Menus Subscribe Search

Follow us


Forecast: Warm With a Chance of Denial

• February 16, 2010 • 2:22 PM

Despite the weight of scientific evidence, many TV meteorologists are global warming skeptics, survey shows

Do weathermen themselves “know which way the wind blows”?

A recent national survey of TV weather forecasters, all of them meteorologists, reveals that nearly 1 in 3 believes “global warming is a scam,” 1 in 4 is not sure, and three out of four are not convinced that the warming of the Earth since 1950 is man-made.

As reported in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, the admittedly small survey sample of 121 forecasters was dominated by climate change skeptics who questioned the findings of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the world authority on global warming, and the conclusions of the professional society to which they belong.

“While healthy skepticism is a hallmark of journalism, these data suggest a deeper cynicism among some on-air forecasters,” wrote Kris Wilson, a former weather anchor who performed the survey and wrote the report. Wilson is a geographer and a lecturer in the School of Journalism at the University of Texas at Austin.

“While some said they trusted the IPCC, others said that that organization was ‘the most political’ and discredited its entire body of evidence,” Wilson wrote. “While some considered former Vice President Al Gore as a credible expert, others singled him out for special invectives and disdain, with one of them referring to him as a ‘snake-oil salesman.’ Ranking third in the category (12%) of ‘whom do you trust’ was ‘Myself.'”

Gore and the intergovernmental panel shared the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize for their work in establishing the scientific foundation for man-made climate change and educating the public about it.

Also in 2007, in recognition of the “vast weight of current scientific understanding” expressed in the panel’s reports, the American Meteorological Society issued an “information statement” concluding that “the atmosphere, ocean and land surface are warming” and that “humans have significantly contributed to this change.”

The survey was sponsored by the National Environmental Education Foundation, a nonprofit group founded by Congress, to help guide online courses on climate change for broadcast meteorologists. Nearly three-quarters of those surveyed said they were comfortable in their role as the resident scientist at their TV stations, but only one out of five has ever produced a story in the field on climate change. Forty-one percent cited “too much scientific uncertainty” as the “greatest obstacle to reporting on climate change.”

When asked about the IPCC’s conclusion that “warming of the climate system is unequivocal,” only 45 percent of the weathercasters said they agreed with that assessment, and 34 percent flat-out disagreed. Asked to respond to the panel’s conclusion that “most of the warming since 1950 is very likely human-induced,” half disagreed and another 25 percent had no opinion.

As reported by Miller-McCune.com, Wilson has written previously about how TV weathercasters are “potentially prominent science communicators” who enjoy top audience credibility scores on the air. They spend a lot of time giving talks to community and school groups, which is where they discuss climate change most often. Yet a number do not have degrees in meteorology or atmospheric science, as Wilson’s earlier research shows.

Miller-McCune.com has also reported on a 2009 Rasmussen Reports survey showing that while 82 percent of scientists attribute climate change to human activity, only 41 percent of Americans overall agree with that assessment.

It’s no wonder: They’ve probably been listening to their local weatherman.

Melinda Burns
Former Miller-McCune staff writer Melinda Burns was previously a senior writer for the Santa Barbara News-Press, covering immigration, urban planning, science, and the environment.

More From Melinda Burns

A weekly roundup of the best of Pacific Standard and PSmag.com, delivered straight to your inbox.

Recent Posts

September 23 • 2:00 AM

The Portlandia Paradox

Oregon’s largest city is full of overeducated and underemployed young people.


September 22 • 4:00 PM

The Overly Harsh and Out-of-Date Law That’s So Difficult on Debtors

A 1968 federal law allows collectors to take 25 percent of debtors’ wages, or every penny in their bank accounts.


September 22 • 2:00 PM

NFL Players Are More Law Abiding Than Average Men

According to records kept by USA Today, 2.53 percent of players are arrested in any given year.


September 22 • 12:00 PM

Freaking Out About Outliers: When the Polls Are Way Off

The idea of such a small number of people being used to predict how millions will vote sometimes irks observers, but it’s actually a very reliable process—most of the time.


September 22 • 10:00 AM

The Imagined Sex Worker

The stigma against black sex workers can reinforce stigmas against all black women and all sex workers.


September 22 • 9:54 AM

All-Girls Schools Don’t Make Girls More Competitive

Parents, not educational setting, may be the key.


September 22 • 8:00 AM

The NFL, the Military, and the Problem With Masculine Institutions

Both the NFL and the U.S. military cultivate and reward a form of hyper-violent masculinity. The consequences of doing so have never been more obvious.


September 22 • 6:00 AM

Zombies in the Quad: The Trouble With Elite Education

William Deresiewicz’s new book, Excellent Sheep, is in part, he says, a letter to his younger, more privileged self.


September 22 • 4:02 AM

You’re Going to Die! So Buy Now!

New research finds inserting reminders of our mortality into advertisements is a surprisingly effective strategy to sell products.



September 19 • 4:00 PM

In Your Own Words: What It’s Like to Get Sued Over Past Debts

Some describe their surprise when they were sued after falling behind on medical and credit card bills.



September 19 • 1:26 PM

For Charitable Products, Sex Doesn’t Sell

Sexy women may turn heads, but for pro-social and charitable products, they won’t change minds.


September 19 • 12:00 PM

Carbon Taxes Really Do Work

A new study shows that taxing carbon dioxide emissions could actually work to reduce greenhouse gases without any negative effects on employment and revenues.


September 19 • 10:00 AM

Why the Poor Remain Poor

A follow-up to “How Being Poor Makes You Poor.”


September 19 • 9:03 AM

Why Science Won’t Defeat Ebola

While science will certainly help, winning the battle against Ebola is a social challenge.


September 19 • 8:00 AM

Burrito Treason in the Lone Star State

Did Meatless Mondays bring down Texas Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples?


September 19 • 7:31 AM

Savor Good Times, Get Through the Bad Ones—With Categories

Ticking off a category of things to do can feel like progress or a fun time coming to an end.


September 19 • 6:00 AM

The Most Untouchable Man in Sports

How the head of the governing body for the world’s most popular sport freely wields his wildly incompetent power.


September 19 • 4:00 AM

The Danger of Dining With an Overweight Companion

There’s a good chance you’ll eat more unhealthy food.



September 18 • 4:00 PM

Racial Disparity in Imprisonment Inspires White People to Be Even More Tough on Crime

White Americans are more comfortable with punitive and harsh policing and sentencing when they imagine that the people being policed and put in prison are black.



September 18 • 2:00 PM

The Wages of Millions Are Being Seized to Pay Past Debts

A new study provides the first-ever tally of how many employees lose up to a quarter of their paychecks over debts like unpaid credit card or medical bills and student loans.


September 18 • 12:00 PM

When Counterfeit and Contaminated Drugs Are Deadly

The cost and the crackdown, worldwide.


Follow us


All-Girls Schools Don’t Make Girls More Competitive

Parents, not educational setting, may be the key.

For Charitable Products, Sex Doesn’t Sell

Sexy women may turn heads, but for pro-social and charitable products, they won't change minds.

Carbon Taxes Really Do Work

A new study shows that taxing carbon dioxide emissions could actually work to reduce greenhouse gases without any negative effects on employment and revenues.

Savor Good Times, Get Through the Bad Ones—With Categories

Ticking off a category of things to do can feel like progress or a fun time coming to an end.

How to Build a Better Election

Elimination-style voting is harder to fiddle with than majority rule.

The Big One

One in three tourists to Jamaica reports getting harassed; half of them are hassled to buy drugs. September/October 2014 new-big-one-4

Copyright © 2014 by Pacific Standard and The Miller-McCune Center for Research, Media, and Public Policy. All Rights Reserved.