Health

In era of weather extremes, TV forecasters become climate educators

Last week, as Hurricane Ida weakened on its way out of Louisiana, CBS News meteorologist Jeff Berardelli tweeted out a warning. “This is not getting the attention it deserves,” he wrote, alongside a graphic of the storm system traveling toward the Northeast.

The next morning, he took to the air to talk about how climate change was making weather events like Ida far more dangerous, putting the storms “on steroids.” Later that day, more than a half a foot of rain fell in the New York region over just a few hours. More than 45 people died in floodwaters. 

Why We Wrote This

Weather forecasters didn’t used to talk much about climate change. Increasingly they are helping the public learn about the connection between climate science, extreme weather, and their own safety.

​What he did is part of a relatively recent trend. A decade ago, surveys showed that broadcast meteorologists, as a group, were more skeptical of climate change than the general public. But ​they’re moving closer in line with the attitudes of climate scientists overall.​ ​

“We’re seeing more and more broadcast meteorologists mention climate change and discuss how it’s impacting their local areas – the kinds of things that you would like to have the general public understand better,” says Keith Seitter, executive director of the American Meteorological Society. “They feel their viewers are seeing these changes. They are getting questions. You know, ‘Why is this happening?’”

Last week, as Hurricane Ida weakened on its way out of Louisiana, CBS News meteorologist Jeff Berardelli tweeted out a warning.

“This is not getting the attention it deserves,” he wrote, alongside a graphic of the storm system traveling toward the Northeast. “Many people are going to wind up with water in their homes or worse.”

The next morning, he took to the air to talk about how climate change was making weather events like Ida far more dangerous, putting the storms “on steroids.” Later that day, more than a half a foot of rain fell in the New York region over just a few hours. More than 45 people died, many in cars or basements overcome by floodwaters. 

Why We Wrote This

Weather forecasters didn’t used to talk much about climate change. Increasingly they are helping the public learn about the connection between climate science, extreme weather, and their own safety.

“Climate change spikes these events nowadays, in a way that didn’t happen 20, 30 years ago,” Mr. Berardelli says.

For him, Ida was proof not only of a changing climate’s impact on weather. It was a reminder of the need for his profession to keep educating viewers about climate science – and to help them get out of harm’s way. This is an increasingly common view among broadcast meteorologists; a shift in approach and mindset that, along with changes in forecast technology and the way people get weather information, increasingly puts them at the intersection of extreme weather, public safety, climate science, and public trust.

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