Meteorologists Need to Start Talking About Climate Change

As wildfires, floods, and heatwaves increase around the world, meteorologists have a responsibility to acknowledge the connection between climate change and extreme weather, Alissa Walker argues for Gizmodo.

Last week, the Fort McMurray fire, the costliest fire in Canada’s history, which raged for two months over an area the size of Delaware, was finally declared “under control.” The fire forced the relocation of 90,000 people and over $2.9 billion in losses. And yet, Alissa Walker reports for Gizmodo, meteorologists are not explaining the climate connection to this and other extreme weather events.

Walker explains that scientists agree that large, destructive wildfires like Fort McMurray  are becoming more frequent because of climate change. Yet when it comes to the meteorologists who warn people about the extreme weather that caused the fires—blistering temperatures, nonexistent snowpack—climate change has largely been scrubbed from the script, Walker says.

“As a weather junkie as well as a climate scientist, I see it as our responsibility to include context,” Jason Samenow of the Capital Weather Gang told Gizmodo. Unfortunately, Samenow and other climate-minded meteorologists seem to be in the minority — While 96 percent of American Meteorological Society members say they believe climate change is real and human-caused, climate still doesn’t make it into their reports.

Scientists are only beginning to understand how changes in our climate affect weather, through a field of study called “attribution.” Walker explains that the group Climate Central has even launched an initiative around this field of study, called World Weather Attribution. By layering historical data and other context on top of specific extreme weather events, climate scientists look for the “fingerprints” of climate change.

Bernadette Placky Woods, broadcast meteorologist and head of Climate Central’s Climate Matters, lived the challenges of informing about climate change on air. Between tight timing and the fear of alienating audiences and sponsors over the politicized issue of climate change, “[t]he focus wasn’t on science as much as I wanted to to be,” Placky Woods told Gizmodo. “But at the same time, the public was asking questions, and there was a lot of misinformation.”

At Climate Matters, Placky Woods now arms meteorologists with tools, from talking points to graphics and social media assets, to help communicate climate change to their audiences.

Image: Satellite imagery of the burn scar left by the Fort McMurray wildfire on May 4, 2016 | Image Credit: NASA Earth Observatory/Joshua Stevens

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