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Since when do weather junkies stick their head in the sand?

Andrew Freedman @ 10:30 AM

Recently published an interview with ABC 7 meteorologist Brian van de Graaff that glaringly exposed the disconnect between television meteorologists and the climate science community.

When asked the most basic question of where he "stands" on whether the global warming seen to date is mainly man-made (as is the consensus opinion of most climate scientists), van de Graaff said:

"History has taught us that weather patterns are cyclical and although we have noticed a warming pattern in recent time, I don't know what generalizations can be made from this with the lack of long-term scientific data. That's all I will say about this."

If that were a question on a climate science exam, van de Graaf better hope for partial credit. Sure, there are cyclical patterns of climate change and weather patterns, but he misses the more important point about trends in long-term data.

Jason Samenow's Forecast

Forecast Confidence: HighToday: Partly to mostly sunny. High 64-68.
Tonight: Clear. Lows 36-45 (suburbs-city).
Tomorrow: Unseasonably mild. High near 70.

Check back tomorrow for Jason's week-ahead forecast.

The global surface thermometer record only stretches back to the 1800s, but reliable traces of the planet's temperature can be made stretching back thousands of years using ice cores, tree ring records, ocean sediments and other "proxy" methods. Together, these records have showed a stark warming trend during the past century, particularly the last 30 years, that is out of step with previous shifts.

Scientists have identified human emissions of greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide, as the most likely culprit for the warming. This is the opinion of most climate scientists, and van de Graaf and others should know this and communicate this to the public.

The current debate in the scientific community is not over what the trends show, or whether much of it is due to human activities, but rather over what is going to happen next and what to do about the problem. Too often it seems that TV weathercasters are mired in the debates of the early 1990s.

As with any scientific issue, there is not going to be 100 percent agreement, nor should there be, but when scientific bodies ranging from the American Geophysical Union to the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and the American Meteorological Society endorse this underlying finding, the 'jury is still out' approach of TV weathercasters like van de Graaf amounts to a shirking of responsibility for educating the public about climate change.

There are many reasons for this contrarianism, several of which have been discussed previously in this column and more in depth elsewhere.

First, it's not in the best interest of a TV weathercaster to become a political advocate or be identified with a political cause. In that sense van de Graaf's response is spot on - the guy's trying to stay out of trouble on an issue that is politically radioactive. But climate change science is political in the sense that the policy solutions to the problem, such as emissions cuts, are political choices. The scientific findings themselves should not be seen as political any more than the five day forecast is a political product.

Neither van de Graaf nor independent weather outlets such as should be in the business of endorsing specific policies. Rather, we should share the scientific data without endorsing a particular policy solution.

TV weathercasters may also be inherently more skeptical of climate predictions because they spend their time wrestling with predicting the day-to-day perturbations of the atmosphere. They see that the computer models that try to pinpoint the locations of weather systems are often wrong, and this may lead them to be more leery of the long range prognostications of climate change forecast models.

This view, however, results in part from a lack of understanding of how climate models work. They aren't simply weather forecast models run for longer periods of time. Nor do they serve as the sole basis for the conclusion that the earth is warming primarily due to human activities.

Van de Graaf and his colleagues can look to the American Meteorological Society, which awards them their television "seals of approval" and hence their legitimacy as TV meteorologists, for a nonpartisan scientific view on climate change.

More than three years ago the AMS issued a statement on climate change that said: "There is convincing evidence that since the industrial revolution, human activities, resulting in increasing concentrations of greenhouse gases and other trace constituents in the atmosphere, have become a major agent of climate change."

Perhaps AMS members should be required to read the organization's statements and consider getting on board with the group's new emphasis on becoming station scientists. Either that, or continue to be left out of covering the biggest weather story of all time.

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