What’s Up With That?
Thursday, December 4, 2008
They will tell you when the skies might rain or snow in fickle Northeast Ohio, when to bundle up the kids in a cold snap and when to make weekend plans if steady sunshine spans the five-day forecast. They also will tell you that human-caused global warming is hogwash. They’re your local TV meteorologists.
“This cry that ‘We’re all going to die’ is an overreaction and just not good science,” said Andre Bernier, a meteorologist at WJW Channel 8. “I don’t think I personally know any meteorologists — here in Cleveland or anywhere else I’ve worked — who agree with the hype over human-induced warming.”
The local TV weatherscape is indeed populated with on-air personalities who are pushing hard against the prevailing winds of climate science. That prevailing thought — supported by the United Nations’ 1,200-member Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the National Academy of Sciences, the American Meteorological Society and others — is this:
The Earth’s climate overall is warming and the human burning of fossil fuels in cars and industry — which release carbon dioxide — is helping to accelerate that change. Further, climate experts say, there could be dire consequences if humanity doesn’t quickly lessen the accumulation of greenhouse gases and adequately adapt to a warming globe.
The American Meteorological Society has strongly affirmed that stance, but accredits even the on-air meteorologists who rail against it.
“Our stance is pretty clear on this and we’re in agreement with the global warming scenario as set out by the international panel,” said Keith Seitter, AMS executive director.
“Still, we think they should research all that they can,” he said. “And really, there should be less and less skepticism out there as the science improves each year — not more.”
But, there are doubters — all AMS certified — in prominent on-air positions at each of the four Cleveland television stations.
Bernier and Dick Goddard — the patriarch of Cleveland weather forecasters — predict the weather at WJW Channel 8. Both cite natural fluctuations in the Earth’s climate and dismiss the industrialization of the 20th century and the subsequent spike in atmospheric carbon dioxide as the cause for warming.
Goddard compared the current anxiety over warming with the global cooling concerns of the 1970s, which have since dissipated. He and Bernier both point to solar cycles as the key ingredient in climate change. Bernier also said he believes the climate is no longer warming — but, rather, cooling again. “I have a hunch that in 10 years we’re all going to be longing for global warming because it will be so cold,” Bernier said. His Web site, andrebernier.com, links to a Canadian documentary that suggests the same. Others in the skeptic camp include meteorologists Jon Loufman at WOIO Channel 19, Mark Johnson at WEWS Channel 5 and Mark Nolan at WKYC Channel 3. Nolan has since moved to the news desk, but he said he still gets questions about his skeptic’s stance.
“Climate records also show that long before industrialization, the Vikings had settled in Greenland because it was warm enough,” said Loufman, who has taught meteorology courses at both Case Western Reserve University and Lakeland Community College. “I think the jury is still out on this.” So what in the name of the National Weather Service is going on here?
Do the local weather guys know more than an international committee of several thousand climate scientists? Or are they too blinded by lake-effect snow squalls to see the big picture?
For starters, the drift away from global warming among TV weather forecasters is hardly limited to Cleveland. “This is nationwide,” said Stu Ostro, meteorologist and director of weather communications for the Weather Channel in Atlanta. AMS chief Seitter agreed: “I’ve seen the trend, too,” he said. “But I still don’t understand why there would be more skepticism among the TV meteorologists than in the field overall — but there is.”
The most notable example of dissent among meteorologists has been the Weather Channel’s founder, John Coleman, now a TV forecaster in San Diego. Coleman — whom Seitter quickly points out remained with the Weather Channel for only a year in the early 1980s — has said human-induced warming is “the greatest scam in history.”
There have been others, from the longtime director of the National Hurricane Center to Accu-Weather.com’s long-range forecaster, who told The Plain Dealer that “global warming is being forced down the throats of the public.”
Source of dissent
So what’s behind all of this? Dick Goddard said the answer is that weather forecasters appreciate better the lack of reliable records. “There’s only one constant, and that’s change,” he said. “We’ve only got accurate weather records back to 1874 and things have been changing back and forth since long before that.” Bernier said local meteorologists “are just more practical” and not swayed by the opportunity for more grant money to do more research proving climate change.
But Seitter, a former skeptic himself, said meteorologists who make daily weather calls have a natural rivalry with climatologists who look at longer-range trends. “Those of us in weather are used to seeing extremes all the time,” he said. “Why should we think that anything is different today just because one day is hot, another day has heavy rains? Meteorologists often see those things as natural variability.” Seitter said many meteorologists also don’t trust models — “because we’ve seen how wrong they can be in predicting weather” — and that most don’t interact with other scientists beyond other meteorologists. “We sort of live in our own world and haven’t been exposed to the same volumes of research that the climatologists have,” he said. “And that can sometimes lead to a rivalry among the two groups — where some meteorologists are defensive and some climatologists might be condescending, or at least come off that way.”
Jay Hobgood, head of the Atmospheric Sciences Department at Ohio State University, agreed. He said the university teaches the IPCC findings on global warming, but allows for debate. “The day-to-day meteorologists are seeing anecdotal evidence, but not the research that goes back thousands of years,” he said. “The two disciplines are very related, but the time span being looked at is very different. “Looking at the daily weather doesn’t necessarily tell you the climate is changing.”
This article was posted: Thursday, December 4, 2008 at 7:35 am