6 March 2009
Is Your Local TV Weatherperson a Meteorologist? Do They Understand Climate Science?
Posted by Dan Satterfield
As someone who does a TV weathercast each day, I’m keenly aware, that I’m the only person with a Science background that most people see, on a daily basis.
This is true of just about everyone who does weather on TV. This begs the question that is the title of this post. Is your local weather person a Meteorologist?
It depends, I guess, on what your definition of a Meteorologist is.
TV stations tend to call anyone doing the weather on air a Meteorologist, even though many have little formal training in Science.
The American Meteorological Society will not give someone a seal now, unless they have ,the basic equivalent of an undergrad. degree in Meteorology. That means 2 years of Math, including at least 3 semesters of Calculus. In addition, a year of Calculus based Physics, and courses in Atmospheric Dynamics and Thermodynamics.
There are actually two types of certification by the AMS. The old “AMS Seal of Approval”, and the new CBM seal. ( Certified Broadcast Meteorologist).
The old AMS seal had much looser requirements, that have slowly been tightened over the years. The new CBM seal is held by some without an undergrad. degree in Atmospheric Science, because they were allowed to upgrade their AMS seal. In a few years, as old seal holders retire, the vast majority of CBM seal holders will have degrees.
CBM seal holders must also pass a rather rigorous test, and meet continuing education requirements. Most importantly, the must demonstrate that they can convey information well to a broad audience. I have known some very bright Meteorologists, who had the education, but were lousy communicators. I also know a few very good presenters, who have a limited Science background, but do an excellent on air weathercast!
In general, the CBM seal is a good indicator of whether or not your local weather man or woman is really a Meteorologist, with the exceptions noted above.
Now, the second question. Does he/she understand Climate Science??
First of all, climate is much different than weather. I would not bet my house on the high temperature tomorrow (say, within 7 degrees). I WILL bet my house on the average high for the month of June, averaged over the next 4 years. Am I making sense?
Climate Physics is very specialized, and most undergrads have not had much more than an introduction to the topic. If your local weather person has a Science background, then they likely have the Math, and Science knowledge to bring themselves up to speed on the latest research. That’s exactly what I did. I won’t lie. It was tough. Graduate level statistics is required to understand many of the published papers, and for me it’s a bear! A weather person with limited science background, will find it very hard.
Now lets add in Climate Change.
Some recent surveys show that many TV weather folks have serious disagreements with the AMS position on climate change. The position of the AMS is about the same as the ones adopted by virtually EVERY major scientific organization in the world. That being, that this is a very serious problem, that must be solved soon.
Some more famous weathercasters have publicly called climate change a hoax. Weather Channel founder John Coleman is one example. (Note: The Weather Channel has a far different position). Certainly this confuses the public.
What are the reasons for this split between some on air weather people, and the AMS in general? My personal opinion is that it’s related to what I have previously discussed.
1.Weather and Climate, are two different branches of Atmospheric Science.
2. The widely varying education level of on air weather people.
At an AMS meeting last June, a survey of seal holders indicated, that less than half, had read any substantial amount of the IPCC report. Yet, many of these people are commenting on climate change. Many of the comments, bare little resemblance to what is published in peer reviewed journals. Some, have even called it a hoax.
Are they giving a scientific opinion, or a political one?
Bob Ryan, the longtime Meteorologist for WRC TV in Washington, is the only broadcaster to serve as President of the American Meteorological Society. (Very few Meteorologists work in TV. Most in academia, or for NOAA). In August 2007 he wrote a guest editorial, in the Bulletin of the AMS, raising this issue. It’s well worth reading. (The link takes you to the website of the AMS Committee on Station Science. I’m a member of this committee.)
Education is the key to this problem, and the AMS is taking several steps to do just that. I’m proud to have a small part in it.
These thoughts are my own of course, and do not necessarily represent those of the AMS.
Honestly Dan… I don’t need the guy telling me whether I should wear a sweater or not in the morning suffering through 3 semesters of calculus. I just need to know.
That’s just it…The need to know comes down to someone who needs to KNOW HOW to know…
I had begun to suspect this anyway . . . but glad you came out and said it – they are two different sciences. Although I’m not planning to work on TV . . . I’m going to try to take my weather education as far as I can (Ph. D. may sound like a lofty goal, and it is, but I figure, if you’re gonna’ go, go all out) . . . even after I’ve managed to worm my way into the working world of weather forecasting. For now I just tell all my friends (who know i’m somewhat obsessive with weather) that I’m really not qualified to speak about climate change and really am just as confused as the average person. And for public relations reasons, if I was on TV (which hopefully I’ll never be) . . . I wouldn’t touch the subject with a ten foot pole! Kudos to you though for doing the hard research and being outspoken about your findings.
Nice explination and nice site (just found it through twitter). Curious if you think the AMS should create a certification for people who have both meteorology and climatology skills?
A great and interesting article Dan. I would like to what is said here for the public concerning what is a Meteorologist or “educated science person” versus who isn’t. The Seal of approval or CBM is a great place to start, but really the degree or college education should serve as who is or is not qualified. I consider myself a meteorologist but only after going to school for 4 years Meteorology and obtaining a bachelor’s degree. I know you have a B.S. in Meteorology and Masters in Geo/Earth Science and even if you had no seal, there would be no doubt that you were qualified! I would tell people to look at the Bio’s listed on just about every TV news site in the country and check the school/experience credentials of that particular weather person if they are really concerned about it. Ok, got to get back to the books now, working on that master’s degree as well, HELP!!
(Brian Davis AMS/NWA Sealed Meteorologist)
A great and interesting article Dan. I would like to what is said here for the public concerning what is a Meteorologist or “educated science person” versus who isn’t. The Seal of approval or CBM is a great place to start, but really the degree or college education should serve as who is or is not qualified. I consider myself a meteorologist but only after going to school for 4 years Meteorology and obtaining a bachelor’s degree. I know you have a B.S. in Meteorology and Masters in Geo/Earth Science and even if you had no seal or CBM, there would be no doubt that you were qualified! I would tell people to look at the Bio’s listed on just about every TV news site in the country and check the school/experience credentials of that particular weather person if they are really concerned about it. Ok, got to get back to the books now, working on that master’s degree as well, HELP!!
(Brian Davis AMS/NWA Sealed Meteorologist)
iT IS A VERY INTERESTING ARTICLE AND I SEE THE DIFFERENCE GOOD JOB ON IT AND I DONT UNDERSTAND WHY PEOLE ON TV GET A JOB WHEN THEY DONT HAVE AN AMS/CBM APPROVAL AND JUST GOT IN TO THE MARKET AND THERES ALOT OF IT IN CHICAGO WHEN MOST OF THEM SUCK.
The Bob Ryan guest editorial can no longer be found on the AMS website. Is it posted somewhere else?
I will check.