Tim Heller, Media Weather Consultant
On the first day of summer last month, simple graphics with red and blue lines dominated social media feeds. Broadcast meteorologists across the country united to “show their stripes.” The colored lines represented years over the last century that were warmer or cooler than normal. The graphics were customized by location, yet there was something similar in all of them. Most of the lines representing the last few decades were red.
This is just one example of how the complicated subject of climate change can be simplified. Ed Hawkins, a professor of climate science at the University of Reading, originally created the climate stripes. The concept achieved wide release with the help of Climate Central, an independent non-profit organization that researches and reports on climate change.
The program, called Climate Matters, helps broadcast meteorologists localize the global story with weekly analyses and high-resolution graphics. All content is free and available in English and Spanish.
“We started in 2010 with Jim Gandy, former Chief Meteorologist at WLTX in Columbia, South Carolina,” said Sean Sublette, a meteorologist with Climate Central. “Jim showed how broadcast meteorologists could communicate the science of climate change concisely and effectively to a local audience. Now more than 700 media meteorologists get our reports.”
Global Stories Told at the Local Level
One recent report focused on rising summer temperatures. According to Climate Central, “Almost 92% of the cities analyzed have experienced an increase in the number of above-normal summer days since 1970, with an average increase of 15 days.”
Another update highlighted the connection between warmer temperatures and an increase in rainfall which contributed to flooding across the Midwest this past spring.
Meteorologists can also access a new online tool to forecast how much renewable energy can be generated based on the expected weather conditions. “WeatherPower” uses gridded model data along with information from solar and wind energy installations. The graphics are updated every day for over 150 specific locations.
Climate Matters in the Newsroom
Two years ago, Climate Matters expanded beyond the weather center and started promoting story ideas for news reporters that are not strictly weather related. The new effort is supported with the help of George Mason University, Climate Communication, NOAA, NASA and six professional organizations including RTDNA and NAHJ.
Sublette points out two recent stories. “We addressed the rising cooling costs and the risks of heat-related illness associated with hotter summers and highlighted the increased risk of vector-borne disease as a warmer and more humid climate becomes more conducive to mosquito populations.”
“Climate Matters: Fitting a Planet Sized Story into Your Newsroom” is one of the featured topics at this year’s Excellence in Journalism Conference, September 5-7 in San Antonio, Texas. The session will help newsrooms “tell local climate stories that speak to their audience's health, wallets, businesses, food, and free time.” Attendees will also hear what the public wants to know about climate change and challenges journalists face when covering this sensitive topic.
Public is Warming to Climate Stories
Sublette believes it’s getting easier for the media to report on climate change. “Extreme weather events motivate the public to ask questions, and they naturally turn to the local broadcast meteorologist as a trusted source. As the public continues to ask questions, we in the weather enterprise have a responsibility to present the most accurate state of the science as possible.”
Broadcast meteorologists can sign up for the free weekly Climate Matters reports here.
Previously published content is saved in a searchable media library to help meteorologists and reporters find content whenever a high-impact weather event occurs.