Menus Subscribe Search

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

July 29 • 4:00 PM

Are Children Seeking Refuge Turning More Americans Against Undocumented Immigrants?

A look at Pew Research Center survey data collected in February and July of this year.


July 29 • 2:00 PM

Under Water: The EPA’s Ongoing Struggle to Combat Pollution

Frustration and inaction color efforts to enforce the Clean Water Act.


July 29 • 12:40 PM

America’s Streams Are Awash With Pesticides Banned in Europe

You may have never heard of clothianidin, but it’s probably in your local river.


July 29 • 12:00 PM

Mining Your Genetic Data for Profit: The Dark Side of Biobanking

One woman’s personal story raises deep questions about the stark limits of current controls in a nascent industry at the very edge of the frontier of humans and technology.


July 29 • 11:23 AM

Where Should You Go to College?


July 29 • 10:29 AM

How Textbooks Have Changed the Face of War

War is more personal, less glorious, and more hellish in modern textbooks than in the past. But there’s still room for improvement.


July 29 • 10:00 AM

The Monolingual American: Why Are Those Outside of the U.S. Encouraging It?

If you are an American trying to learn German in a large German town or city, you will mostly hear English in return, even when you give sprechen your best shot.


July 29 • 8:00 AM

The Elusive Link Between Casinos and Crime

With a study of the impact of Philadelphia’s SugarHouse Casino, a heated debate gets fresh ammunition.


July 29 • 6:00 AM

What Are the Benefits of Locking Yourself in a Tank and Floating in Room-Temperature Saltwater?

After three sessions in an isolation tank, the answer’s still not quite clear.


July 29 • 4:00 AM

Harry Potter and the Battle Against Bigotry

Kids who identify with the hero of J.K. Rowling’s popular fantasy novels hold more open-minded attitudes toward immigrants and gays.


July 29 • 2:00 AM

Geographic Scale and Talent Migration: Washington, D.C.’s New Silver Line

Around the country, suburbs are fighting with the urban core over jobs and employees.


July 28 • 4:00 PM

Border Fences Make Unequal Neighbors and Enforce Social Inequality

What would it look like if you combined Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza, demographically speaking? What about the United States and Guatemala?


July 28 • 2:00 PM

Are Patient Privacy Laws Being Misused to Protect Medical Centers?

A 1996 law known as HIPAA has been cited to scold a mom taking a picture of her son in a hospital, to keep information away from police investigating a possible rape at a nursing home, and to threaten VA whistleblowers.


July 28 • 12:00 PM

Does Internet Addiction Excuse the Death of an Infant?

In Love Child, documentary filmmaker Valerie Veatch explores how virtual worlds encourage us to erase the boundary between digital and real, no matter the consequences.


July 28 • 11:11 AM

NASA Could Build Entire Spacecrafts in Space Using 3-D Printers

This year NASA will experiment with 3-D printing small objects in space. That could mark the beginning of a gravity-free manufacturing revolution.


July 28 • 10:00 AM

Hell Isn’t for Real

You may have seen pictures of the massive crater in Siberia. It unfortunately—or fortunately—does not lead to the netherworld.


July 28 • 8:00 AM

Why Isn’t Obama More Popular?

It takes a while for people to notice that things are going well, particularly when they’ve been bad for so long.


July 28 • 7:45 AM

The Most Popular Ways to Share Good and Bad Personal News

Researchers rank the popularity of all of the different methods we have for telling people about our lives, from Facebook to face-to-face.


July 28 • 6:00 AM

Hams Without Ends and Cats Tied to Trees: How We Create Traditions With Dubious Origins

Does it really matter if the reason for why you give money to newlyweds is based on a skewed version of a story your parents once told you?


July 28 • 4:00 AM

A Belief in ‘Oneness’ Is Equated With Pro-Environment Behavior

New research finds a link between concern for the environment and belief in the concept of universal interconnectedness.


July 25 • 4:00 PM

Flying Blind: The View From 30,000 Feet Puts Everything in Perspective

Next time you find yourself in an airplane, consider keeping your phone turned off and the window open.


July 25 • 2:00 PM

Trophy Scarves: Race, Gender, and the Woman-as-Prop Trope

Social inequality unapologetically laid bare.


July 25 • 1:51 PM

Confusing Population Change With Migration

A lot of population change is baked into a region from migration that happened decades ago.


July 25 • 1:37 PM

Do Not Tell Your Kids That Eating Vegetables Will Make Them Stronger

Instead, hand them over in silence. Or, market them as the most delicious snack known to mankind.



Follow us


Subscribe Now

America’s Streams Are Awash With Pesticides Banned in Europe

You may have never heard of clothianidin, but it's probably in your local river.

How Textbooks Have Changed the Face of War

War is more personal, less glorious, and more hellish in modern textbooks than in the past. But there’s still room for improvement.

NASA Could Build Entire Spacecrafts in Space Using 3-D Printers

This year NASA will experiment with 3-D printing small objects in space. That could mark the beginning of a gravity-free manufacturing revolution.

The Most Popular Ways to Share Good and Bad Personal News

Researchers rank the popularity of all of the different methods we have for telling people about our lives, from Facebook to face-to-face.

Do Not Tell Your Kids That Eating Vegetables Will Make Them Stronger

Instead, hand them over in silence. Or, market them as the most delicious snack known to mankind.

The Big One

One in two full-time American fast-food workers' families are enrolled in public assistance programs, at a cost of $7 billion per year. July/August 2014

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