A Cleveland Plain Dealer newspaper article portrays the city’s broadcast meteorologists as consisting of a disproportionate number of “on-air personalities who are pushing hard against the prevailing winds of climate science.”

Along with forecasting the weekend weather and providing five-day forecasts, your “local TV meteorologists … also will tell you that human-caused global warming is hogwash,” reporter Michael Scott wrote in the December 3 article. His piece within days had drawn more than 200 often ranting comments on the paper’s website, topping even an article on the Cleveland Browns’ having acquired a new quarterback, “rare for any news story,” Scott notes.

Michael Scott
Cleveland Plain Dealer
reporter Michael Scott

Scott reported that the “prevailing thought” on climate science is embodied by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and subsequently seconded by groups ranging from the National Academy of Sciences to the American Meteorological Society (AMS) – Earth is warming, and humans’ emissions of carbon dioxide are accelerating that warming.

He reported that the Cleveland TV meteorologists instead “cite natural fluctuations in the Earth’s climate and dismiss industrialization of the 20th Century and the subsequent spike in atmospheric carbon dioxide as the cause for warming.” He reported individual Cleveland meteorologists as also saying that a cooling, rather than warming, climate disproves IPCC findings, and saying also that solar radiation, rather than increasing carbon dioxide emissions and atmospheric concentrations, is responsible for any warming trends.

A ‘hunch’ it will be cold in 10 years

Those are all arguments often made by parties described as being climate “skeptics” or “deniers” and arguments most climate scientists say have long since been scientifically refuted.

Scott quoted WJW-FOX 8 meteorologist Andre Bernier as saying, “I have a hunch that in 10 years we’re all going to be longing for global warming because it will be so cold.”

“So what in the name of the National Weather Service is going on here?” Scott’s article asked. “Do the local weather guys know more than an international committee of several thousand climate scientists? Or are they too blinded by lake-effect snow squalls to see the big picture?”

His article said the phenomenon of TV meteorologists dismissive of the prevailing climate science “is hardly limited to Cleveland” and is somewhat common among broadcast meteorologists and weathercasters, the latter not having official meteorology educational degrees. He quoted one local meteorologist as saying weather casters better appreciate a shortage of reliable records, another as saying that meteorologists “‘are just more practical’ and not swayed by the opportunity for more grant money to do more research proving climate change,” a frequent point of argument among climate change contrarians.

AMS’ Seiter – Less Skepticism, Not More, Based on Science

To rebut some of the points made by the local Cleveland-area meteorologists and weathercasters, Scott turned to quotes from AMS Executive Director Keith Seiter. “There should be less and less skepticism out there as the science improves each year – not more,” Seiter told Scott. Seiter pointed to a “natural rivalry” between meteorologists, with their short-term focus, and climatologists looking at longer-range trends.

“And that can sometimes lead to a rivalry among the two groups – where some meteorologists are defensive and some climatologists might be condescending, or at least come off that way.”

Scott’s article also quoted the head of Ohio State University’s Atmospheric Science Department, Jay Hobgood: “The day-to-day meteorologists are seeing anecdotal evidence, but not the research that goes back thousands of years …. The two disciplines are very related, but the time span being looked at is very different. Looking at daily weather doesn’t necessarily tell you the climate is changing.”

Most of the comments submitted in response to Scott’s reporting reflected staunch disagreement with the IPCC/National Academy/AMS approaches to climate change science, often expressed in highly emotional ways. Among those commenting on the Plain Dealer piece was Fox 8’s Andre Bernier, who figured prominently in the piece. “Politics and radical environmentalism has hijacked solid scientific investigation and reasoning,” Bernier wrote, adding that a “significant number of meteorologists and climatologists around the world” disagree with IPCC conclusions.

A major Midwest metropolitan meteorologist, however, sees things differently. Asking to remain anonymous in publicly criticizing fellow TV meteorologists and weathercasters, he rejected the suggestion that most broadcast meteorologists “are skeptics. This isn’t true. A large number of BMs [broadcast meteorologists] agree in principal with the IPCC conclusions.”

The meteorologist said conclusions based on accurate temperature records dating back only to 1874 ignore the paleoclimatic ice core data going back over 650,000 years.

Pointing to the Plain Dealer‘s reporting on claims that climate change is the result of natural cycles, the meteorologist insisted that “our current warming cannot be explained solely by natural variability” or in the absence of increased greenhouse gas emissions and concentrations. He suggested too that solar output and sunspot activity and previous periods of warming cannot explain “the unusual warming of the past 40 years.”

“The ‘skeptics’ (you’ll have to find a better word) are a decided minority … but are very passionate about their views and, in some cases, are extremely well funded and quite skilled at public relations,” he said. “Bottom line: the world is warming at an unusual rate, most agree on this, and we are now seeing physical effects of that warming.”

A second prominent broadcast meteorologist asked to comment on the Plain Dealer piece and the views expressed by the Cleveland meteorologists and weathercasters was also critical.

“If you want your car tuned, you go to a trained auto mechanic,” he wrote. “If you want a weather forecast, you can go to the radio, the TV, or web. But for climate, you want a climate specialist; climate is a specialty.” This nationally recognized East Coast meteorologist characterized the cited Cleveland area weathercasters and meteorologists featured in the Plain Dealer as engaging in “hunches and banter, versus science.”

Scott’s Plain Dealer piece and the subsequent online postings and comments about it generated some buzz within professional TV meteorology circles, often seen as being disproportionately “skeptical” of IPCC and other “consensus” science on climate change. (See Yale Forum article: Why Are So Many TV Meteorologists and Weathercasters Climate ‘Skeptics’?.)

Among efforts to address broadcast meteorologists’ most common questions about climate science are plans by The Yale Forum to sponsor one or more workshops and a recently posted Q&A published by the National Environmental Education Foundation based on recent survey results addressing the information needs of meteorologists and extensive postings on the website of the American Meteorological Society.

Bud Ward was editor of Yale Climate Connections from 2007-2022. He started his environmental journalism career in 1974. He later served as assistant director of the U.S. Congress's National Commission...