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Broadcast Meteorologists’ Views on Climate Change: A State-of-the-Community Review


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Broadcast meteorologists—highly skilled professionals who work at the intersection between climate scientists and the public—have considerable opportunity to educate their viewers about the local impacts of global climate change. Prior research has shown that, within the broadcast meteorology community, views of climate change have evolved rapidly over the past decade. Here, using data from three census surveys of U.S. broadcast meteorologists conducted annually between 2015 and 2017, is a comprehensive analysis of broadcast meteorologists’ views about climate change. Specifically, this research describes weathercasters’ beliefs about climate change and certainty in those beliefs; perceived causes of climate change; perceived scientific consensus and interest in learning more about climate change, belief that climate change is occurring (and the certainty of that belief), belief that climate change is human-caused, perceptions of any local impacts of climate change, and perceptions of the solvability of climate change. Today’s weathercaster community appears to be sharing the same viewpoints and outlooks as most climate scientists—in particular, that climate change is already impacting the United States and present-day trends are largely a result of human activity.
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Broadcast Meteorologists’ Views on Climate Change: A State-of-the-Community Review
Missouri State University, Springfield, Missouri
George Mason University, Fairfax, Virginia
(Manuscript received 12 January 2019, in final form 14 January 2020)
Broadcast meteorologists—highly skilled professionals who work at the intersection between climate sci-
entists and the public—have considerable opportunity to educate their viewers about the local impacts of
global climate change. Prior research has shown that, within the broadcast meteorology community, views of
climate change have evolved rapidly over the past decade. Here, using data from three census surveys of U.S.
broadcast meteorologists conducted annually between 2015 and 2017, is a comprehensive analysis of
broadcast meteorologists’ views about climate change. Specifically, this research describes weathercasters’
beliefs about climate change and certainty in those beliefs, perceived causes of climate change, perceived
scientific consensus and interest in learning more about climate change, belief that climate change is occurring
(and the certainty of that belief), belief that climate change is human caused, perceptions of any local impacts
of climate change, and perceptions of the solvability of climate change. Today’s weathercaster community
appears to be sharing the same viewpoints and outlooks as most climate scientists—in particular, that climate
change is already affecting the United States and that present-day trends are largely a result of human activity.
1. Introduction
Helping Americans understand how climate change is
affecting their community and the larger world around
them is an important step toward enabling them to make
informed decisions about how best to respond (Bain
et al. 2016). At present, climate change is causing a
range of impacts in every region of the United States
(Hartmann et al. 2013;Academies of Science 2008;
Melillo et al. 2014). At the international level, a major-
ity of scientists and major scientific committees such
as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change
(IPCC) and National Academies of Sciences, agree that
today’s climate change is primarily due to human causes
(Anderegg et al. 2010;Cook et al. 2013,2016). The most
recent IPCC report concluded that there is greater
than 95% probability that anthropogenic greenhouse
gas emissions have led to the most recent (past
50 years) warming of the planet (Hartmann et al. 2013).
Accounting for peer-reviewed climate papers on global
warming, 97% of those papers affirm that humans are
factors causing climate change (Cook et al. 2013,2016).
Although a majority of the American public (70%)
believes that climate change is happening (Leiserowitz
et al. 2017), most Americans downplay its importance,
partially because they see it as a relatively ‘‘distant’’
threat in space, time, and species (Leiserowitz et al.
2017;Weber 2010). The viewpoint that climate change is
‘‘distant’’ leads to variances between the conclusions of
the scientific community and the general public. This
invariably leads to differences in the public’s willingness
to advocate for policies that will establish mitigation and
adaptation efforts regarding climate change.
Closing the gap between public and scientific com-
munity understanding in climate change science not only
can assist in creating higher degrees of willingness to
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tion as open access.
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the Journals Online website:
Corresponding author: Dr. David R. Perkins IV, davidperkins@
APRIL 2020 P E R K I N S E T A L . 249
DOI: 10.1175/WCAS-D-19-0003.1
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mitigate and adapt to the harms of climate change but may
also result in a greater understanding and acceptance of
established science. For example, research shows that when
members of the general public understand the scientific
consensus about climate change, it acts as a ‘‘gateway
belief’’ to understanding other dimensions of the issue
and further engagement (van der Linden et al. 2015).
With such understanding, it is of utmost importance to
identify ways to effectively communicate the science of
climate change to the general public through the appro-
priate medium and using appropriate messengers.
As an important source of weather information for many
Americans (Miller et al. 2012), weathercasters are well
positioned to help members of the public understand the
local relevance of global climate change. Weathercasters
1) have frequent and persistent access to a diversity of
American adults across multiple communication platforms
(Wilson 2006;Daniels and Loggins 2010;Miller et al. 2012;
Demuth et al. 2011;Lazo et al. 2009), 2) are trusted and
sought-after sources for both weather and climate change
information (Miller et al. 2006;Wilson 2008), and 3) have
strong science communication skills (Woods Placky
et al. 2016).
Television weathercasters have a primary role of
forecasting and reporting local weather, but, given their
knowledge of atmospheric science, they also have con-
siderable potential to educate the public with regard to
global climate change and its local implications and to
do so with viewer trust (Woods Placky et al. 2016;
Anderson et al. 2013;Bloodhart et al. 2015;Espinoza
et al. 2012).
Understanding the weathercaster community and its
present-day relationship with climate science is important
when attempting to analyze and project the best avenues
for engaging the public. This paper provides a synthesis
and overview of what is known about American
broadcast meteorologists’ current views on climate
change. This is done through analysis of three na-
tionwide surveys administered to a census of those
working in broadcast meteorology in 2015, 2016, and
2017 (Maibach et al. 2015,2016b,2017).
2. Literature background
The effectiveness of weathercasters as climate edu-
cators is apparent in research. When weathercasters
report on the local consequences of climate change, over
time, their viewers gain a more accurate understanding
the problem (Zhao et al. 2014). This is important because
when individuals become more aware and better under-
stand climate change, their personal beliefs directly relate
to their inclination to accept or reject the science of cli-
mate change (Roser-Renouf et al. 2014). Believing that
climate change is happening—and being certain of that
belief—is one of several factors associated with greater
climate change issue engagement and policy support
(Ding et al. 2011;Krosnick et al. 2006).
In a field experiment conducted in Columbia, South
Carolina, it was shown that when a television weather-
caster made efforts to educate viewers about the local
impacts of climate change, the station’s viewers’ un-
derstanding of climate change improved (Zhao et al.
2014). Bloodhart et al. (2015) found similar results
where exposure to local television weather forecasts
could increase viewer perceptions of extreme local
weather, which thereby increased awareness about cli-
mate change–related impacts. These studies both indi-
cate that when threats become local the personal threat
distance of climate change decreases. Having personally
experienced climate change, or being made aware of
experiencing it, has the added benefit of removing the
aforementioned ‘‘psychological distance’’ of the climate
change topic, thus making it seem like a more person-
ally relevant issue (van der Linden 2014). Relaying
and highlighting this type of personal experience helps
people develop more accurate perceptions of the risk
(Weber 2016). Increased risk perceptions are linked
with increased support for adopting mitigation action on
climate change (Krosnick et al. 2006;Ding et al. 2011).
Although effective, the potential of broadcast mete-
orologists as local climate educators may be constrained
by many factors, including their personal knowledge and
views of climate change (Peters-Burton et al. 2014;
Schweizer et al. 2014;Wilson 2012), their interest in
reporting on climate change (Perkins et al. 2018), and
their ability to report about climate change in a
challenging news environment (Meldrum et al. 2017;
Schweizer et al. 2014;Wilson 2009). It is therefore
important to understand the climate change views of
broadcast meteorologists. Understanding these views
has been a topic of study for nearly two decades
(Maibach et al. 2016a,2011b;Meldrum et al. 2016,
2017;Wilson 2002) and the results have received
considerable attention in the news media (Kaufman
2010;Homans 2010;Samenow 2016;Satterfield 2012).
Despite the consensus about the human contribution
to present-day climate change in the scientific commu-
nity, views regarding the causes of climate change in the
public and among the weathercaster community have
been more diverse (Maibach et al. 2010,2011a;Perkins
et al. 2018). In looking closer at weathercasters, prior
research has found moderate rates of climate change
skepticism among weathercasters, and climate change
beliefs of weathercasters tracked more closely with
those of the nonscientists (Wilson 2000,2002). This
said, weathercasters’ beliefs about climate change have
evolved rapidly, and in the last decade these views have
become similar to those of climate scientists (Maibach
et al. 2017). This is an important consideration because,
as found by Peters-Burton et al. (2014), only those
weathercasters who believed that climate change was
happening and primarily due to human cases found it
important to explain.
Any elements of ‘‘skepticism’’ might be rooted in the
nature of the weathercaster’s job. As the broadcast
meteorology community is more public facing than
the climate science field, opinions and viewpoints of
weathercasters tend to be more diverse and ‘‘public
pleasing’’ with regard to the causes of climate change.
This has put the weathercaster in a difficult position
as over the past two decades public opinion about
the causes of climate change has become increasingly
polarized (Dunlap and McCright 2008). In addition,
McCright and Dunlap (2011) and Wilson (2012) have
found that personally held political beliefs can moderate
and/or shape an individual’s views about the causes of
climate change. Schweizer et al. (2014) found that
weathercasters who believe climate change is happening
were particularly sensitive to how polarizing the subject
of climate change is and did not believe that discussions
about human causes could or should be a central factor;
rather, they preferred to report only on historical tem-
perature records.
Many weathercasters do choose to educate their
viewership on climate change topics. As found by
Perkins et al. (2018), the topics reported on by weath-
ercasters reflect a natural link between their personal
interests in learning more about climate-related topics
and their interest in presenting this knowledge to their
viewership. Personal interest in presenting on air
about varying climate topics is positively linked to the
weathercaster’s engagement with climate change sci-
ence outreach. Additionally, weathercasters’ broad
science interests are shown to be predictors of en-
gagement with climate change presentation.
In reviewing findings surrounding weathercasters,
we must remind the reader that making direct com-
parisons between the broadcast meteorologist com-
munity and climate scientists is not an appropriate
juxtaposition. Climate scientists and broadcast mete-
orologists, despite many similarities in training, per-
sonal motivation, and interests, are different career
sectors with dissimilar motivations and public out-
reach goals. Opinions and findings regarding climate
change between the two sectors should not be ex-
pected to be identical, and each has the potential to
use its strengths to benefit the other. The two sectors
are complementary, and not repetitive or competitive,
and they can and do serve as symbiotic partners in
public education efforts with regard to atmospheric-
science-related education to the public.
Data used in this study are a result of a grant funded
by the National Science Foundation in which a census
survey of all broadcast meteorologists currently working
in the United States was fielded annually between 2015
and 2017 (Maibach et al. 2015,2016b,2017). As de-
scribed below, much of the survey methodology re-
mained constant from year to year—although we did not
ask every question on every survey and we asked some
questions in an open-ended manner on earlier surveys
and then in a closed-ended manner in a later survey
(based on the findings of the open-ended data). In the
current paper we use the findings from these surveys to
describe how, at present, weathercasters view the issue
of climate change. Specifically, we describe weather-
casters’ beliefs about climate change and certainty in
those beliefs, perceived causes of climate change, per-
ceived scientific consensus and interest in learning more
about climate change, belief that climate change is oc-
curring (and the certainty of that belief), belief that
climate change is human caused, perceptions of any lo-
cal impacts of climate change, and perceptions of the
solvability of climate change. Our primary purpose is to
display the most comprehensive representation possible
of weathercasters’ views of climate change. In several
instances, we will use variation in findings from across
the three years of the survey to show that these views
continue to evolve over time.
3. Methods and participants
On all three surveys (2015, 2016, and 2017), our team
attempted to survey every person currently working in
the broadcast meteorology field in the United States. In
2015, we used Cision, a commercial database of news
professionals (
database), to obtain an initial list of people currently
working in broadcast meteorology; we then veri-
fied and updated that list by manually searching the
websites of all local broadcast affiliate television
stations, regional cable broadcast corporations, and
national television stations. In 2016, we began the
process with our 2015 list of weathercasters and re-
peated the manual verification process to update the
list. In 2017, the same procedure was repeated to
update the 2016 list. This process yielded contact in-
formation for a large number of weathercasters in
each successive year: 2128 in 2015; 2226 in 2016; and
2325 in 2017. We contacted only weathercasters for
whom we were able to find a valid e-mail address and
who were working in English-speaking markets (the
survey was not available in Spanish). Thus, our final
APRIL 2020 P E R K I N S E T A L . 251
sampling population was 2128 in 2015, 2100 in 2016,
and 2224 in 2017.
The surveys were administered online using Qualtrics
survey software. Surveys were fielded for approxi-
mately 3 weeks in early January 2015, 2016, and 2017
(so as to complete the surveys before the start of the
February ‘‘sweeps’’ when Nielson ratings are estab-
lished); nonrespondents were sent up to five e-mail
reminders, one or two times per week. In 2015, a to-
tal of 478 weathercasters responded to at least one
question on the survey, yielding a response rate of
22.5%, and 378 completed the survey in its entirety,
yielding a completion rate of 17.8%. In 2016, 646
completed at least one question, yielding a partici-
pation rate of 31.8%, and 593 completed the survey in
its entirety, yielding a survey completion rate of
29.2%. In 2017, 486 completed at least one question,
yielding a participation rate of 21.9%, and 404 com-
completion rate of 18.2%. Many respondents never
opened a single e-mail message about the survey and
therefore most likely did not know they had been
invited to participate: In 2016, 1344 people (66.1%
of our total sample) did not open any e-mail message
associated with the survey; in 2017, 1701 people
(76.6% of our total sample) did not open any e-mail
message associated with the survey. It is unclear
how many of these weathercasters choose not to
participate, and how many did not see our e-mail
invitations (possibly because they were captured by
spam filters). The median time to complete the sur-
vey was 15 min in both 2015 and 2016, and 18 min
in 2017.
Table 1 provides information with regard to differ-
ences across those polled in each year of the survey;
further detail is provided in the online supplemental
material of this paper.
4. Context and findings
a. Climate change beliefs and belief certainty
From 2015 to 2017 in the yearly National Survey of
Broadcast Meteorologists (Maibach et al. 2017,2016b,
2015) there has been a stable but increasing percentage
of weathercasters who believe that climate change is
occurring, regardless of the cause. In all three years of
the survey when asking weathercasters ‘‘regardless of
the cause, do you think climate change is happening?’’
it was given context by referencing the American
Meteorological Society (AMS) definition of climate
change (AMS 2020):
Any systematic change in the long-term statistics
of climate elements (such as temperature, pres-
sure, or winds) sustained over several decades or
longer. Climate change may be due to natural ex-
ternal forcings, such as changes in solar emission or
slow changes in the earth’s orbital elements; natural
internal processes of the climate system; or anthro-
pogenic forcing.
Since 2015 (Fig. 1), at least 9 of every 10 members
of the weathercaster community have indicated that
climate change is occurring. That number has risen
from 90% in 2015 to 95% in 2017. On the opposite
viewpoint, the number of those who believe cli-
mate change is not occurring has decreased by one-
half. In 2015 fewer than 1 in 20 (4%) believed climate
change was not occurring—this decreased to 1 in
50 (2%) in 2017. The number of those who state that
they do not know has also decreased in the past three
TABLE 1. Description of weathercasters participating in survey.
2015 2016 2017
Gender Male 77% 74% 75%
Female 23% 26% 25%
Education Bachelor of Science degree in meteorology/atmospheric science 64% 59% 65%
Additional professional credentials AMS Certified Broadcast Meteorologist Seal 31% 31% 33%
AMS Seal of Approval 37% 29% 32%
NWA Seal of Approval 25% 19% 20%
No seal of approval 32% 37% 36%
Job title Chief meteorologist 40% 33% 35%
Weekend meteorologist 18% 24% 23%
Morning/noon/midday meteorologist 16% 22% 25%
Age group 18–29 23% 26% 28%
30–39 27% 27% 24%
40–49 23% 19% 21%
50–59 18% 19% 19%
60–69 9% 9% 9%
7010% 0% 0%
years—from 6% in 2015 to 3% in 2017. These re-
sults indicate that the weathercaster community has
growing agreement that climate change, regardless of
the cause, is occurring. Decreasing in proportion are
those who do not believe it is occurring and those who
are unsure.
Among those 95% who believe that climate change
is occurring, belief certainty is strong. The per-
centage of weathercasters feeling either ‘‘very’’
or ‘‘extremely’’ sure in their belief that climate
change is occurring has varied from 81% to 83% for
the three years of the survey. The most recent re-
sults, however, indicate that those exhibiting the
highest category of surety—‘‘extremely’’ sure is the
highest it has been in the three years of the sur-
vey—in 2017 nearly one-half (47%) believe that
curring (Fig. 2).
We also measured the certainty in climate change
disbelief—those 2%–4% of the community who did not
believe that climate change was occurring. The level of
certainty in disbelief was less than the certainty of
belief for all years assessed. Those expressing cer-
tainty of disbelief as either ‘‘very’’ or ‘‘extremely’’
sure varied from 67% to 42%. This indicates that
those who do not believe climate change is occurring
are less certain in their viewpoints than those who
believe it is occurring.
b. Perceived scientific consensus
While there is considerable engagement between the
climate science and broadcast meteorology communi-
ties, shared knowledge is not always fluid. To better
grasp this concept, in both 2015 and 2017 we asked
weathercasters to answer the following question: ‘‘To
the best of your knowledge, what percentage of climate
scientists think that human-caused climate change is
happening?’’ In 2015 the mean response was 74.7%
(N5384), and in 2017 the mean response was 77.73%
(N5465). Despite weathercasters on average stating
that approximately three-quarters of climate scientists
think that human-caused climate is happening today,
research by Cook et al. (2016) found that 97% of peer-
reviewed papers on climate change affirm that human
factors are causing climate change. This result shows
a possible knowledge gap between the weathercaster
community’s understanding of the topic of climate
change and the scientific community’s actual findings.
c. Perceived causes of climate change
In all three years of the survey (2015–17), we asked
those weathercasters who believed that climate change
FIG. 1. Weathercasters’ belief that climate change is occurring.
FIG. 2. Certainty in weathercasters’ belief that climate change is occurring.
APRIL 2020 P E R K I N S E T A L . 253
was occurring (90%–95% of the weathercaster com-
munity) ‘‘Do you think that the climate change that has
occurred over the past 50 years has been caused....’’ As
shown in Fig. 3, those who believed human (anthropo-
genic) causes to be the leading cause (60% or more)
varied only slightly during the three years of the survey,
with a minimum of 46% in 2016 to a maximum of 49% in
2017. Those who felt that the present climate change was
‘‘more or less equally’’ due to human (anthropogenic)
and natural causes steadily decreased from 26% in 2015
to 21% in 2017. Those who believed that natural vari-
ation was the leading (more than 60%) cause of climate
change varied from a minimum of 21% in 2017 to a
maximum of 24% in 2016. Those expressing that they
did not know increased from 4% in 2015 to 8% in 2017.
Given these results and how weathercaster opinions
appear to have changed given previous results in the
literature (Wilson 2000,2002), we wanted to better un-
derstand any recent shifts that may have occurred
in personal opinions regarding human-caused climate
change. To do so, in 2016 we asked weathercasters ‘‘Has
your opinion/position on climate change changed in the
past five years?’’ While only 1 of every 5 (21%) stated
that their position had changed, viewing recent opinion
changes better illustrates how climate science and cli-
mate change is being interpreted within the weather-
caster community. Of those who said that their opinion
had changed (n5126) we asked how it had changed.
More than 8 of every 10 (82%) indicated that they were
now more convinced that human-caused climate change
is happening. These respondents cited reasons contrib-
uting to their change in opinion such as ‘‘new peer-
reviewed climate science information’’ (62%), ‘‘the
scientific community seems more certain’’ (49%), and
‘‘one or more climate scientists influenced me’’ (47%).
d. Climate change experience and risk perception
We asked several questions to see how weathercasters
perceive climate change is impacting their local areas. In
both 2016 and 2017 we asked weathercasters, ‘‘Has the
local climate in your media market changed over the
past 50 years?’’ Results indicate an increasing trend in
weathercasters observing that the local climate in their
media market as changing. In 2017, more than 6 of every
10 (62%) indicated that they believe that the local cli-
mate in their media market has changed in the past
50 years. Only 2 of every 10 are either unsure (19%) or
have not noticed a change (19%).
We followed this question with an assessment of the
impacts resulting from the climate change. Those 62%
respondents who noticed a change in their local climate
were then asked to assess whether the impacts of cli-
mate change they have observed have been ‘‘harmful’’ or
‘‘beneficial’’ to their local media-market area. The modal
categories for both 2016 and 2017 (Fig. 5) indicated that
they found the impacts to have been ‘‘approximately
equally mixed between harmful and beneficial.’’ This
decreased from 6 of every 10 (60%) weathercasters in
2016 to only about one-half (49%) in 2017. However, this
decrease is not one sided and seems to be a result
of people now viewing impacts either as beneficial or
harmful. Between 2016 and 2017 perceived harms and
benefits both increased in proportion. Overall, in com-
paring whether people perceived more harms or benefits,
in 2017 those indicating that harms outweighed benefits
(39%) were more than 3 times those who perceived cli-
mate change benefits to outweigh harms (12%) (Fig. 4).
To better contextualize the perceived harms resulting
from climate change that weathercasters have experi-
enced, we asked weathercasters to describe the most
harmful impact(s) resulting from climate change in their
media market over the past 50 years. These responses
were initiated in our 2016 survey as open-ended re-
sponses and were then grouped as thematic categories.
The two most frequently mentioned harms from climate
change were ‘‘increase in severe weather’’ and ‘‘harms
to water resources,’’ with 39% and 34% of all respon-
dents responding in a way that fit these categories.
Increases in extreme heat (20%), sea level rise (16%),
ecosystem imbalances (12%), harms to agriculture
(10%), and harms to human health (10%) were all
mentioned at least once for every 10 respondents.
FIG. 3. Climate change attribution.
In 2017 we used the categories generated from
the 2016 survey to create closed-ended questions to
again understand perceived harmful impacts of cli-
mate change over the past 50 years. Although the
absolute percentages are not directly comparable, the
relative percentages between categories are worth
noting. Nearly one-half of all respondents (Fig. 5)
indicated that, ‘‘yes,’’ harm had occurred to agricul-
tural resources (50%), seasonal cycles (48%), water
resources (47%), and harm to ecosystems or forests
(43%). Around 1 of every 3 weathercasters felt that
coastal property (34%), human health (33%), infra-
structure (31%) and tourism (29%) were harmed as a
result of climate change in the past 50 years although
many weathercasters (ranging from 23% to 56%) in-
dicated that they did not know whether these harmful
impacts were occurring. Across both 2016 and 2017, it
appears that the nature of the ‘‘harms’’ due to climate
change over the past 50 years have been most appar-
ent with regard to water resources, ecosystems, hu-
man health, and agriculture.
In 2016 and 2017, using the same methods, we also
asked whether weathercasters perceived any benefits
as a result of climate change over the past 50 years in
their local market area. With the 2016 open-ended
survey question, we found that about 1 of every 3
weathercasters who responded to this question ob-
served benefits from milder seasons (34%), agriculture
(23%), water resources (11%), and tourism and rec-
reation (10%). In 2017 we created closed-ended ques-
tions to assess benefits. As seen in Fig. 6, we found that
milder seasons (47%) were the most frequently ob-
served benefit. This benefit was reported nearly 4 times
more often than other benefits, which included benefits
FIG. 4. Assessment of local impacts from climate change.
FIG. 5. Local harms attributed to climate change over the past 50 yr, from 2017 survey.
APRIL 2020 P E R K I N S E T A L . 255
to tourism (26%), agriculture (20%), sustainability
initiatives (18%), energy resources (17%), and the
economy (17%).
e. Climate change solutions
Perkins et al. (2018) pointed out, ‘‘An intuitive but
important thought to keep in mind is that if people do
not believe a problem is solvable, they are unlikely to
spend time solving it.’’ In the context of weathercaster
activities, it would follow that weathercasters who be-
lieve that climate change is both 1) a problem and
2) solvable will be those who will likely engage most with
the topic. With this principle, we asked weathercasters
about the expected outcomes of climate change miti-
gation efforts: ‘‘Over the next 50 years, to what extent
can additional climate change be averted if mitigation
measures are taken worldwide (i.e., substantially re-
ducing emissions of carbon dioxide and other green-
house gases)?’’ The modal category for every year was
that a ‘‘moderate amount of additional climate change
can be averted,’’ encompassing between 36% (2015) and
39% (2016) of those responding to the question. Those
feeling ‘‘a small amount of additional climate change can
be averted’’ encompassed between 31% (2017) and 35%
(2015) of those responding. Those feeling that ‘‘almost no
additional change can be averted’’were consistently 13%
of responses across all years. Those feeling that a ‘‘large
amount’’ or ‘‘almost all’’ climate change can be averted
accountedfor less than 1 of every 5 respondentsacross all
years (17% in 2017; 8% in 2015) (Fig. 7).
A complimentary question about the expected out-
comes of climate change adaptation measures was also
asked. In 2017 we asked, ‘‘Over the next 50 years, to
what extent can harm from climate change be averted in
the United States if adaptation measures (i.e., actions to
reduce vulnerability) are taken?’’ As shown in Fig. 8,we
found that 45% of respondents felt that a ‘‘moderate
amount of harm can be averted.’’ This was followed by a
‘‘small amount’’ (26%) and a ‘‘large amount’’ (18%).
In the 2016 survey we assessed adaptation measures to
climate change in varying segments including health, ag-
riculture, freshwater supplies, transportation systems, and
FIG. 6. Local benefits attributed to climate change over the past 50 yr, from 2017 survey.
FIG. 7. Averting climate change with mitigation measures.
homes and other buildings. As was found in the generic
adaptation measure category from the 2017 survey, the
modal response related to a ‘‘moderate amount’’ (of harm
can be averted) where this level of protection fell between
26% for homes and buildings and 36% for agriculture.
Given the context of this question as compared with the
generic question, people tended to estimate higher de-
grees of adaptive capacity for individual sectors than for
the whole of the potential impacts from climate change.
This is seen where a ‘‘large amount’’ was at least the next
largest category in all sector categories (20%–24%) fol-
lowed by ‘‘small amount’’ (19%–22%) (Fig. 9).
f. Climate change knowledge and information
In 2017 most (77%) weathercasters held some form
of university accreditation in meteorology or related
sciences, but there is a limited amount of previous re-
search about the amounts of climate literacy in the dis-
cipline. Peters-Burton et al. (2014) suggested that more
work should be done to improve climate literacy in the
community of television meteorologists. Climate liter-
acy is difficult to accurately measure, however, because
many people do not correctly estimate the amount of
knowledge they possess on a subject.
With these caveats in mind, in 2017 we assessed per-
sonal assessment of knowledge by asking ‘‘How well do
you understand the science of climate change?’’ Nearly
4 of every 10 (38%) respondents indicated ‘‘moderately
well,’’ 1 of every 3 indicated ‘‘somewhat well’’ (30%),
and around 1 of every 5 indicated ‘‘very well’’ (17%).
Weathercasters reporting a low understanding of the
science represented only 1 of every 7 with ‘‘slightly well’’
(14%) and ‘‘not well at all’’ (1%). Overall, it can be
FIG. 8. Averting harms from climate change with adaptation measures, from 2017 survey.
FIG. 9. Averting climate change with adaptation measures in specific sectors, from 2017 survey.
APRIL 2020 P E R K I N S E T A L . 257
assumed from these results that most members of the
weathercaster community feel that they understand
the science of climate change at least somewhat
well (Fig. 10).
g. Information seeking
In 2015, we asked all weathercasters, ‘‘Which, if any,
of the following climate-related topics would you be
interested in learning more about?’’ The purpose of this
question was to better understand weathercasters’ de-
sire to learn more about climate-related topics. More
than one-half of all weathercasters expressed interest in
learning more about 16 of 17 climate-related topics. The
exception was ‘‘ocean acidification’’ (48.5% interested),
which was likely due to the geographically specific na-
ture of the topic. At least three-quarters of all weath-
ercasters expressed interest in climate-related topics
of seasonal patterns (89.3%), extreme precipitation
(84.3%), extreme heat (83.2%), flooding (82.1%),
droughts (80.7%), winter storms (79.7%), and human
health impacts (74.9%).
To further explore engagement with climate change
we assessed weathercaster views of the National Climate
Assessment (NCA; Melillo et al. 2014). This report is
produced by the U.S. government every four years to
inform Congress, the president, and the nation about
climate change in the United States. Because of its focus
within the United States and its local discussion of cli-
mate change–related impacts, it provides a good re-
source to weathercasters who want to learn more about
the topic. In 2015 we asked all weathercasters if they
had heard of the NCA, if they had read any part of the
NCA and how useful they found the NCA to be for
them. We found that three-quarters of weathercasters
(74.6%) had heard of the NCA, and of those who had
heard of it 8 of every 10 (79.6%) had read some of
the findings. Of those reading the NCA, 6 of every
10 (58.9%) found it to be at least ‘‘moderately useful.’’
One key link between this personal level of engage-
ment and the public level of engagement through pre-
sentation is outreach on the topic. We assess this by
looking deeper into engagement with the ‘‘Climate
Matters’’ program. Climate Matters is produced by
the Climate Central organization in association with
NOAA, NASA, AMS, and George Mason University
and helps television weathercasters report on cli-
mate change with free localized climate analyses,
broadcast-ready visuals, peer-reviewed climate re-
search, news, resources, and continuing education
opportunities. Enrollment in this program has shown
to have impacts on the amount and frequency of re-
porting on climate change and is positively related to
the amount of knowledge weathercasters have re-
garding climate change. From 2015 to 2017, the per-
centage of weathercasters who have heard of this
program has risen from 47% to 56%. In addition, of
those who have heard of the program in 2017, 56%
also receive materials from Climate Matters, and, of
those who receive materials, 8 of every 10 (80%) use
the materials.
5. Discussion
Review of the broadcast meteorologist community
from 2015 to 2017 provides a perspective of views
and opinions that reflects the most up-to-date analysis
FIG. 10. Personal understanding of climate change science, from 2017 survey.
regarding the topic of climate change. The weathercaster
community has great potential to engage members of the
general public on the local impacts of climate change
and climate science with proven results for educating the
public (Zhao et al. 2014). Educating the public on this
topic may result in subsequent public action to help mit-
igate future human-caused climate change and provide
intellectual capital that will drive innovations aimed at
adaptations to climate change–related harms.
In the analysis of the current state of the weathercaster
community, we have discovered several key factors worth
particular note. Overall the current status of the weath-
ercaster community shows, while climate change belief is
not of the same consensus as climate scientists, there has
been significant merging of beliefs between these com-
plementary professions. Changes of opinion have been
tied to increased engagement with peer-reviewed science.
The change seen among weathercasters follows the same
logic underscoring the need for increased public educa-
tion on climate change science. Namely, exposure to facts
and data generally results in increased issue engagement
(Fischhoff 2007;Pidgeon and Fischhoff 2011;Myers et al.
2012;van der Linden 2014). Weathercasters with in-
creased exposure appear to have increased their en-
gagement and belief in the science. Specifically, 95%
of the weathercaster community believes that climate
change (as defined by AMS) is occurring and confidence
of opinion in climate change belief is greater than confi-
dence in climate change disbelief. Around one-half of all
weathercasters believe that humans have caused the
majority ofclimate change impacting society today, and 3
of every 4 believe humans have caused atleast one-half of
the climate change occurring today.
Sharing local examples of climate change is important to
facilitating understanding of climate change. If weather-
casters have personal experience with climate change,
they will have a higher likelihood of communicating this to
their viewership. For both weathercasters and the general
public, as van der Linden (2014) observes, the personal
experience of climate change will remove or decrease the
‘‘psychological distance’’ of the topic and make it a more
personally relevant issue. Our research indicates weath-
ercasters do possess these experiences as, regarding per-
sonal experience with climate change, more than 6 of every
10 weathercasters believe that the local climate in their area
has changed over the past 50 years; in addition, 4 of every
10 see the changes being more harmful than beneficial.
Weber (2010,2016) indicates that personal experiences
similar to these are likely to be driving personal opinions on
climate change; these, in turn, should be motivating factors
for presenting on the topic (Perkins et al. 2018).
The nature of ‘‘solutions’’ is important in the context
of climate change because if a problem is too difficult or
appears to be unsolvable, resource allocations are less
likely to occur (Perkins et al. 2018). Climate change is a
special type of problem that the IPCC (IPCC 2014)
emphasizes as approaching a collective-action problem.
Because of this characteristic, public education is in-
creasingly important so people will know how they are
impacted and how to respond (Abroms and Maibach
2008;Ding et al. 2011). Likewise, if weathercasters feel
humankind can offer solutions, they are more likely
to engage in this topic. Regarding solutions, most
weathercasters believe a moderate amount of addi-
tional climate change can be averted by using mitiga-
tion measures worldwide; however, very few (fewer
than 1 of every 5) believe that a ‘‘large amount’’ or
‘‘almost all’’ climate change can be averted, while
nearly one-third believed only a ‘‘small amount’’ can
be averted. Adaptation to climate change was similar in
that weathercasters felt a ‘‘moderate amount of harm’’
could be averted given the adaptive capacity of society.
With regard to knowledge and information seeking,
weathercasters appear to understand their important
role in communicating climate science, albeit with some
reservations. Weathercasters occupy an intermediary
space between climate scientists and the general public
and, though most are not formally trained as climate
researchers, they do carry both knowledge and authority
on topics related to the atmospheric sciences. The
American Meteorological Society has advocated the
weathercaster take the role as a ‘‘station scientist’’ since
the 1990s (Henson 2010). The weathercaster as a climate
change reporter is a newer evolution of their engage-
ment with the public (Woods Placky et al. 2016). In an
assessment of personal knowledge, we found 4 of every
10 are ‘‘moderately’’ confident and 3 of every 4 are at
least ‘‘somewhat’’ confident in their ability to report
effectively about climate change. Weathercasters also
indicated high degrees of confidence in their personal
understanding of the science of climate change. Meldrum
et al. (2016) found that weathercasters self-identify as
scientists, further establishing weathercasters’ likely
comfort with the climate change topic. This comfort
with climate change information might be related to
active engagement with climate-related science and
information seeking as weathercasters were shown to
be actively engaging with reports such as the NCA, and
programs such as Climate Matters. Weathercasters’
engagement with climate science and the increased
ease of reporting on climate change topics can ulti-
mately translate to increased reporting and more public
access to climate science.
Assessing barriers to reporting on climate change en-
countered by weathercasters both personally and in the
newsroom (Woods Placky et al. 2016;Perkins et al. 2018)
APRIL 2020 P E R K I N S E T A L . 259
can inform programs such as Climate Matters and
Climate without Borders to supply improved resources
to weathercasters on this topic. In addition, special
workshop courses within the National Weather
Association (NWA) and AMS can be tailored to meet
the needs and concerns of weathercasters as their jobs
continue to evolve to include discussions on important
global environmental topics.
The purpose of this applied research has been to
provide an update to the current state of the weath-
ercaster community as it relates to climate change.
Understanding the trends of opinions and engage-
ment with weathercasters since 2015 gives a better
perspective on how this community has interacted and
evolved (Maibach et al. 2017) with climate science. In
addition, the context of this research provides a basis
for future applied research using many of the theories
highlighted in this manuscript. These theories have
been shown to be applicable in both analysis of the
public and the weathercaster community. This can
allow for future research to establish better methods
for public communication outreach and engagement
that can continue to improve climate literacy within
the society.
While potential future research questions are many,
we select two questions emerging from this study that
show immediate need and promise as the scientific
community makes efforts to educate the general public
on climate change. First, despite the well-known 97%
consensus among climate scientists (Cook et al. 2016),
weathercasters estimate that only 75% of peer-reviewed
literature shows consensus among climate scientists with
regard to the majority anthropogenic nature of climate
change. Future research should look more closely into
why weathercasters’ understanding of climate change
and climate science is different from that of the scientific
community. Second, this research identified several
impacts of climate change that weathercasters found as
either harming their local area (Fig. 5) or benefitting
(Fig. 6) their local area. Future research in the specific
nature of the geography of these perceived impacts
would be of particular use in understanding which parts
of the United States are most seen to be harmed by
climate change and how results from such a study would
facilitate better understanding the geography of per-
ceived harms and would allow public information
campaigns to geographically target areas based on cli-
mate change topical relevancy.
6. Conclusions
This research serves as the most up-to-date and com-
plete analysis of the broadcast meteorologist community
in the United States regarding opinions on climate
change. It highlights how the members of the weath-
ercaster community are continuing to evolve in their
opinions about climate change and how these opinions,
over time, are becoming closer to the findings of
the climate science research community. Furthermore,
weathercasters are identifying personally with climate
change as they are witnessing local impacts of climate
change in their communities. Weathercasters are also
showing increasing willingness and comfort in sharing
their climate science knowledge with their viewership,
which ultimately results in improved climate literacy
for the general public. Further understanding the op-
portunities and limitations when engaging with the
weathercaster community on public climate change
education will provide an excellent path forward for
increasingly meaningful connections to be made be-
tween the general public and the scientific community.
Acknowledgments. We thank all members of the
broadcast meteorology community for taking the time
to improve this research by taking our surveys and
providing valuable feedback throughout the process.
This research was supported by the National Science
Foundation (Awards DRL-0917566, DUE-1043235, and
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... Concurrent with the growth of the Climate Matters program, there has been a dramatic shift in how members of the broadcast meteorology community themselves view climate change, such that their views are now much more closely aligned with those of climate scientists (Maibach et al 2017, Perkins et al 2020. This was an important development, and one we sought to encourage, because the prior diversity of views about climate change-and the overt conflict in the meteorology community about those views-was itself a barrier to weathercasters reporting on climate change (Stenhouse et al 2016). ...
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The consensus that humans are causing recent global warming is shared by 90%–100% of publishing climate scientists according to six independent studies by co-authors of this paper. Those results are consistent with the 97% consensus reported by Cook et al (Environ. Res. Lett. 8 024024) based on 11 944 abstracts of research papers, of which 4014 took a position on the cause of recent global warming. A survey of authors of those papers (N = 2412 papers) also supported a 97% consensus. Tol (2016 Environ. Res. Lett. 11 048001) comes to a different conclusion using results from surveys of non-experts such as economic geologists and a self-selected group of those who reject the consensus. We demonstrate that this outcome is not unexpected because the level of consensus correlates with expertise in climate science. At one point, Tol also reduces the apparent consensus by assuming that abstracts that do not explicitly state the cause of global warming ('no position') represent non-endorsement, an approach that if applied elsewhere would reject consensus on well-established theories such as plate tectonics. We examine the available studies and conclude that the finding of 97% consensus in published climate research is robust and consistent with other surveys of climate scientists and peer-reviewed studies.
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Five years ago, an article in the first issue of WIREs Climate Change reviewed the factors that shape perceptions of climate change. Climate change is an abstract statistical phenomenon, namely a slow and gradual modification of average climate conditions, and thus a difficult phenomenon to detect and assess accurately based on personal experience. The current update of the original article—‘new research since 2010’—revisits topics covered in the original contribution: the role of personal experience with climate change, in particular extreme weather events; the effects of psychological distance on climate change perception and action; the effects of political ideology, age, gender, and nationality, and situational influences; and the role of different processing modes in climate change perception and the low level of visceral response (dread) associated with climate change risks. In addition, the current article also addresses new topics since 2010: attribute substitution or the use of weather anomalies—‘local’ warming or cooling—when judging the likelihood of global warming; the effects of different labels for the phenomenon—global warming versus climate change—on perceptions of its likelihood and importance; and the effect and role of uncertainty about different aspects of climate change and its consequences and how it is communicated on perceptions and actions. WIREs Clim Change 2016, 7:125–134. doi: 10.1002/wcc.377 This article is categorized under: Perceptions, Behavior, and Communication of Climate Change > Perceptions of Climate Change
This research explores the role of weathercasters as local climate change educators and identifies attributes of those who present climate science to their viewers. In 2015, the authors attempted to survey all television weathercasters currently working in the United States (n 5 2128); 478 participated, yielding a 22.5% participation rate. Using logistic regression to identify attributes of weathercasters who report on climate change on-air, it was found that the strongest predictors were participation in Climate Matters (a climate change reporting resource program) (b 5 1.01, p, 0.001), personal interest in reporting on climate change (b 5 0.93, p, 0.001), age (higher rates of reporting among older weathercasters) (b 5 0.301, p, 0.05), and number of climate reporting interests (b 5 1.37, p, 0.05). Linear regression was used to identify attributes of weathercasters who showed the most interest in climate change reporting. Weathercasters most interested in reporting about climate change on-air were more certain that climate change is happening (b 5 0.344, p, 0.001), were convinced climate change is human caused (b 5 0.226, p, 0.001), were older (b 5 0.157, p, 0.001), and found the Third National Climate Assessment to be useful (b 5 0.134, p, 0.05). Weathercasters who are personally motivated to seek and share broad scientific information, acting as ‘‘station scientists,’’ appear to be those who are also proactive in sharing climate change information. Assisting motivated weathercasters with programs that reduce barriers to climate change education outreach complements their abilities to educate the public regarding climate change science.
From low humor to high drama, TV weather reporting has encompassed an enormous range of styles and approaches, triggering chuckles, infuriating the masses, and at times even saving lives. In Weather on the Air, meteorologist and science journalist Robert Henson covers it all—the people, technology, science, and show business that combine to deliver the weather to the public each day. Featuring the long-term drive to professionalize weathercasting; the complex relations between government and private forecasters; and the effects of climate-change science and the Internet on today’s broadcasts. With dozens of photos and anecdotes illuminating the many forces that have shaped weather broadcasts over the years, this engaging study will be an invaluable tool for students of broadcast meteorology and mass communication and an entertaining read for anyone fascinated by the public face of weather.
Broadcast meteorologists are trusted by the general public to convey knowledge on climate change and they make choices about what information to present to their viewing audiences. Interviews with broadcast meteorologists revealed a wide range in their knowledge base and confidence in conveying climate science to their audiences. However, all interviewees agreed that visual images are an essential means for communicating with their viewers. Three major themes emerged from interviews with participants: visual imagery is important, dramatic images are powerful motivators, and the new visual presentation technologies have great value.