"Global Warming": Stirs a Storm for. Weather Forecasters

By Corrigan, Don | St. Louis Journalism Review, March-April 2009 | Go to article overview

"Global Warming": Stirs a Storm for. Weather Forecasters


Corrigan, Don, St. Louis Journalism Review


Scientists from around the globe warned in March that irreversible climate shifts are moving to worst case scenario. Despite the alarm, most weather forecasters still avoid any mention of global warming on their nightly TV broadcasts.

Eric Aldrich, a meteorologist at KOMU-TV, the NBC affiliate in Columbia associated with the University of Missouri School of Journalism, doesn't see a need to get into the climate shift subject on broadcasts. Aldrich believes there is not enough time to mention global warming on TV weather segments and it is too controversial a topic.

"Global warming is a climate issue and is not related to the weather per se," said Aldrich. "It really has no place in a local weather cast."

A survey of Missouri TV weather forecasters reveals a wide range of views on the issue of global warming and whether it is appropriate to cover occasionally as part of the daily weather fare for local audiences.

Hundreds of scientists at the March 2009 world climate change conference in Copenhagen insisted that evidence for global warming is irrefutable in the melting glaciers, loss of ice sheets and increase in sea levels. Some of those scientists argue that meteorologists, who often are the only reporters on TV with science backgrounds, should sound the alarm as part of their responsibility to their audiences.

Despite the scientists' assertions, there is some reluctance locally and nationally to wade into the global-warming controversy. The reluctance to explain the impact of global-warming on weather in TV newscasts seems especially pronounced in Missouri. That may be so because conservative Missourians, who embrace anti-environmentalist Rush Limbaugh as one of their own, sneer at the idea of climate change as an effect of carbon emissions.

Dave Snider with KY3-TV, the local NBC affiliate in Springfield, is one Missouri meteorologist who has no problem mentioning the issue of global warming on TV or during his forays into the local community.

"We're battling the talk radio show nonsense, and the anti-climate change propaganda in some local churches, that can be simply overwhelming," said Snider. "If you mention climate change or global warming, snickers erupt and smirks draw over faces in the room.

"Moreover, the local effects seem hard to quantify anyway," added Snider. "That makes it very difficult to show viewers, 'here is climate change in the Ozarks.'"

Nevertheless, Snider said it is possible to point to more variability in weather patterns in the Ozarks, and to changes in habitat, which serve as signs that global warming is, indeed, having some obvious effect in southern Missouri.

"I try to find simple things to point to," said Snider. "The increase in armadillos, road runners and the scissor-tailed flycatcher. All are moving north as their habitat moves northward. And magnolia trees seem more hardy in southern Missouri than I ever remember as a child."

St. Louis meteorologists

Longtime St. Louis weatherman Dave Murray of KTVI-TV, FOX2, said he prefers to talk about climate change and weather cycles rather than global warming. Murray said, "The climate is always changing and has been since day one" and will continue to do so.

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"We have been in a warmer-than-average pattern for the last 10 to 15 years," said Murray. "That cycle is now just starting to flip to a colder-than-average pattern that will last 15 to 20 years, although there will be some blips in this pattern."

Cindy Preszler, chief meteorologist for KSDK-TV, Channel 5, said she thinks it is, in fact, appropriate to mention global warming and its impact on weather in TV forecasts. She said the station has occasionally done just that.

"I believe our weather will become more drastic ... hotter and dryer," said Preszler. "There will be more severe weather. …

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