A newly released national survey of nearly 600 TV meteorologists and weathercasters offers the most detailed view yet available of their attitudes toward climate change.

The survey reflects preliminary findings of research in January and February by George Mason University’s Center for Climate Change Communication under a National Science Foundation grant. A second phase of the ongoing research is to include the perspectives of local television news directors, but there are indications that group has not yet responded in sufficient numbers to the survey initiative. (Respondents are compensated $30 for their participation in the survey, which the sponsors say takes about 20 minutes to complete.)

Of 1,408 names and e-mail addresses of members provided by the American Meteorological Society and the National Weather Association, 571 completed at least some part of the web-based survey. A PDF of the full report, “A National Survey of Television Meteorologists About Climate Change: Preliminary Findings,” is available online here.

Among Key findings highlighted in the report:

  • About 94 percent of respondents said their stations have no full-time reporters covering science or environmental issues, and many feel science stories “become the domain” of the weather staff. Four out of five are comfortable in that role.
  • Climate change “is already one of the most common science topics” the TV meteorologists discuss, most often during community speaking events, followed by anchor “chit-chat” starting or concluding the weather segment. About one-third have discussed climate change on-air, and many cite lack of air time as a major constraint. More than three-out-of-five respondents replied that they are interested in addressing the issue in future broadcasts, with three-out-of-five saying they would like to report on it more frequently than they do now.
  • About 60 percent of those responding said they have not faced “obstacles” to reporting on climate change, but 30 percent said they have. Their perception of scientific uncertainty was the obstacle most identified (68 percent), followed by lack of management support (64 percent).
  • Asked what resources that might increase their reporting on climate change, the respondents pointed to better access to climate scientists for on-camera interviews, access to high-quality graphics and animations; access to peer-reviewed journals; and access to PowerPoint presentations for use in community lectures.

The survey also probed the responding meteorologists’ and weathercasters’ “beliefs in and attitudes about ‘global warming’.” About 54 percent said they think global warming is occurring, a view rejected by 25 percent (21 percent said they don’t know). One-third said they think humans are “mostly” responsible for the warming, with nearly two-thirds pointing to mostly natural causes. About 27 percent said they agree with one prominent TV weathercaster’s view that “global warming is a scam.” [That is an apparent reference to KUSI-TV San Diego meteorologist John Coleman (see Yale Forum article).]

“Despite the strong consensus among climate scientists,” the survey report says, “almost two-thirds (61 percent) of TV weathercasters think there is a lot of disagreement among scientists about whether or not global warming is happening.” The report said that conviction may explain the respondents’ desire for having climate science stories reflect a “balance” of viewpoints. It pointed to other findings saying, given what some see as a strong consensus, that balanced news coverage is “misleading in that it tends to give audience members the false impression that there is a lot of disagreement among scientists about whether or not global warming is happening.”

Asked what sources they trust most for climate change information, 85 percent of the respondents pointed to state climatologists, 83 percent to the National Weather Association, 82 percent to NOAA and the National Weather Service, 80 percent to peer-reviewed journals, 79 percent to the American Meteorological Society, and 73 percent to climate scientists.

Mainstream news organizations, at 18 percent, were among the sources least trusted, along with politicians (4 percent), religious leaders (11 percent), IPCC (44 percent), and other TV meteorologists (53 percent).

As with so much involving communications on climate change, the George Mason survey was not without controversy. Some TV meteorologists expressed concerns about their AMS and NWA e-mails being provided in the first place, and some others expressed suspicions from the start and indicated they were concerned about the nature of the survey and how the information might be used.