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David R. Perkins IV, Kristin Timm, Teresa Myers, and Edward Maibach

Abstract

Broadcast meteorologists—highly skilled professionals who work at the intersection between climate scientists and the public—have considerable opportunity to educate their viewers about the local impacts of global climate change. Prior research has shown that, within the broadcast meteorology community, views of climate change have evolved rapidly over the past decade. Here, using data from three census surveys of U.S. broadcast meteorologists conducted annually between 2015 and 2017, is a comprehensive analysis of broadcast meteorologists’ views about climate change. Specifically, this research describes weathercasters’ beliefs about climate change and certainty in those beliefs, perceived causes of climate change, perceived scientific consensus and interest in learning more about climate change, belief that climate change is occurring (and the certainty of that belief), belief that climate change is human caused, perceptions of any local impacts of climate change, and perceptions of the solvability of climate change. Today’s weathercaster community appears to be sharing the same viewpoints and outlooks as most climate scientists—in particular, that climate change is already affecting the United States and that present-day trends are largely a result of human activity.

Open access
Kristin M. F. Timm, Edward W. Maibach, Maxwell Boykoff, Teresa A. Myers, and Melissa A. Broeckelman-Post

Abstract

The journalistic norm of balance has been described as the practice of giving equal weight to different sides of a story; false balance is balanced reporting when the weight of evidence strongly favors one side over others—for example, the reality of human-caused climate change. False balance is problematic because it skews public perception of expert agreement. Through formative interviews and a survey of American weathercasters about climate change reporting, we found that objectivity and balance—topics that have frequently been studied with environmental journalists—are also relevant to understanding climate change reporting among weathercasters. Questions about the practice of and reasons for presenting an opposing viewpoint when reporting on climate change were included in a 2017 census survey of weathercasters working in the United States (N = 480; response rate = 22%). When reporting on climate change, 35% of weathercasters present an opposing viewpoint “always” or “most of the time.” Their rationale for reporting opposing viewpoints included the journalistic norms of objectivity and balanced reporting (53%), their perceived uncertainty of climate science (21%), to acknowledge differences of opinion (17%), to maintain credibility (14%), and to strengthen the story (7%). These findings show that climate change reporting from weathercasters sometimes includes opposing viewpoints, and possibly a false balance, but further research is necessary. Moreover, prior research has shown that the climate reporting practices among weathercasters are evolving rapidly and so the problem of false-balance reporting may already be self-correcting.

Open access
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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Kristin M. F. Timm, David Perkins, Teresa Myers, Bernadette Woods Placky, and Edward W. Maibach

Abstract

Television weathercasters are uniquely situated to inform their audiences about the local impacts of global climate change and a growing number of them are adopting the role of climate change educator. We surveyed all American broadcast meteorology professionals in 2015 (N = 2,059; response rate = 22.6%), 2016 (N = 2017; response rate = 31.2%), and 2017 (N = 2,177; response rate = 22.1%) to assess weathercasters’ interest in reporting about climate change; if, where, and how they report about climate change; and the reactions they get from their audiences when they do. Many participating weathercasters indicated that they were moderately or very interested in reporting about climate change, especially using local historical climate information (56%). Just over half of the weathercasters (57.9%) had used one or more communication mode to inform their viewers, or other people in their community, about the local impacts of climate change in the prior year. The most commonly used modes were social media (42.7%), school visits (36.3%), community events (33.1%), and on-air broadcasts (31.3%). Most weathercasters who had reported about climate change on air indicated they received either positive viewer feedback or little feedback (61.9%); conversely, weathercasters who had not reported about climate change expected to receive mostly negative feedback (44.2%). In sum, this analysis suggests that large numbers of weathercasters have adopted the role of climate change educator in their communities; they use a range of communication modes to share climate change information with their audiences and receive mostly positive feedback from their audiences when they do.

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Irina Feygina, Teresa Myers, Bernadette Placky, Sean Sublette, Tammie Souza, John Toohey-Morales, and Edward Maibach

Abstract

A rapidly growing number of TV weathercasters are reporting on the local implications of climate change, although little is known about the effectiveness of such communication. To test the impact of localized climate reporting, we conducted an internet-based randomized controlled experiment in which local TV news viewers (n = 1,200) from two American cities (Chicago and Miami) watched either three localized climate reports or three standard weather reports featuring a prominent TV weathercaster from their city; each of the videos was between 1 and 2 min in duration. Participants’ understanding of climate change as real, human-caused, and locally relevant was assessed with a battery of questions after watching the set of three videos. Compared to participants who watched weather reports, participants who watched climate reports became significantly more likely to 1) understand that climate change is happening, is human-caused, and is causing harm in their community; 2) feel that climate change is personally relevant and express greater concern about it; and 3) feel that they understand how climate change works and express greater interest in learning more about it. In short, our findings demonstrate that watching even a brief amount of localized climate reporting (less than 6 min) delivered by TV weathercasters helps viewers develop a more accurate understanding of global climate change as a locally and personally relevant problem, and offer strong support for this promising approach to promoting enhanced public understanding of climate change through public media.

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Ashley A. Anderson, Teresa A. Myers, Edward W. Maibach, Heidi Cullen, Jim Gandy, Joe Witte, Neil Stenhouse, and Anthony Leiserowitz

Abstract

Local television (TV) weathercasters are a potentially promising source of climate education, in that weather is the primary reason viewers watch local TV news, large segments of the public trust TV weathercasters as a source of information about global warming, and extreme weather events are increasingly common (Leiserowitz et al.; U.S. Global Change Research Program). In an online experiment conducted in two South Carolina cities (Greenville, n = 394; Columbia, n = 352) during and immediately after a summer heat wave, the effects on global warming risk perceptions were examined following exposure to a TV weathercast in which a weathercaster explained the heat wave as a local manifestation of global warming versus exposure to a 72-h forecast of extreme heat. No main effect of the global warming video on learning was found. However, a significant interaction effect was found: subjects who evaluated the TV weathercaster more positively were positively influenced by the global warming video, and viewers who evaluated the weathercaster less positively were negatively influenced by the video. This effect was strongest among politically conservative viewers. These results suggest that weathercaster-delivered climate change education can have positive, albeit nuanced, effects on TV-viewing audiences.

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Teresa A. Myers, Edward W. Maibach, Bernadette Woods Placky, Kimberly L. Henry, Michael D. Slater, and Keith L. Seitter

Abstract

Climate Matters is a localized climate change reporting resources program developed to support television (TV) weathercasters across the United States. Developed as a pilot test in one media market in 2010, it launched nationwide in 2013; in the autumn of 2019 more than 797 weathercasters were participating in the program. In this paper we present evidence of the impact of the Climate Matters program on Americans’ science-based understanding of climate change. We analyzed three sets of data in a multilevel model: 20 nationally representative surveys of American adults conducted biannually since 2010 (n = 23 635), data on when and how frequently Climate Matters stories were aired in each U.S. media market, and data describing the demographic, economic, and climatic conditions in each media market. We hypothesized that 1) reporting about climate change by TV weathercasters will increase science-based public understanding of climate change and 2) this effect will be stronger for people who pay more attention to local weather forecasts. Our results partially support the first hypothesis: controlling for market-level factors (population size, temperature, political ideology, and economic prosperity) and individual-level factors (age, education, income, gender, and political ideology), there is a significant positive association between the amount of Climate Matters reporting and some key indicators of science-based understanding (including that climate change is occurring, is primarily human caused, and causes harm). However, there was no evidence for the second hypothesis. These findings suggest that climate reporting by TV weathercasters, as enabled by the Climate Matters program, may be increasing the climate literacy of the American people.

Open access
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.

Open access