What’s Our Long-Term Forecast? Why TV Meteorologists are Uniquely Qualified to Impact the Way America Thinks about Climate Change


I recently had the pleasure of attending a panel discussion on Climate Change here in Chicago which featured WGN’s popular Chief Meteorologist, Tom Skilling, and University of Illinois Atmospheric Science Professor Don Wuebbles. Dr. Wuebbles is a heavyweight in the field. He has a seemingly endless CV, which includes being the lead author on the first and second international assessments of climate change sponsored by the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a distinction that earned him a share of the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize. Yet, despite Wuebbles’ considerable clout and expertise, I suspect that prior to this presentation only a handful of people in the audience had ever heard of him. Tom Skilling, on the other hand, well, everyone in Chicago knows Tom Skilling (pictured above).

This presentation perfectly illustrates why I decided to build 50yearforecast.org, a site designed to allow anyone in the country to search for and contact their local meteorologists to encourage them to speak openly about climate change. While even the most environmentally-friendly citizens might struggle to name a climatologist, almost everyone has a meteorologist who they know and trust. These meteorologists are uniquely positioned to shift the debate about climate change in America.

There is of course no real debate within the scientific community regarding climate change. Ninety-seven percent of top climate scientists agree that man-made climate change is occurring. However, within the media (and the halls of congress) there is a stubborn insistence that no conclusions can yet be safely drawn. This is why meteorologists are so desperately needed.

Certainly, no individual storm or brutally hot day can be attributed to climate change. However, if meteorologists are willing to speak of climate change as an objective reality that is indeed affecting our weather patterns in powerful ways, viewers will sit up and take notice. It may be easy enough for people to ignore a report on melting ice in the arctic, but hearing your favorite weatherperson speak about the direct impact climate change will have on your community is something different.

Unfortunately, surveys have shown that there are many meteorologists who don’t believe in climate change, or that humans are driving it. The reasons for this vary. Computer models used by climatologists are very different from those used by meteorologists for example and climatology courses are often not required in undergraduate meteorology programs. However, climate change isn’t going away, and eventually it will be undeniable to everyone (climate deniers included) that our current weather is increasingly different from the weather we knew as children.

The sooner that meteorologists feel comfortable and compelled to speak about climate change, the sooner we can take off our blinders and acknowledge the challenges we face. So, please visit 50yearforecast.org and find your local meteorologist. Thank them for their hard work, and offer them the support and encouragement they need to address this issue head on!

Mark Mesle
Chicago, IL

Images: Tom Skilling via JKleeman/flickr; NOAA; climate change speedometer via Shutterstock

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