10 July 2013

Baltimore Weathercaster Under Fire For Incorrect Statements on Climate Change

Posted by Dan Satterfield

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Two weeks ago I attended a climate change short course at the 41st American Meteorological Society conference on broadcast meteorology in Nashville. Top experts in the field like Dr. Tony Broccolli, Dr. Ben Santer (National Academies of Science) and Keith Dixon of the Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Lab spent the entire day with on air meteorologists updating them on the latest in the field. The AMS Committee on Station Science (I’m the chairman) brought in Dr. Jennifer Francis, who is researching how the loss of Arctic Sea ice is affecting our day-to-day weather already.

There used to be considerable skepticism of the IPCC reports among forecasters, but I’ve noticed a significant change over the last two years. That is especially true of those with a college degree in atmospheric science who qualify as a Certified Broadcast Meteorologist, under AMS rules. I suspect there are multiple reasons for the change, and the primary one is that forecasters are taking the time to really educate themselves on climate science. Bud Ward, at the Yale Forum on Climate Change and the Media, has put together several excellent seminars where forecasters get a chance to get answers to their questions from top scientists in the field. When this happens, preconceived ideas that they may have read or heard outside of the peer-reviewed journals begin to disappear.

There may be another reason for the change, and that’s because weathercasters who make comments that turns out to be an internet based myth are being called out by those who are familiar with the real science. That’s happened to Baltimore weathercaster Tony Pann of WBAL-TV. Some comments he reportedly made on air were the subject of a letter in the Baltimore Sun this week. The station claimed they were just airing both sides, but there is really just the science on one side and a political opinion on the other. Claiming balanced journalism here is actually a false balance. We do not go out and interview someone who thinks the Moon landing was a hoax every July 20th to be fair and balanced!

I do not know if Mr. Pann actually said that the Earth has stopped warming, or that the planet is not losing ice at a rapid rate. I do know that the peer reviewed science says these statements are completely incorrect. Claiming otherwise is not playing with the facts. As an on air meteorologist myself, I am sympathetic to anyone who says something bone-headed on air, because I have done it many times! I am also very familiar with the old adage that “people who live in glass houses…..”

That said, I have little sympathy for someone who dresses up a political opinion, and sells it as science fact. If he is displaying an AMS Seal (This was the previous seal that the AMS gave before standards were tightened, and the new (and more difficult to qualify) for CBM seal was initiated) then he has an obligation to give his viewers accurate science. The AMS has a new policy statement on climate change and reading that might be a good start. The beginning of the statement dispels both myths.


From Nuccitelli 2012. Click image for details on the paper.

The effects of this warming are especially evident in the planet’s polar regions. Arctic sea ice extent and volume have been decreasing for the past several decades. Both the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets have lost significant amounts of ice. Most of the world’s glaciers are in retreat.

I would also suggest he look at attending a seminar at an AMS meeting or elsewhere, where he can ask questions of those who are actually publishing the latest science. If he still thinks the Earth is cooling after that, then he should write it up and submit it to a peer-reviewed journal. If it gets published then it will be science, and not political opinion.

If you are curious as to why these claims have absolutely no merit, you can go physicist John Cook’s website Skeptical Science where he routinely dispels these internet myths (They tend to be spread most often from just a handful of bloggers, who have little or no background in climate science or atmospheric physics). The myth that he planet is cooling is covered here. The sea ice myth is covered here. Both are referenced with the peer-reviewed science.

There are still a few geologists who refuse to accept plate tectonics, and there were physicists who went to their grave insisting the Earth traveled through space in an invisible “ether”. Some people just refuse to change their minds even when presented with overwhelming evidence. This will be the case with some forecasters I know., but the numbers are dropping, and will continue to drop. Dr. Jim White of the Univ. of Colorado explained it perfectly while we were making our 4th attempt in an LC 135 to take off from a melting Greenland Icecap two years ago:

 There are only 3 things that affect the planet’s temperature:

1. The amount of radiation from the sun (virtually unchanged)

2. The reflectivity of the planet (Albedo). Melting ice is decreasing this already in the high north and it is very likely adding to the warming.

3. The levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere (Rising rapidly). The pre-industrial levels alone keep Earth from being a frozen snowball. You see, we’re really too far from the sun for liquid water unless we have at least some greenhouse gases to trap heat.)

Everything else is an internal oscillation of the climate system. These internal swings explain why each year is not warmer than the year before, but when you look at it over decades the trend will go up. It has to. As my all time favorite quote from Neil de Grasse Tyson says “The laws of physics are real, everything else is politics!”