Why TV Weathercasters Matter for Communicating Climate Change





Jason Thompson

A paper submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the Master of Arts – Journalism and Media Studies

Hank Greenspun School of Journalism and Media Studies Greenspun College of Urban Affairs The Graduate College

Dr. Paul Traudt, Associate Professor

JMS 730: Journalism and Media Theory

 University of Nevada, Las Vegas

December 2015



Observing, reporting, predicting and believing one has control over the weather has had a perennial importance to society for many reasons ranging from the practical to the deep psychological. This research highlights why weathercasting matters for communicating climate change according to scant prior academic literature. It also is a preliminary beginning to future content analysis, agenda-setting, and media effects studies which should examine the relationship between climate change messages from television (TV) weathercasters and audience opinions regarding climate change as an important issue.




This research examines the relationship between climate change[1]  messages from television (TV) weathercasters and audience opinions regarding climate change as an important issue. The main reason for looking at this is “despite being one of the most important societal challenges of the 21st century, public engagement with climate change currently remains low in the United States (van der Linden, Maibach & Leiserowitz, 2015, p. 758). Although “many millions of dollars have been poured into outreach and advocacy efforts…we have failed to build the political will needed for significant national climate policy” (Luers, 2013, p.14).  A possible reason for this failure is “advocates have not effectively engaged the public, especially at the grassroots level” (p. 13). A recent national survey supports Luers’ previous statement since it found the public did not rank climate change as an important public policy issue (Pew Research Center, 2009a). A “multilevel regression and poststratification model” (Howe, Mildenberger, Marlon & Leiserowitz, 2015, p. 596) found 36% of the United States public opposed “setting strict CO2 limits on existing coal-fired power plants” (Yale Project on Climate Change Communication, 2014). Climate change policy opposition in the United States has been one of the major factors behind the failure to pass a “legally binding treaty…[since]…it would be dead on arrival on Capitol Hill without the required two-thirds majority vote in the Republican-controlled Senate” (Davenport, 2015, p. A10). In order to better understand this communication breakdown between climate change messages from the IPCC and the United States public one should investigate the science communicators the public has been engaged with including scientists, the media, and interpersonal communication. This research discounts the messages sent directly from the scientists in the form of journal articles and public talks since these communications do not have a mass audience. The interpersonal communication category was not investigated since the majority of the public’s acquaintances do not have access to supercomputers, satellites, and ice core samples.[2] This leaves the media as the major category one should study in order to understand how IPCC messages effect the public. This is because;

In choosing and displaying news, editors, newsroom staff, and broadcasters play an important part in shaping political reality. Readers learn not only about a given issue, but also how much importance to attach to that issue from the amount of information in a news story and its position. (McCombs and Shaw, 1972, p. 176).

Since “the mass media may well determine the important issues—that is, the media may set the ‘agenda” (McCombs and Shaw, 1972, p. 176) if TV weathercasters failed to report what many climate scientists were saying this could have been a major factor which kept climate change off the public’s radar considering important issues.

The Obvious Overlooked

An army of communication researches have studied the “role of media in climate change communication” (Schäfer, & Schlichting, 2014, p. 142) for example a meta-analysis from 2014 looked at “133 studies”[3] (p. 142). It found “activity has risen strongly over time” and “scholarship in the field still concentrates strongly on Western countries and print media” (p. 142).  For example according to the meta-analysis 67.5% of the articles focused on print media, 12% looked at TV, and 17% analyzed online sources including blogs (p. 151). The relatively low amount of analysis regarding TV is interesting since TV weathercasters are the “only source of scientific information that some people encounter on a regular basis” (Wilson, 2008, p. 73) and are “the most-watched part of the local newscast” (p. 73). Furthermore according to survey results weathercasters “agreed’ (19%) or ‘strongly’ agreed (10%)…that ‘global warming is a scam” (Wilson, 2009, p. 1457) this percentage increased to 27% when the same question was asked for a later larger survey (Maibach, Wilson & Witte, 2010, p. 4). Since science researchers have said weathercasting has been “all but ignored” (Henson, 2010, p. xi) and “scholarly journals in journalism and communication have eschewed the study of television weathercasters” (Wilson, 2008, p. 75; Meister, 2001, p. 416; Vannini & McCright, 2007, p. 50) further investigation into this topic is warranted.

This paper contends television weathercasts provided a powerful agenda-setting effect regarding the importance the public places on climate change as an issue. It is presumed that when the public thinks climate change is an important issue it will then lead to political changes.  This research intends to highlight the correlation between the frequency of climate change mentioned or depicted in television weathercasts and audience opinions regarding the importance of climate change. For example “despite the high profile of global warming as an issue critical to society, and its obvious connection to weather and climate, the topic elicited large helpings of both skepticism and silence from weathercasters” (Henson, 2010, p. 20) and survey results reported global warming last on the list of 20 possible policy priorities according to the public (Pew Research Center, 2009a).

This descriptive research intends to map out and summarize the academic literature on TV weathercasters. After the report and analysis on what is known regarding this topic it will point out where more work is needed as it relates to climate change communication. Four categories were created that represent what is known regarding TV weathercasters. The first section described the nature of TV weathercasters throughout history. It named some prominent TV weathercasters and described what messages they broadcasted and to whom. In the second section this research reviewed academic literature which explored why weathercasting matters. In the third section this paper examined who (or what organizations) helped set the agenda for TV weathercasters. In other words it will look at the forces that have possibly shaped the opinion of TV weathercasters and why. Then in section four in preparation for a first ever content analysis on the frequency of climate change messages during TV weathercasts anecdotal accounts of weathercasters denying climate change were gathered from the literature for categorization. This along with the survey results of weathercaster and public opinions concerning climate change could help with the creation of a coding instrument for the content analysis[4]. Once the content analysis is finished both an agenda-setting and media effects study could be conducted. In preparation for those studies examples that could help guide their creation were noted from the communication literature. This and other things we do not know about regarding TV weathercasts as it relates to climate change and public opinion of climate change was described in greater detail in section five.

  1. The Who, What, Where & When Regarding TV Weathercasters

Robert Henson did a good job explaining the origins of TV weathercasters. He did this by describing who they were, what they reported, where they reported from, and when they did it–in his history of weather broadcasting. Henson noted early weathercasting pioneer Jim Fidler “Radio’s Original Weatherman” but “Officially Jimmie is known as James C. Fidler Co-Operative Observer U.S. Weather Bureau” and his early reports (Henson, 2010, p. 7 & 8; Fidler, 1938). Eventually “Fidler moved to television…where he used a straightforward format similar to that of his radio show” (Henson, 2010, p. 7). Also Henson notes “it took President Franklin D. Roosevelt and the New Deal to make weather a standard part of radio” (p. 6). Another boost came after World War II because “the war effort had trained thousands of enlisted men in meteorology” (p. 9). For example “Washington, D.C., got its first television weather in 1948 from Louis Allen…Allen’s meteorological background came from service in the navy; he was among the forecasters of sea and swell conditions for the pivotal U.S. invasions of Iwo Jima and Okinawa” (p. 9). Also a technological factor was added since “the number of sets in use soared to 3.6 million in 1949 and 9.7 million in 1950, with far greater growth to come over the next few years” (p. 9).

What television weathercasters were broadcasting has changed throughout the years. For example “New York City’s first television weathercast appeared October 14, 1941, on experimental outlet WNBT (later to become WNBC). The star was Wooly Lamb, an animated creature that remained on WNBT for seven years” (p. 7). This silly weathercaster was replaced with more serious stars possibly because after “20 years of traumatic world events behind them, the U.S. public of the late 1940s took its news seriously” (p. 9). By the 1950s the weathercast had turned silly again. According to Henson this was “TV weather’s wildest and most uninhibited period, the age of puppets, costumes, and ‘weathergirls” (p. 11). In response “AMS hierarchy” decided to issue an “AMS seal of approval…approved in a May 1955 meeting of the AMS council” (p. 14). Although the “AMS seal vastly improved the status of serious weathercasters… ‘happy talk’…drastically altered local news and weather” (p. 15). Instead of separate segments “the news ‘team’ was now instructed to make conversation that bridged gaps between segments…joking, amiable weathercasters suited such a format” (p. 15). Storms and dangerous tornadoes from the 1970s (p. 16) and a graphical revolution in the 1980s (p. 16) helped return a serious approach to weathercasting.

Another force called The Weather Channel (TWC) helped bring TV weathercasts to “75 million homes” by 1999 (Batten, 2002, p. 162). Also one researcher noted that in 1996 TWC received “15 million viewers a day” (Sturken, 2001, p. 167). These are some serious statistics considering media saturation. TWC first aired in 1982. The story of its creation according to Frank Batten, chairman of Landmark Communications is as follows:

By this time next year, we’ll be offering the nation’s first all-weather television programming. It will be all weather, twenty-four hours a day…First, silence. Then a collective groan went up from the audience…Isn’t this a waste of a scarce transponder? Who will actually watch this stuff? (p. 3).


As it turns out many viewers tuned in for example in 2002 “the Weather Channel was the number one ‘news and information’ cable-ratings entity. (If you include ESPN in the ‘news and information’ category’ [the TWC was] number two” (Batten, 2002, p. 161 & 162). Two factors that helped TWC’s success was its “large investment in a satellite transponder”[5] (p. 83) plus a “black box” (p. 83) which enabled “cable operators to receive local weather forecasts” (p. 83). Another factor was its relationship with the National Weather Service (p. 70). As TWC grew “both the Carter and Reagan administrations targeted the 5,000 person NWS” (p. 70). Dr. Richard E. Hallgren “former IBM-er…became head of the NWS in 1979” and fought “off each round of proposed cuts” (p. 71). In meetings “Coleman told Hallgren that a key part of his plan involved displaying NWS severe-weather warnings and watches instantaneously—a public service that, again, would serve the purposes of both the NWS” and the TWC  (p. 71). Also most of TWC’s “content came directly from the National Weather Service” (p. 216). Perhaps surprisingly “anybody else who had the resources and the inclination to tap the NWS’s data stream could do so” (p. 216) and “that’s exactly what was beginning to happen in the mid-1990s” (p. 217). Batten was aware that “hundreds of Web sites were offering NWS-derived weather data” (p. 217) and that this was where the future of weathercasting was headed. Next this research examined the deeper reasons for why TV weathercasting has had such a prominent position within audience mind frames.

  1. Why Weathercasting Matters

A concluding finding from a recent science communication article said television weathercasters were “perhaps the most visible and least understood science communicators in our culture” (Wilson, 2008, p. 85). Yet interestingly “a search of academic journals found limited research on television weather” (Wilson, 2008, p. 74). The small population that does exist in the communications and media studies fields used diverse methods from various fields including a rhetorical study (Meister, 2001, p. 415), surveys (Wilson, 2002, p. 246; Maibach, Wilson, & Witte, 2010), descriptive critical culture studies (Sturken, 2001, p. 161; Wilson, 2008, p. 78); socio-semiotics and critical discourse analysis (Vannini & McCright, 2007, p. 49), and social psychology (Gronbeck, 1997, p. 361).

According to a social psychology point of view “through technological framing, geographical roll calling, and temporal progress from past (today’s weather) to present (current conditions) to future (the forecast) the weather person works communal magic, not only scientistically predicting the weather but also articulating the lived conditions of a people” (Gronbeck, 1997, p. 366). Gronbeck contends that people watch the weathercast in order to help them “make meaning” (p. 372) and to “discover…[a] psychological coherence, [an] experiential sense of continuity, and [a] social assurance that comes from viewing television news programs” (p. 372). Essentially weather news “helps reinforce or reaffirm particular values” (p. 364) this probably includes ideas relating to climate change policy. Perhaps the weathercaster has taken the place of shamans of the past? This idea is hinted at by Gronbeck when he said a weathercast segment “presented a dazzling technological display under the seeming control of weather wizard Frary—weatherman as shaman” (p. 366).[6] Also another researcher citing Lessl said “television ‘acts as a tribal storyteller” (Meister, 2001, p. 417). In other words “television takes on the role of the bard, reflecting salient cultural messages that centralize cultural identity” (p. 417).

A critical culture study on TV weathercasting said the weather was now “a central part of hard news” (Sturken, 2001, p. 166). Although instead of fulfilling a deep human psychological need Sturken said the audience watches weathercasters for a source of “entertainment” (Sturken, 2001, p. 162). Also she said “emphasis on prediction [and control] consistently elides environmental issues… [for example TWC] …never discusses the current controversy over global warming” (p. 176). Instead they focus on how “weather is relevant to everyday activities” (Meister, 2001, p. 415). More specifically this “weathertainment’…predicates and encourages consumer practices” (p. 415).

Other researchers examined weathercasts through a socio-semiotic analysis and found “an obvious way in which humans relate to their biophysical environment is through everyday weather” (Vannini & McCright, 2007, p. 49). Also they stated talking about the weather is how people relate to each other for example it is “often the easiest and safest way to initiate a conversation” (p. 49). Another truism they stated was “weather reporting and forecasting clearly are important within mass media discourse” (p. 49). New information they sought to find surrounded how the “(military, scientific, and corporate) technocrats” had “incorporated weather reporting and forecasting into existing…orders of discourse” (p. 51). These ideological orders included “leisure, consumption, capital accumulation and risk management” (p. 49). Another researcher added to this idea when he said “Nature, with all its priestly and bardic tones to ‘ecology,’ ‘sustainable development,’ ‘sustainable agriculture,’ ‘business ecology,’ and ‘spirituality’ become intrinsic components in how we buy and sell nature” (Meister, 2001, p. 426).

Selling the weather has become big business (Seabrook, 2000, p. 44). For example “from 1989 to 1995, according to the Center for Media and Public Affairs, weather coverage wasn’t among the top-ten topics on the nightly network news. In 1996, it was eighth, and in 1998 it was fourth—more than eleven hundred weather-related stories ran altogether” (p. 44). Also Ungar used the “Vanderbilt University Television News Archives to determine if annual coverage given to heat waves, droughts, hurricanes and floods [had] increased on the network news between 1968 and 1996. An index of extreme weather events show[ed] a clear trend toward increased coverage, especially since 1988” (Ungar, 1999, p. 133). Interestingly this increase in weather coverage came at a time when the IPCC stated “there [was] no evidence that extreme weather events, or climate variability, [have] increased, in a global sense, through the 20th century” (Ungar, 1999, p. 133). Also Ungar found “no association between coverage of climate change and the overall coverage of extreme events” so something other than natural forces and anthropogenic climate change must be driving audiences to watch weathercasts.

Evidence that the TV weathercast is important also comes from its position in the newscast that is as a lead story or concluding segment. For example Gronbeck stated “the lead story[7] on Tuesday, March 23, 1993, concerned the danger of flooding in Cedar Rapids” (p. 364). This means “the news department decided that the most newsworthy information of the day related to preparing the citizenry for rampaging nature” (p. 364).[8] Also according to survey results “the traffic and weather components of the newscast increased by a smaller percentage (to 29% from 25%), but four in ten of the newscasts examined in the study led with a weather story” (Pew Research Center, 2013).

From this review it is clear that weathercasters serve an important role within society. Therefore a look at what drives weathercasts is key in order to gain further understanding regarding the agenda-setting effect of TV weathercasts on audience opinions regarding the importance of climate change.

  1. Who Sets the Weathercasters’ Agenda?

According to Robert Henson a science writer for the National Center for Atmospheric Research when weathercasters did discuss climate change it was

…usually addressed outside the confines of the weather segment itself, either in offhand comments tossed out before or after the segment or else in blogs, public talks, and other settings that allowed for more in-depth discussion. Bob Ryan, then at WRC, wrote a six-part series of articles on the case for climate change that were posted on WRC’s Web Site and promoted on the air in early 2009 (Henson, 2010, p. 20).

Another weathercaster Gene Norman (KHOU, Houston) echoed sentiments about the time constrained weathercast when he said, “My bottom line [about climate change] is I think something is happening….Is it human activity? I don’t know. I need to get better educated” (Henson, 2010, p. 198). Organizations such as the American Meteorological Society (AMS) with its station science initiative (AMS, 2015), the Yale Project on Climate Change with its 2009 workshop that brought weathercasters and climate scientists together, and the National Environmental Education Foundation which teamed up with the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research have all worked to help inform weathercasters about climate change. Also in 1997 President Bill Clinton and Vice President Al Gore “invited a group of more than 100 weathercasters to the White House for a summit…some of the weathercasters were clearly impressed. Other remained dubious, seeing the gathering mainly in political terms” (p. 191). The following section describes those who have remained skeptical regarding climate change.

  1. Weathercasters as Climate Change Deniers

Although no content analysis has been done regarding TV weathercasts and their messages regarding climate change, evidence of skepticism is present. For example, AMS Past-President and current AMS Commissioner of Professional Affairs wrote in an article that, “alarmingly, many weathercasters and certified broadcast meteorologists dismiss, in most cases without any solid scientific arguments, the conclusions of the National Research Council (NRC), Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), and other peer-reviewed research (Ryan & Toohey-Morales, 2007, p. 1164). Another example is Cecily Tynan, one of the weathercasters who remained dubious after the White House event. He said “global warming was ‘a theory that is widely accepted, but it’s still under debate in the scientific community” (Henson, 2010, p. 191). Tynan then “told viewers of WPVI in Philadelphia, as noted in the New York Times. ‘Judging by the P.R. event that was orchestrated here, it’s certainly become a very hot topic in the Clinton Administration” (p. 191). Also in “Cleveland, Ohio, at least four broadcast meteorologists expressed skepticism on climate change. ‘I have a hunch that in 10 years we’re all going to be longing for global warming because it will be so cold,’ Andre Bernier (WJW)—one of the two men on camera for The Weather Channel’s first-ever broadcast in 1982—told the Cleveland Plain Dealer in 2008” (p. 21). James Spann (WBMA, Birmingham, Alabama) weighed in on the controversy when he said, “I do not know of a single TV meteorologist who buys into the man-made warming hype. I know there must be a few out there, but I can’t find them” (p. 197). Also “all three staff meteorologists at KLTV, the ABC affiliate broadcasting to the Tyler-Longview-Jacksonville area of Northeast Texas, joined forces last November to deliver an on-air rebuttal of the idea that humans are changing the earth’s climate” (Dawson, 2008).

By comparison the weathercasters who supply doubt are fairly prominent in the news media compared to those who supply certainty–especially considering a conservative audience. For example Marc Morano former communications director for James Inhofe (Desmogblog.com, 2015) is a weathercaster who has a website called Climate Depot and a documentary called Climate Hustle. Also Anthony Watts is another popular weathercaster who has a website tagline that reads “The world’s most popular site on global warming and climate change” (Watts Up With That, 2015). Perhaps the most famous weathercaster who is also a climate change skeptic is “TWC founder John Coleman” (Henson, 2010, p. 198). In 2007, at San Diego’s KUSI, he called global warming “the greatest scam in history,’ echoing earlier remarks by Inhofe” (p. 198). This scam label was used in survey questions in order to gauge weathercasters’ opinions for example “global warming is a scam” (Wilson, 2009, p. 1457). According to Coleman, “Some dastardly scientists with environmental and political motives manipulated long term scientific data to create an illusion of rapid global warming” (Henson, 2010, p. 198). In order to measure the agenda-setting effect of TV weathercasts on audience opinions regarding climate change one must find out how many weathercasters share Coleman’s beliefs.

Thanks to an extensive census survey of 571 TV weathercasters we now have a pretty good idea considering what TV weathercasters think of climate change. For example “more than half of our respondents (54%) indicated that global warming is happening, 25% indicated it isn’t, and 21% say they don’t know yet” (Maibach, Wilson & Witte, 2010, p. 4). This question gauges whether or not weathercasters trust long term scientific data as Coleman made clear in his prior quote that he did not. This debate is exemplified by Michael Mann’s Hockey Stick graph and the legal battles that followed. It is noteworthy that barely half of all weathercasters agree with the mainstream scientific paradigm that holds temperatures have increased. Although it might complicate the question it is important to find out how much weathercasters think temperatures have increased.

According to the survey “about one-third (31%) reported that global warming is caused mostly by human activities, while almost two-thirds (63%) reported it is caused mostly by natural changes in the environment” (Maibach, Wilson & Witte, 2010, p. 4). This is an astonishing revelation considering television weathercasters sided more with The American Physical Society’s (APS) Climate Change Statement Review (CCSR) Workshop Framing Document[9] compared with IPCC findings. It would be interesting to find out how many weathercasters read the CCSR or if not what sources did they draw on to make up their opinion.

The survey also found “half indicated that they have thought ‘a lot’ about global warming, and a large majority said they are fairly or very well informed about the causes of global warming (93%), the consequences of global warming (89%), and the ways to reduce global warming (86%)—numbers that are much higher than public responses to the same questions” (Maibach, Wilson & Witte, 2010, p. 4). The responses about being informed were not too surprising considering weathercasters probably want to consider themselves very well informed. The big surprise has to do with the first question which reported half of all weathercasters have not thought about global warming very much. This response deserves further investigation

The next part of the survey addresses weathercaster opinions that directly relate to climate change as a policy issue versus a scientific and statistical one like in the prior questions. It was interesting that only about “half of weathercasters indicated that humans could reduce global warming (58%), and that the U.S. should reduce greenhouse gas emissions regardless of what other countries do (63%)” (Maibach, Wilson & Witte, 2010, p. 4). If 42% of all weathercasters think humans cannot reduce global warming it would not be surprising if a content analysis of their broadcasts reported a low frequency of climate change messages. The second question addresses issues relating to third world development and the rising emissions accompanying it. An argument can be made that since China’s emissions have increased so much it would negate emission cuts made by the developed countries. The counter-argument is that the developed countries could be a model for other countries to follow.

The following response pertains to scientific certainty regarding global warming since “almost half (47%) felt they needed some or a lot more information before forming a firm opinion about global warming, and almost one-third (30%) said they could easily change their mind about global warming” (Maibach, Wilson & Witte, 2010, p. 4). This is important because “just over one quarter (27%) agreed with the statement by a prominent TV weathercaster: ‘global warming is a scam” (p. 4). Once content analyses are completed, audience effects studies can determine if weathercasts have had a significant effect on audience opinions regarding climate change as an important issue.

  1. Audience Effects Regarding Weathercasts and Climate Change

In order to determine if and how TV weathercasts matter (when it comes to audience opinions regarding the importance of climate change) two studies should be completed. The first is an agenda-setting study which could be modeled after prior research (Wanta & Wu, 1992). Items to be considered include the construction of a “media issue concern index” (p. 851) which measures the amount of concern the audience places on certain issues. Also the then finished content analysis will need to be indexed as well. This will help measure audience exposure along with self-reported survey results. In the end correlations will reflect whether the data supports the agenda-setting function of TV weathercasts concerning the importance of climate change or not.

The second study which should be carried out involves finding whether or not weathercasts have had a direct effect on audience opinions regarding the importance of climate change. One study that could be used as an example looked at the effect Fox News, CNN, and MSNBC had on audience acceptance of global warming (Feldman, Maibach, Roser-Renouf & Leiserowitz, 2012, p. 3). It found “the evidence supported a model of direct persuasion, at least among Republicans” (p. 23). Another study which “conducted ordinary least squares (OLS) regressions” (Krosnick & Bo MacInnis, 2010, p. 2) that “predicted a series of outcomes” found “more exposure to Fox News was associated with more rejection of many mainstream scientists’ claims about global warming” (p. 2). Krosnick and MacInnis said “it was impossible to discern from these results what causal processes produced the observed relations” (p. 5). They ventured two possibilities one was Fox News exposure “caused viewers to adopt those positions” (p. 5) the other was selective exposure was at work. Although Feldman and others were able to rule out “biased processing, or motivated reasoning” (Feldman, Maibach, Roser-Renouf & Leiserowitz, 2012, p. 3).[10] If more information is obtained regarding TV weathercasts media effects studies could be carried out and will probably find similar results compared to those that examined Fox News.








TV weathercasters serve an important role in society yet they have been joked about[11] and mostly ignored by academic scholarship. A content analysis on depictions of climate change during TV weathercasts is critical in order to get a better understanding about what drives audience opinions regarding climate change. This could be the missing link that helps science communicators communicate climate change better. Assistance is needed since a recent survey “asked what set of issues are top of mind when thinking about their votes next year” (Wilson, 2015). It found 34% of all registered voters chose security as the most important issue and another 30% said the economy was the most important (Wilson, 2015). Climate change was not mentioned (Wilson, 2015). Although it can be argued that both security and the economy are directly connected to climate change and climate change policy so communicators do not have an uphill battle. By examining the prior academic and non-academic research one is able to conclude TV weathercasting matters to everyone but the majority of climate change communication scholars.










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[1] As described by the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

[2] The interpersonal communication category of possible sources of scientific information consumed (or interacted with) by the public is a valid area of future study despite the mentioned shortcoming. Researchers found “while most studies have supported the basic agenda-setting hypothesis that the perceived importance of issues is influenced by press coverage, research examining the role of interpersonal communication remains a tangled web of contradictory results” (Wanta & Wu, 1992, p. 847). One factor to consider is the public might rely on “opinion leaders” (Klapper, 1960, p. 32; Lazarsfeld, Berelson & Gaudet, 1968, p. vi) they personally know in order to make their choices regarding scientific topics and issues. Research has found “mass communication ordinarily does not serve as a necessary and sufficient cause of audience effects, but rather functions among and through a nexus of mediating factors and influences” (Klapper, 1960, p. 8). Although ultimately these opinion leaders probably formed their opinions from other outside sources either directly from scientists or the media considering climate change.

[3] This is a relatively large number since similar meta-analyses considering agenda-setting studies found 90 articles (Preiss, 2007, p. 43) and one on media priming sampled 48 published articles (p. 62).

[4] According to Wilson “future research, including analyses of the kinds of science projects already being conducted [i.e. community service appearances] by television across the country, as well as content analyses of weathercasts themselves, are under way to better understand this science communication function more clearly” (Wilson, 2008, p. 85).


[5] TWC chose “RCA’s Satcom I, launched in 1975” (p. 57) since it “reached 95 percent of cable households in the United States” (Batten, 2002, p. 57).

[6] This idea was explored further in the book Weather Shamanism: Harmonizing Our Connection with the Elements. The forward by Martha Ward, research professor of anthropology, states “ancient spiritual ways of living with and learning from weather…have brought timeless wisdom and wit into working with clouds, water, wind, and the ethics of believing humans are in control” (Moss & Corbin, 2008, p. ix).


[7] A future content analysis could operationalize the frequency of when newscasts began with a weather related story.

[8] Critical culture studies on TV weathercasts also noted “one of the primary narratives governing the weather is that of revenge” (Sturken, 2001, p. 163). Sturken claims “its current manifestation…is…global warming caused by pollution” (p. 163) but was “originally a Christian narrative about the weather as a punishment for sins” (p. 163).

[9] The CCSR contains many questions that “highlight fundamental issues in current understanding of the physical basis of climate change” (Coyle et al., 2013, p. 1) including the attribution of natural versus man-made effects.

[10] Also other research has pointed to the possibility of a massive media impact (Zaller, 1996).

[11] In “Anchorman: The Story of Ron Burgundy (2004), a takeoff on 1970s ‘happy news’ formats, Steve Carell portrays Brick Tamland, a learning-disabled weathercaster” (Henson, 2010, p. 13).

2 thoughts on “Why TV Weathercasters Matter for Communicating Climate Change

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