John Morales is not afraid to discuss climate change and its present and future impacts with viewers, a rare quality among TV weathercasters.
Morales, the chief meteorologist at Miami’s NBC 6, is the longest-tenured broadcast meteorologist in South Florida. He recently took to Twitter to express his disappointment with the media and government for failing to connect the king tides, the highest tides of the year, to sea-level rise, which poses a long-term threat to the region.
“Others with a bullhorn in South Florida should have the courage to discuss #sealevelrise on air & online like I’ve been for years,” he concluded. “Sigh.”
Morales’ 25 years of experience date back to Hurricane Andrew in 1992. Since then, he’s covered many more hurricanes and won Emmy Awards for his reporting. He’s also earned accolades from the National Weather Association and American Meteorological Society.
As a passionate insider, Morales is frustrated with his industry’s relative silence on sea-level rise — a consequence of warming temperatures that are melting glaciers and ice sheets in the Arctic and Antarctic.
Morales is a refreshing voice of reason in an industry that consistently underreports on the topic of climate change. The football scandal known as “deflategate,” for example, received twice as much coverage in 2015.
While there’s a dearth of climate news on TV, there is one place millions of Americans get climate-related information daily: their local TV meteorologists. When they talk about climate change, their viewers (even conservatives) get the message, according to a 2015 study. In fact, people who watch TV weather forecasts are more likely to believe extreme weather is becoming more frequent and express concern about climate change.
“[It’s] so important to have interpreters — like weathercasters — to explain how climate change is affecting local temperatures and precipitation,” Yale communications scholar Anthony Leiserowitz told Grist in an interview. “Being there to provide the answers, and to make appropriate connections between climate change and the event — those are teachable moments.”
According to a study from George Mason University, most TV weathercasters have now come to understand the climate is changing primarily as a result of human activity.
However, many broadcast meteorologists still say they experience significant barriers in reporting on climate change, including a lack of time to prepare and air stories, lack of access to high-quality content that can be rapidly used in their broadcasts, and a lack of access to climate scientists for advice and interviews.
Washington Post weather editor Jason Samenow wrote a column lamenting that only a minority of television meteorologists “feel very comfortable” presenting climate change information on air.
“Most say discussing climate change won’t help their careers. Some fear discussing the role of climate change on weather will upset their viewers — or even newsroom management,” Samenow said.
Samenow shared Morales’ sentiments that, “TV weathercasters need to find the courage to communicate about climate change responsibly. The science is on their side.”
Predicting the weather is a challenge of reading immediate atmospheric conditions. Communicating the realities of climate change requires a much longer — and braver — commitment.
Laura A. Shepard writes for Nexus Media, a syndicated newswire covering climate, energy, policy, art and culture. You can follow her at @LAShepard221.