Climatologists vs. meteorologists


I wrote a few months ago that in the United States, TV weathermen are increasingly skeptical about climate change, while at the same time being highly trusted on the issue by the public.

This is despite many TV weathermen not having a degree relating to their on-screen activities (the days of meteorologists being hired by TV companies seems to be over).

The New York Times reports on the latest instance of this skepticism:

The debate over global warming has created predictable adversaries, pitting environmentalists against industry and coal-state Democrats against coastal liberals.

But it has also created tensions between two groups that might be expected to agree on the issue: climate scientists and meteorologists — especially those who serve as television weather forecasters.

Climatologists, who study weather patterns over time, almost universally endorse the view that the earth is warming and that humans have contributed to climate change. Meteorologists, who predict short-term weather patterns, are not so sure.

Joe Bastardi, for example, a senior forecaster and meteorologist with AccuWeather, maintains that it is more likely that the planet is cooling, and he distrusts the data put forward by climate scientists as evidence for rising global temperatures.

The split however is not just from TV weather personalities however, but from actual TV meteorologists. Apparently, the cause of the skepticism is linked to the different weather tracking methodologies.

Yet, climate scientists use very different scientific methods from the meteorologists. Heidi Cullen, a climatologist who straddled the two worlds when she worked at the Weather Channel, noted that meteorologists use models that are intensely sensitive to small changes in the atmosphere but have little accuracy more than seven days out. As a result, Dr. Cullen said, meteorologists are often dubious about the predictions made by climate scientists, who use complex models to estimate the effects of climate trends decades in the future.

I’m not aware of any polling done in Australia of TV weathermen (or weatherwomen), but I would hope that they are less likely to be climate deniers than their US brethren.

However, the key for me is the trust. In the US, weathermen are more likely to be trusted on issues relating to the climate than other people, including well-known personalities like Al Gore or Sarah Palin. It seems to me that in Australia, climate action groups may want to survey and (if necessary) educate TV weathermen.


Climate Progress has written about this exact topic.

The reason I am repeating this basic fact for the umpteenth time — see “Are meteorologists climate experts?” — is that the former paper of record has once again equated people who don’t know about climate science with people who do (see “NYT Faces Credibility Siege over Unbalanced Climate Coverage“).

My point (and not really covered in the Climate Progress article, which focuses on why the mainstream media are giving credibility to non-experts) is that TV weathermen are amongst the most trusted by Americans on climate change. This makes it very important for climate change activists and organisations to focus on education (especially at universities and colleges). Cross-disciplinary education is also essential (to get those journalism students – who make up around half of the TV weathermen).

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