weather evolved from mating wartime educational practices with synoptic maps... under the constraints of low-resolution TV screens.” Roger Turner, University of Pennsylvania doctoral student in history of science Late 1940s and early 1950s: Early broadcast meteorologists call on cartoons and other techniques they used in World War II flight training. As they present tomorrow’s forecast, they also teach the public how weather works.

6 Enter the entertainers Mid-1950s: Puppets, clowns, and “weathergirls” threaten the scientific aspirations of broadcast meteorologists. Jan Crockett, WABC (New York), models an outfit appropriate for Indian summer while playing the ukelele. (Vogue Pattern Book, 1962, p. 57. Image courtesy Roger Turner.)

7 The AMS responds Mid- to late 1950s: The AMS develops its Seal of Approval program, introduced in “ “We think the weather should be discussed with dignity. Dignity, not dullness. We think many TV ‘weathermen’ make a caricature of what is essentially a serious and scientific occupation.” Francis Davis, “Weather Is No Laughing Matter?” TV Guide (23 July 1955), 10.

8 Professionalizing the field 1960s and 1970s: The growth of the AMS Seal helps keep science- based approaches to weathercasting alive in the face of “happy news” Still, there’s little discussion of climate per se. Fred Gadomski, “Weather World,” early 1980s. (Photo courtesy Paul Knight, Penn State.)

9 The great global cooling scare “Climatological Cassandras are becoming increasingly apprehensive, for the weather aberrations they are studying may be the harbinger of another ice age.” TIME magazine June 24, 1974

10 There was more to the story... “... a strong case can be made that the present cooling trend will, within a decade or so, give way to a pronounced warming induced by carbon dioxide.” “Climatic Change: Are We on the Brink of a Pronounced Global Warming?” W.S. Broecker, Science 189, 460 (1975) “The Myth of the 1970s Global Cooling Scientific Consensus,” Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society 89 (September 2008), 1325–1337. Although the 1970s cooling got a lot of press, the bulk of climate scientists were more concerned about warming than cooling.

11 Technology arrives 1980s into 1990s: The advent of computerized graphics transforms the look of TV weather—and strengthens the role of broadcast meteorologists as sci-tech experts. Weather Channel graphics, circa (Photos courtesy TWC.)

12 Jim Hansen testifies before Congress on June 23, 1988, with record heat in D.C., drought along the Mississippi, and forest fires in the west: “99% confidence” that long-term warming under way; greenhouse gases probably to blame. Media frenzy ensues; global warming becomes a household phrase. 1988: Firestorm

13 Concern is bipartisan “Those who think we are powerless to do anything about the greenhouse effect forget about the ‘White House effect.’ ” George H.W. Bush, on the campaign trail August 1988

14 Concern is bipartisan “... We have unwittingly begun a massive experiment with the system of the planet itself. ” Margaret Thatcher, British prime minister, speaking to UK Royal Society September 27, 1988

15 Too hot to handle? During the 1990s, TV weathercasters are largely silent about climate change. “It will be interesting to see what television does as weather loses its innocence.... The happy atmosphere of the weather report will be difficult to maintain, for the weather can no longer serve as a haven from [human] history.” Jay Rosen, “Don’t Need a Weatherman?” Harper’s Magazine (April 1989), 35.

16 1990s: “Dueling scientists” take over the climate-change dialogue. Why? Journalism’s roots in political reporting Industry lobbying Weather coverage that pushes a single cause and effect (“yes, it is” vs. “no, it isn’t”)

17 The White House summit “ ‘I don't ask for you to advocate or do anything outside of whatever your own convictions are,’’ Mr. Clinton said this afternoon, as the skies cleared and the East Room brightened.” “Clinton Nudges TV Weather Forecasters on Warming,” New York Times, 2 October 1997 Many weathercasters address the topic on air for the first time— but not everyone takes an identical message to viewers. October 1997: More than 100 weathercasters trek to the White House to meet with Bill Clinton and Al Gore and get briefed on climate change.

18 The White House summit “Some were careful to distance themselves from the White House's arguments. Global warming is ‘a theory that is widely accepted, but it's still under debate in the scientific community,’ Cecily Tynan told viewers of WPVI in Philadelphia.” “Clinton Nudges TV Weather Forecasters on Warming,” New York Times, 2 October 1997 October 1997: More than 100 weathercasters trek to the White House to meet with Bill Clinton and Al Gore and get briefed on climate change. Many weathercasters address the topic on air for the first time— but not everyone takes an identical message to viewers.

19 Early 2000s: Yesterday’s news? National concerns shift after 9/11 attacks, Mideast wars Energy remains relatively cheap No immediate climate catastrophe

20 Four years, four big events 2003: the Euro heat wave Europeans newly motivated to address climate change 2004: The Day after Tomorrow Public interest spikes—but will it last? 2006: An Inconvenient Truth Gore’s landmark film and book puts global warming in a new spotlight 2005: Katrina Along with fresh research, it brought climate- change risks home to many

21 2005–06: a major shift in US media

22 TWC’s “100 Biggest Weather Moments” series (April 2007): “global warming” ranks #1 The Weather Channel takes some big steps

23 The evolution of TWC’s position statements on climate change August 2001: “... it is likely that at least some of the current warming is a result of human activities.” December 2003: there is “strong evidence that a significant portion of the current warming is a result of human activities.” December 2005 and today: there is “strong evidence that the majority of the warming over the past century is a result of human activities.”

24 Growth of AMS Station Scientist program (including workshops like this one!) Local weathercasters and climate change: what’s new?

25 Blogs and other online resources A tremendous way to deliver enhanced climate-change background to viewers while adding a personal touch

26 Online tools for continuing education The COMET/NEEF distance learning course “Climate Change: Fitting the Pieces Together,” designed for broadcast mets, debuted in May. See:meted.ucar.edu Also from NEEF: Also from NEEF: Local weathercasters and climate change: what’s new?

27 Enjoy the conference! For a wide variety of resources, see UCAR’s website for broadcast meteorologists:

28 Enjoy the conference! For a wide variety of resources, see UCAR’s website for broadcast meteorologists:


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