Talking Heads and Climate Change

By Keith Kloor | May 31, 2011 9:36 am

Last week, NBC weatherman Al Roker caught a lot of flak (deservedly so) for suggesting that climate change was now causing tornadoes to strike urban areas.

Not all hope is lost for broadcast news, though. Last night, this segment on the PBS News Hour (the one place where talking heads can be relied on for intelligent commentary) provided a sterling discussion of climate change and severe weather.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: climate change, Journalism, tornadoes
  • Tom Gray

    Instead of talking heads on television, why don’t you refer to the scholarly work on the subject

  • http://collide-a-scape.com Keith Kloor

    I’m not sure what your point is. Do you have any objections to what the talking heads said? Or are you suggesting that what they said is contradicted by scholarly work? If so, perhaps you ought to provide some citations.

  • Tom Gray

    The talking heads state repeatedly that it is difficult to attribute single events and that it is difficult to see a trend. Pielke Junior has published extensively that the data indicates that their is no trend in extreme events. Why not go to this literature than a seven minute television segment.

    Climate change has become the boogey man under the bed. It is mysterious ond responsible fro everything. Perhaps there have been too many inconvenient truths put about and now the issue has become so muddled that rational discussion is impossible.

    There is a tulip festival in Ottawa Canada. There was a study commissioned to see how Ottawa would be affected by climate change. The study indicated that with the warming climate tulips would bloom earlier in 2050 than now. They would bloom before the tulip festival and visitors would be disappointed. They and their money would not come back to Ottawa. The option of holding the tulip festival earlier was not discussed

  • http://collide-a-scape.com Keith Kloor

    I’m still not sure what your point is. This was a seven minute segment that covered various aspects of the climate change/weather severity debate.

    People are talking about it in connection with the tornadoes. A TV program handled the issue well. Broadcast news is a medium that typically oversimplifies and/or sensationalizes/dumbs down climate change. In this case we have an example where none of that was present. I thought it was worth pointing out.

  • http://www.wilsoncenter.org/ecsp Geoff Dabelko
  • http://collide-a-scape.com Keith Kloor

    You’re such a trouble-maker, Geoff. :)

    Hmm, I generally like Sharon’s work in Newsweek, so I was a little perplexed by this particular piece. To start, Andy Revkin noted one problem. I thought she mixed up some apples and oranges.

    Beyond that, there’s lots of good stuff in there about adaptation.

  • Tom Gray

    re 4

    There has been a major controversy about the issue of increasing damage due to weather related events. Pielke Junior has indicated that the portions of the IPCC AR that indicated that there was increasing damage were incorrect. Pielke Junior and other workers ahve analyzed the data and their peer-reviewed  results show no trend of increasing damage. To me this controversy between Trenberth and Pielke Junior is germane to this issue and of far more interest than the opinions of some talking heads on television.

  • NewYorkJ

    It’s important for scientists and informed journalists to not simply group all extreme weather events into one category (note that Tom Gray makes the same mistake in #3 above), which tends to imply similar trends and causes.  This is stated nicely in an RC post:

    http://www.realclimate.org/index.php/archives/2011/02/going-to-extremes/

    I find that TV weather broadcasters, particularly those who lack science degrees (Roker or Watts for example) tend to not have sound knowledge of the science, and is one reason why this group tends to be more denialist.  So while Watts might chastize Roker as a “simpleton”, he probably should look in the mirror.

    On tornadoes, Dr. Jeff Masters has a good summary:

    “Tornadoes require two main ingredients for formation””instability and wind shear. Instability is at a maximum when there is record warm air with plenty of moisture at low levels, and cold dry air aloft. April 2011 sea surface temperature in the Gulf of Mexico were at their third highest levels of the past 100 years, so there was plenty of warm, moist air available to create high instability, whenever approaching storm systems pulled the Gulf air northwards into Tornado Alley, and brought cold, dry air south from Canada. The La Niña event in the Eastern Pacific, in part, caused this spring’s jet stream to have very strong winds that changed speed and direction with height. This sort of shearing force (wind shear) was ideal for putting a twist on thunderstorm updrafts, allowing more numerous and more intense tornadoes than usual to occur. Was this year’s heightened wind shear and instability the result of climate change? We don’t know. Over the past 30 years, there have not been any noticeable trends wind shear and instability over the Lower Mississippi Valley, according to the NOAA Climate Scene Investigations team. Furthermore, there have been no upward trend in the number of violent EF-4 and EF-5 tornadoes over the past 60 years, or in the number of EF-3 and stronger tornadoes (Figure 3.) However, this year’s remarkable violent tornado activity””17 such tornadoes, with tornado season a little more than half over””brings our two-year total for the decade of 2010 ““ 2019 to 30. At this rate, we’ll have more than 150 violent tornadoes by decade’s end, beating the record of 108 set in the 1950s. In summary, this year’s incredibly violent tornado season is not part of a trend. It is either a fluke, the start of a new trend, or an early warning symptom that the climate is growing unstable and is transitioning to a new, higher energy state with the potential to create unprecedented weather and climate events. All are reasonable explanations, but we don’t have a long enough history of good tornado data to judge which is most likely to be correct.”

    http://www.wunderground.com/blog/JeffMasters/archive.html?year=2011&month=05

  • kdk33

    I wonder what caused all those tornados in the 50s? 

    I found this quote interesting:  But when we look at the tornado record, we don’t see any conclusive trends in tornado numbers or severity yet.

    Yet.  Why yet.  Do you think there could be some confirmation bias issues lurking somewhere.

NEW ON DISCOVER
OPEN
CITIZEN SCIENCE
ADVERTISEMENT

Discover's Newsletter

Sign up to get the latest science news delivered weekly right to your inbox!

Collide-a-Scape

Collide-a-Scape is a wide-ranging blog forum that explores issues at the nexus of science, culture and society.

About Keith Kloor

Keith Kloor is a NYC-based journalist, a senior editor at Cosmos magazine, and adjunct professor of journalism at New York University. His work has appeared in Slate, Science, Discover, and the Washington Post magazine, among other outlets. From 2000 to 2008, he was a senior editor at Audubon Magazine. In 2008-2009, he was a Fellow at the University of Colorado’s Center for Environmental Journalism, in Boulder, where he studied how a changing environment (including climate change) influenced prehistoric societies in the U.S. Southwest. He covers a wide range of topics, from conservation biology and biotechnology to urban planning and archaeology.

ADVERTISEMENT

See More

ADVERTISEMENT
Collapse bottom bar
+

Login to your Account

X
E-mail address:
Password:
Remember me
Forgot your password?
No problem. Click here to have it e-mailed to you.

Not Registered Yet?

Register now for FREE. Registration only takes a few minutes to complete. Register now »