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Allison Engblom, Kristin Timm, Raphael Mazzone, David Perkins, Teresa Myers, and Edward Maibach

Abstract

Most Americans misperceive climate change as distant risk; TV weathercasters can help correct this misperception by reporting on the current local impacts of climate change. Some weathercasters, however, are concerned that such reporting may alienate skeptical viewers. The goal of this study was to develop a better understanding of how viewers respond to climate change information delivered by weathercasters. Interviews were conducted with 30 local TV news viewers in Virginia with divergent views about climate change, categorized as engaged, disengaged, and unconvinced. During the interview, participants were shown two graphics and two videos about the local impacts of climate change. Most participants in all groups [21/30 (70%)] expressed interest in learning about climate change from weathercasters, particularly local and national impacts. Most participants in all three groups understood the key points and responded positively to both the graphics and the videos. Several unconvinced participants (6/10) were disinterested in seeing climate change information in the weather segment, but they were not opposed to it; they felt the weather segment was too short to adequately explain the information. These preliminary findings suggest that most of the local TV news viewers interviewed in this study—even those unconvinced that human-caused climate change is happening—respond positively to TV weathercasters as local climate educators. These findings are consistent with the reports of TV weathercasters who say that when they report on climate change, they receive far more positive than negative feedback from viewers.

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David R. Perkins IV, Teresa Myers, Zephi Francis, Raphael Mazzone, and Edward Maibach

Abstract

This research explores the role of weathercasters as local climate change educators and identifies attributes of those who present climate science to their viewers. In 2015, the authors attempted to survey all television weathercasters currently working in the United States (n = 2128); 478 participated, yielding a 22.5% participation rate. Using logistic regression to identify attributes of weathercasters who report on climate change on-air, it was found that the strongest predictors were participation in Climate Matters (a climate change reporting resource program) (β = 1.01, p < 0.001), personal interest in reporting on climate change (β = 0.93, p < 0.001), age (higher rates of reporting among older weathercasters) (β = 0.301, p < 0.05), and number of climate reporting interests (β = 1.37, p < 0.05). Linear regression was used to identify attributes of weathercasters who showed the most interest in climate change reporting. Weathercasters most interested in reporting about climate change on-air were more certain that climate change is happening (β = 0.344, p < 0.001), were convinced climate change is human caused (β = 0.226, p < 0.001), were older (β = 0.157, p < 0.001), and found the Third National Climate Assessment to be useful (β = 0.134, p < 0.05). Weathercasters who are personally motivated to seek and share broad scientific information, acting as “station scientists,” appear to be those who are also proactive in sharing climate change information. Assisting motivated weathercasters with programs that reduce barriers to climate change education outreach complements their abilities to educate the public regarding climate change science.

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Edward Maibach, Raphael Mazzone, Robert Drost, Teresa Myers, Keith Seitter, Katharine Hayhoe, Bob Ryan, Joe Witte, Ned Gardiner, Susan Hassol, Jeffrey K. Lazo, Bernadette Placky, Sean Sublette, and Heidi Cullen

Abstract

Findings from the most recent surveys of TV weathercasters—which are methodologically superior to prior surveys in a number of important ways—suggest that weathercasters’ views of climate change may be rapidly evolving. In contrast to prior surveys, which found many weathercasters who were unconvinced of climate change, newer results show that approximately 80% of weathercasters are convinced of human-caused climate change. A majority of weathercasters now indicate that climate change has altered the weather in their media markets over the past 50 years, and many feel there have also been harmful impacts to water resources, agriculture, transportation resources, and human health. Nearly all weathercasters—89%—believe their viewers are at least slightly interested in learning about local impacts. The majority of weathercasters are interested in reporting on local impacts, including extreme precipitation and flooding, drought and water shortages, extreme heat events, air quality, and harm to local wildlife, crops and livestock, and human health; and nearly half had reported on the local impacts in at least one channel over the past 12 months. Thus, it appears that a strong majority of weathercasters are now convinced that human-caused climate change is happening, many feel they are already witnessing harmful impacts in their communities, and many are beginning to explore ways of educating their viewers about these local impacts of global climate change. We believe that the role of local climate educator will soon become a normative practice for broadcast meteorologists—adding a significant and important new role to their job descriptions.

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