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Even before summer began, there were extreme heat waves and new heat records throughout the Northern Hemisphere, and the forecast calls for a hotter-than-normal summer in much of the U.S. Scientists say climate change is accelerating and intensifying these kinds of heat waves. It's taken a while for some TV weather men and women to make these connections, but that's changing. Miles O'Brien reports.
Even before this summer began, there were extreme heat waves and new heat records throughout the Northern Hemisphere. Extreme heat took a heavy toll in the U.S., Europe, Russia, Japan and China.
India and Pakistan endured blistering conditions this spring, leading to a loss of life. And the forecast calls for a hotter-than-normal summer in much of the U.S.
Scientists say climate change is accelerating and intensifying these kinds of heat waves. It's taken a while for some TV weather men and women to make these connections, but that's changing, apparently.
Science correspondent Miles O'Brien has the story.
The way we look at climate and how it affects our weather,
Now climate specialist Jeff Berardelli.
It's a little past five in Tampa, and Jeff Berardelli's climate classroom is on the air.
Jeff Berardelli, Chief Meteorologist and Climate Specialist, WFLA: There's new research into how hurricanes are changing in a warmer world.
He is the chief meteorologist and climate specialist at WFLA. And at least twice a week, he makes important connections for his viewers between local weather and the global climate emergency.
I do it any good news man like yourself would do. I look for a hook.
Unfortunately, the hooks are easier and easier to find, record heat waves and historic flooding, droughts, wildfires, and tropical storms all becoming more numerous and gaining strength, plenty of grist for the mill.
Well, the world is on fire right now. We got a lot of problems. We're trying to save the world. I mean, that's essentially what we're doing by educating people on climate change.
Times sure have changed.
Good evening on a dry and delightful kind of night.
This was the weatherman I grew up with in Detroit.
A combination of cloudy and chilly. Gloomy kind of weather is what it is.
But that was then.
Meteorologists are in a key place. We're scientists. We're a trusted messenger of information in local markets. And we're good communicators. And we have a platform. Put all that together, and there seems to be no one better than a local meteorologist to tell the story of climate change.
With more than 40 years of experience as a TV weather forecaster, NBC's Al Roker has lived the transition.
You're really a very trusted source in people's living rooms. You are probably the only scientist they have ever seen at any level.
Al Roker, NBC Meteorologist:
Isn't that sad?
What kind of a world are we living in when I'm the trusted source?
All kidding aside, today, he too explains the climate science behind the weather whenever he sees a hook.
Ninety-plus days, five more per year for Portland. So we're watching climate change make things hotter in the Pacific Northwest.
Like the climate, the change has been gradual.
In 1997, Roker joined several other meteorologists at the White House for a summit of sorts.
Bill Clinton, Former President of the United States: I hope you will think about how your work has been affected by what we believe is going on in the climate.
President Clinton and Vice President Gore urged them all to use some of their airtime to educate Americans about climate change, but nothing came of it.
Try to explain for me the reluctance of meteorologists in general to tackle this issue early on.
I would argue that it wasn't so much meteorologists, as it was probably news directors, who felt, oh, nobody cares. It was like putting in broccoli in the mac and cheese.
And, collectively, TV meteorologists were die-hard climate deniers for a long time.
My frustration is that the national media never seems to question the global warming scare.
As late as 2010, a George Mason University poll showed 54 percent of them were not convinced the climate was changing.
Bernadette Woods Placky, Climate Central:
There was still a lot of misinformation in the world about — well, there still is a lot of misinformation in the world about climate change.
Bernadette Woods Placky is a former local TV meteorologist now with Climate Central, a nonprofit focused on science communication.
Bernadette Woods Placky:
As the science evolved, and people who were already in these roles at TV meteorologists were evolving also, they were trying to keep up with the science, but they were also being really hit with the misinformation campaigns.
Meanwhile, the evidence became much harder to deny. When Superstorm Sandy hit the New York City area in 2012, the atmosphere changed.
I think people were just blown away by how this system behaved and what it did. Most people are looking at this and going, what the heck's going on here, and looking for answers. And the answers are, by and large, climate change.
At about the same time, Climate Central and George Mason University developed a service called Climate Matters. It provides TV meteorologists a weekly package featuring the latest vetted climate science, along with broadcast-ready graphics.
Jeff Berardelli is one of about 1,100 TV forecasters now using Climate Matters content.
We have a choice to how much warmer we get, and that depends on how inflated we let greenhouse gases get.
I do think that Climate Matters had a role in changing where the TV meteorology community was, bringing them along, helping them understand the connections between weather and climate change and helping them inform their communities.
The needle has been moved in the TV meteorology community. It absolutely has.
In fact, the latest George Mason poll conducted in 2017 shows 95 percent of weathercasters now agree the climate emergency is happening. The science makes it untenable to conclude anything else.
Amy Freeze is a meteorologist at FOX Weather.
Amy Freeze, Meteorologist, FOX Weather:
I mean, just kind of this mind-blowing explosion of information is out there that lets us know a lot more about what's happening. So that, right there in itself, being better at science and meteorology then has brought on the added responsibility of talking about climate.
But on her sister network, FOX News, the climate denial persists.
Tucker Carlson, FOX NEWS Anchor:
The science is not settled. We can all agree that the climate is warming, temperatures are going up. But we're not — we are not sure why.
Still, Freeze says her bosses have not asked her to pull her climate punches.
Just out, a new federal report analyzing the impact for up to a foot of sea level rise over the next 30 years.
No, I don't feel any pressure to do anything other than give people the forecast and have great conversations about what's happening with our climate. I have never felt uncomfortable at all.
Jeff Berardelli says his viewers are very interested in climate stories, especially the younger ones, a demographic local stations covet.
If we are going to make positive change in this world, we have to start doing it soon. Politics hasn't followed suit yet. You can only hope that you keep telling the truth, and that people see this stuff unfolding in front of them, and that things do eventually change.
The public is finally hearing about climate research from scientists they know and trust, but will that lead to political action to address the crisis? That one is hard to forecast.
For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Miles O'Brien in Tampa.
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Miles O’Brien is a veteran, independent journalist who focuses on science, technology and aerospace.
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