After the remnants of Hurricane Ida dumped historic levels of rain in the northeast last year, ABC News Chief Meteorologist Ginger Zee stood in front of a collapsed bridge in New Jersey and gave “Good Morning America” viewers a stark warning.
“Man-made” global warming does not cause storms like Hurricane Ida, Ms Zee said. But the higher humidity levels over the oceans make them more destructive.
“Extreme events that would have already happened,” she said, “are going to get more extreme.”
The profession of television weather reporter evolves with the weather.
For decades, the men and women who have made their most educated guesses about the weather have provided respite from grim reporting, often playing a comedic foil to the anchors. Before Willard Scott became the hottest weatherman of the 1980s on NBC’s “Today Show,” he played Ronald McDonald and Bozo the Clown.
But Ms Zee and her colleagues see themselves as hunting down perhaps the most serious story of our time. Increasingly destructive weather patterns had already given television weather forecasters a more visceral presence in the lives of viewers. In recent years, however, they have often gone out of their way to explicitly remind viewers that man-made climate change is a real, disruptive force that has put lives and the environment at risk.
“As a scientist and someone who understands the atmosphere, I not only have a passion but a real connection to climate science,” said Ms Zee, who majored in meteorology at the University of Valparaiso, in an interview.
On CNN, meteorologist Derek Van Dam dove into international politics in October with a report on the link between climate change and migration crises. The Weather Channel announced last summer that it would increase its coverage of climate change. Even local broadcasters known for their five-day forecasts no longer shy away from the topic.
“During weather, you generally want to give people what they’re looking for at that time,” said Jeff Berardelli, who joined the CBS affiliate in Tampa in November after serving as national weatherman for CBS News. “But when the opportunity arises, I will put it in its climatic context.”
In an article published on Friday about the impending weekend snowstorm in the northeast, Mr Berardelli reported that warming waters off the northeast were likely the cause of much more frequent major winter weather events. .
Al Roker, the weather anchor and star of NBC’s “Today” show and longtime co-host, said NBC News’ climate unit – the new name for the weather unit as of 2019 – n don’t try to “force the problem or beat yourself up over directing it.” Instead, he said, the group draws careful correlations between severe weather and climate change.
In 2021, the unit offered more than 50 segments about climate change, unrelated to weather forecasts – about drought in the West, wet summers, rapidly intensifying hurricanes – compared to about 20 in 2019, Mr. Roker said.
This year marks the 25th anniversary of a White House summit of more than 100 national and local television forecasters. Then-President Bill Clinton hoped they would communicate the realities of global warming to the public.
But many meteorologists and climatologists interviewed for this article said the trend for weather figures to speak candidly about man-made global warming was much more recent, as the consequences of climate change have become more pronounced. The topic has remained politically contentious, with many conservatives — including former President Donald J. Trump — dismissive of the overwhelming scientific consensus.
Meteorologist Amy Freeze (her first name, she noted) said Fox Weather, the 24-hour streaming channel launched in October, recognized the problem. The channel is set to to resume Fox Business airs Saturday morning and afternoon (as well as an early morning hour on Fox News) in deference to the weekend storm. She conceded that the subject is charged “in the political arena”.
“Our job is to help people live better lives and to give them information and tools they can use here and now,” Ms Freeze said. “So we’re going to cover climate change.”
James Spann, a meteorologist at the ABC affiliate in Birmingham, Alabama, wrote in a Medium article last year that he mostly avoids explicit mentions of the weather to avoid alienating some viewers. “Say anything about the climate and you lose half your audience,” he said.
Other forecasters insisted that the positive responses for climate coverage far outweighed the negative responses. “I don’t look at my position as a bullying pulpit,” Mr. Roker said. “It’s informative. You can open more eyes by simply presenting facts.
“Our management and producers don’t underestimate our audience,” he added. “I think politicians can.”
More than 1,000 TV weather forecasters receive free weekly bursts of news, data and visuals about the links between weather and climate change from Climate Central, a nonprofit that works with journalists to raise awareness the facts about climate change. Forecasters, said Bernadette Woods Placky, Climate Central’s chief meteorologist, “have been at the forefront of making those connections with the public.”
Several meteorologists said they used Climate Central locations and materials on air. Elizabeth Robaina, the meteorologist for the Telemundo affiliate in San Juan, PR, said she used her charts in Spanish. vs
Emily Gracey Miller, until last year the meteorologist at ABC’s Charleston, SC branch, praised Climate Central for responsibly conveying climate information in a relevant, non-didactical way.
“They were saying things like, ‘Here’s how warmer temperatures in the last decade have influenced beer production,'” she said.
Ms Miller’s former channel is owned by Sinclair Broadcast Group, which in the past has instructed its stations to broadcast politically conservative news. Ms Miller said she felt capable of discussing human-caused climate change on air. A representative for Sinclair did not respond to a request for comment.
Ms Zee, the first female chief meteorologist for a major broadcast network, said she became interested in the weather as a child watching storms develop over Lake Michigan. As a teenager, she saw a future version of herself in the storm-chasing meteorologist played by Helen Hunt in the 1996 film “Twister.”
Now she hosts a recurring feature on climate change with the title “It’s not too late,” including a 50-minute special around the last Earth Day airing on Hulu. She recently added the titles of chief climate correspondent and editor of a new ABC News unit devoted to climate change. The topics she reports on include those that are weather-only, such as carbon renewal technologies.
“Someone said, ‘Why did you become such a lawyer?'” Ms Zee said. “Well, I’ve always been in love with the atmosphere, attentive to it, respecting it. But, most of the time, it’s just science. In the end, I’m just telling you the science.