Your local weatherman may be a climate change skeptic

Kansas City StarFebruary 16, 2010 

We now take you live to a storm within the ranks of America's weathercasters.

It is a quiet controversy about global warming. At least one local broadcaster had been hoping to keep it quiet.

But after considerable persuasion last week, the Fox affiliate WDAF reluctantly allowed its chief meteorologist, Mike Thompson, to explain in an e-mail to The Kansas City Star why he breaks from the scholarly worldview of the causes of climate change.

"It has become completely political — it's not about science at all," he wrote in an e-mail. "If science were the objective, then we would be seeing an entirely different debate. But there are agendas at play, and it has undermined the credibility of climate science."

Others in his profession share that view.

"Global warming is the greatest scam in history," blogged a veteran TV weatherman in San Diego, John Coleman, in late 2007. He then appeared on Glenn Beck's show.

That hardly stunned University of Texas researcher Kris Wilson, who for years has probed the wide range of attitudes, values and skill sets of those beamed into your living room to chat up the weather.

What did surprise Wilson was that 29 percent of meteorologists in a modest survey he conducted took Coleman's side — "a scam," they called the scare.

And a clear majority of 121 weathercasters polled — 62 percent — said they thought climate models were unreliable for predicting temperatures and sea levels to come.

It is important to know that meteorologists are not climatologists.

One group projects snowfall and sometimes blows the call, making doubt and error the weatherman's constant companions. The other group — more degree-decorated, but sound-bite challenged — studies such things as ice caps, sunlight absorption and carbon-dioxide levels to reach conclusions about planetary conditions decades from now.

The quarrels between the two make the American Meteorological Society uneasy. Through education and "more dialogue," the AMS and other science groups seek to bring more weathercasters in line with scientists who insist that global warming is a reality most likely aggravated by human actions.

"The climate scientists tend not to appreciate the concerns of broadcasters, and meteorologists tend to underestimate how much work the climate scientists do and care they take," said AMS Director Keith Seitter. "We're trying to get these folks to communicate with each other better."

Nobody knows exactly how many weathercasters are skeptical of the scientific line on climate change and its causes. Wilson, who soon will release results of a poll of more than 500 meteorologists, calls the skeptics "a vocal minority."

They range from Joseph D'Aleo — who, with Coleman, established the Weather Channel — to a former director of the National Hurricane Center. From WeatherData Inc. executive Mike Smith of Wichita to the 44 TV weathercasters who signed a 2008 petition circulated by U.S. Sen. James Inhofe. An Oklahoma Republican, Inhofe is a fiery critic of climate science.

Plenty of others, including KSHB chief meteorologist Gary Lezak, scoff at the skepticism.

"I absolutely believe it's politically driven," he said. "I'm not politically driven . . . I go with the overwhelming scientific evidence.

"The fact is, the Earth is warming up. Far as I know, 90 to 95 percent of scientists believe climate change is real and it has a human influence. Am I able to change my mind in 10 years if the facts show otherwise? Of course."

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