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Climate Controversy: TV Meteorologist vs. Dr. Heidi Cullen, Weather Channel Climate Expert

Brian Neudorff @ 3:45 am January 22nd, 2007 · 12 Comments

This past week there has been a lot of buzz and debate in the meteorological community especially with broadcast meteorologist. The entire buzz was generated by the Climate expert for the Weather Channel, Dr. Heidi Cullen, and what she said in her blog back on December 21, 2006, “JUNK CONTROVERSY NOT JUNK SCIENCE… If you are not aware of what I am talking about I will bring you up to speed starting at the beginning…

It all started back on December 17, 2006, with a post from Andrew Freedman over at CapitalWeather.com titled “Since when do weather junkies stick their head in the sand?” In this post he examined part of an interview CapitalWeather.com did with Washington D.C. ABC 7 meteorologist Brian van de Graaff. In that interview Freedman felt that van de Graaff “exposed the disconnect between television meteorologists and the climate science community.” He goes to explain why:

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.

Freedman goes on to explain the current trend that the global temperature is warming and that scientists have identified human emissions of greenhouse gases as the most likely culprit for global warming. This is the opinion of most climate scientists, and that broadcast meteorologists should know that and communicate it to the public.

The comments that really started the whole brouhaha of the last week are the following:

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.

It is with these comments that Dr. Cullen took it a step further in her post back on December 21, 2006 she said the following:

I’d like to take that suggestion a step further. If a meteorologist has an AMS Seal of Approval, which is used to confer legitimacy to TV meteorologists, then meteorologists have a responsibility to truly educate themselves on the science of global warming. (One good resource if you don’t have a lot of time is the Pew Center’s Climate Change 101.)

Meteorologists are among the few people trained in the sciences who are permitted regular access to our living rooms. And in that sense, they owe it to their audience to distinguish between solid, peer-reviewed science and junk political controversy. If a meteorologist can’t speak to the fundamental science of climate change, then maybe the AMS shouldn’t give them a Seal of Approval. Clearly, the AMS doesn’t agree that global warming can be blamed on cyclical weather patterns. It’s like allowing a meteorologist to go on-air and say that hurricanes rotate clockwise and tsunamis are caused by the weather. It’s not a political statement…it’s just an incorrect statement.

I saw these posts over the Christmas holiday and posted them on this blog back on January 8, 2006. I didn’t give commentary I just linked back to them. It wasn’t until Wednesday January 17th when the Drudge Report linked to a blog post on the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment & Public Works site titled “Weather Channel Climate Expert Calls for Decertifying Global Warming Skeptics…” Where Marc Morano takes issue with Dr. Cullen on her statement to decertify a TV Meteorologist or not give one to them if they don’t agree:

The Weather Channel’s most prominent climatologist is advocating that broadcast meteorologists be stripped of their scientific certification if they express skepticism about predictions of manmade catastrophic global warming. This latest call to silence skeptics follows a year (2006) in which skeptics were compared to “Holocaust Deniers” and Nuremberg-style war crimes trials were advocated by several climate alarmists.

The Weather Channel’s (TWC) Heidi Cullen, who hosts the weekly global warming program “The Climate Code,” is advocating that the American Meteorological Society (AMS) revoke their “Seal of Approval” for any television weatherman who expresses skepticism that human activity is creating a climate catastrophe.

This has caused a lot of commotion in the broadcast meteorology world. Alabama’s ABC 33/40 Chief Meteorologist James Spann wrote a response to Dr. Cullen’s claim in his blog which is now on the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment & Public Works site titled “The Weather Channel Mess” There is also an article in the The Birmingham News on Spann, “TV meteorologist disputes human role in global warming.” This is also getting attention over seas in the Independent: American weather forecasters do battle over mankind’s role in global warming

I went over to an open line forum for weathercasters on Medialine.com to see what their thoughts and opinions were and it seemed that most of the posts were like this one:

Obviously, your intent was to enlist TV mets into spreading the word that human induced global warming is a real threat to the planet and to quiet those who believe the threat is either non-existent or not great.

All you did was awaken a sleeping giant.

Most of use have strong scientific backgrounds and understand the processes by which research is conducted… and the foundations of the findings of the study of the planet’s climate.

We are not beholden to Exxon-Mobil nor do we have to convince a government agency or a private foundation that our work is worthy of millions of dollars in grants.

Many (dare I say most) of us are quite skeptical that humans are to be assigned primary blame for the warming over the last century-and-a-half. The pre-industrial revolution medieval warming period should at the very least prevent anyone from stating the science is conclusive.

Because of the political ramifications… and the constraints of working in the realm of journalism requiring the appearance of neutrality… most have us have chosen to sit on the sidelines on this subject.

No longer.

I have expressed my thoughts on climate change before and it hasn’t changed. (*note that my views are just that MY VIEWS and do not reflect that of my co-workers Tom Atkins and Tom DiVecchio) I recognize that the global temperature of the earth is warming. I also understand and accept that the human consumption of fossil fuels and the release of CO2s have an impact; my question has always been how much. I can see a lot of other influences that are not mention and could also be playing a role in our warming. So how much of the warming is man-made and how much could it be other natural process?

When I go to speak, be it schools or adult groups, I regularly get asked about Global Warming. I tell them that yes the Global Temperature of the Earth is rising, and yes, we would be very narrow-minded if we didn’t think that adding unnatural levels of certain greenhouse gases to the atmosphere isn’t doing something in the warming of our planet. I mention there are other things that could be contributing to the warming, the sun, natural cycles, etc., and as we learn and answer all the questions we should still do what we can because I am pro-conservation and for making our planet and environment healthier and cleaner..

Like the other broadcast meteorologist who commented on Medialine.com and those I know in the business, I feel it is wrong for someone to suggest individuals lose certification they worked hard to receive just because they may disagree with some of the ideas or theories someone else has. I even saw people who agreed with Dr. Cullen on Global Warming, yet felt her suggestion for decertification was wrong.

Debate in the scientific community is important, it helps it answering questions better and in some cases faster. As a broadcast meteorologist I would find it nearly impossible to talk about Global Warming in my daily weather broadcast. Even though there was the Major Lake-Effect Snow storm in Buffalo early October, then the very mild start to winter. You can’t just come out and say “These are all products of Man-Made Global Warming” even if some people who are watching you think just that. You just explain meteorologically why it snowed or was so warm and tell them what they can expect in the next few days since that is your job.

Dr. Heidi Cullen has posted a response to all this attention she has been getting since this all broke back on January 17th. Here are the following post and videos from the Weather Channel’s “Climate Code” web site:

Dr. Heidi Cullen’s Response: A VERY POLITICAL CLIMATE | Response from the Executive Editor of “Climate Code” Matthew de Ganon: FULFILLING ONE DEGREE’S MISSION | VIDEO: Dr. Cullen Address the Controversy | VIDEO: Dr. Cullen talks to Mike Bettes about her recent blog | Now Hold On, People – Sen. James Inhofe vs. The Weather Channel

UPDATED 01/23/07: Andrew Freedman, CapitalWeather.com: The Cullen Conundrum

Feel free to share your thoughts and comments. Although I have an opinion I want to be fair, and I want to make sure you understand I don’t have a problem with Dr. Cullen’s thoughts on Global Warming, I just disagree with her suggestion of decertification. I think she is well educated and makes a strong argument that has made me think at times. I even had the opportunity to interview her at JET-TV as the Climate Code was getting ready to make its debut and I talked to her about how climate change could impact Erie and the Great Lakes and her thoughts on the 2006/07 Winter. Part of that interview was in the JET-TV Winter Weather Preview Special.

Since this a topic of great interest by many in Erie and everywhere I am going to create another links section dedicated to Global Warming. If you have a site that is good and credible please share it.

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Tags: CapitalWeather.com · Global Warming · Meteorologist · Misc Weather · TV Weather · Weather Blogs · Weather Channel · Weather News · Weather Opinons · WX-MAN.com

12 responses so far ↓

  • 1 rich // Jan 22, 2007 at 8:43 am

    First time I think I actually read a full post on your blog and I’m glad. This was a good one. I also agree that nothing is really conclusive but an informed decision would lead one to believe there is some kind of impact from the pollution we release into the atmosphere.

    Since we don’t know for sure, why would we risk NOT reducing emissions? There is enough evidence to suggest that we are having an impact. The worst thing that could happen if we were wrong is that we’ve made more fuel efficient cars and planes, while reducing pollution. It is proven that urban smog is a serious cause of respiratory disease (i.e., asthma) and that is reason alone to reduce pollution. For those that would argue that laws mandating pollution reduction harm economies I would turn you to the number of professional environmental service and research industries that have cropped up over the years (ideally better than a minimum wage factory job) as well as the market that has grown from trading pollution ‘credits.’ We would be remiss not to act.

  • 2 Brian Neudorff // Jan 22, 2007 at 6:00 pm

    Thanks Rich for reading the entire post this time. May I ask why you typically don’t read a full post? I agree whether your “Man is totally at fault for Global Warming” or “Something is happening but its not Man’s fault” if we do something that is helpful at the worst “we’ve made more fuel efficient cars and planes, while reducing pollution.”

    To be honest I am surprised I don’t get more comments from people out there. I know sometimes I am slow in responding and I apologize but I welcome all comments. Also, if you have a weather question please feel free to ask either on a post OR use the email address in the upper left…

  • 3 rich // Jan 23, 2007 at 10:03 am

    Brian, for fear of sounding like an a-hole, I normally don’t read your blog because the weather simply doesn’t interest me (other than the 1 minute it takes in the morning to get the days forecast from weather.yahoo.com). Compound that with the fact that I live in the Detroit metro now (but always reminisce with friends up here about the days of 2+ feet of Erie snow). I don’t mean to knock what you do here on your blog since “to each his own.” You do a good job and many people seem pleased with your blog. In short, don’t mind me.

    I too am surprised because this particular entry caught my attention from the recently updated blog section of ErieBlogs.com, and it is a substantive and interesting piece. I think if other people realized it they would comment too (maybe they weren’t interested because they just come here for the weather!).

  • 4 Brian Neudorff // Jan 23, 2007 at 10:43 am

    I completely understand… I can’t get my family to visit my site. Probably because they live in Indiana and most of my weather talk is Erie related. Thank you for the comments.

  • 5 James // Jan 24, 2007 at 6:37 pm

    Hello all,

    Just wanted to say that the weather channel hasn’t been posting blogs for almost 3 days now. They have insisted on NEVER posting my link below:

    http://www.grist.org/news/maindish/2005/09/15/little/

    which shows an interview with Cullen where she admits to having been a more balanced scientist previously, but had to “sexy up” to make the topic more interesting and eminent. she must be conflicted currently, seeing that she used to be a scientist before the “flip”.

    hope the scientists voices get heard and that this really blows up like you suggest.

  • 6 Dr. Tom // Jan 24, 2007 at 7:14 pm

    I agree with your premise that a sleeping giant has woken, and that, people that believe that GW plays a role, but not the sold role. Climate does NOT equal weather, but she tends to present that every apparent warming trend (weather) means climate chance.
    Bull.
    I never liked monolithic people with one, and only one point of view–her’s or the wrong one!

    Just because Dec. was warm AAAHHA GW, We told you so. What is the excuse if January turns out at or below average which looks were the next 14 days are going to be–AAAHH Global Cooling caused by, u guessed it GW.

    I have deal with people like this since 1970— yes GW exists…no the troposphere is not falling!

    I certainly do not have all the answers, but before I totally change my life and the way we live, our economy, I think we need to go to the scientific method, which I believe Ms. Cullen does not (that would not be the politically correct thing to do)

    Dr Tom

  • 7 warren // Jun 15, 2007 at 8:38 am

    I think that there is general agreement that 1) the current overwhelming consensus (unanimous?) of the peer reviewed climate research demonstrates a discernible contribution to warming from human activity; 2) the uncertainty of the predictions is larger, if only from their relative novelty; 3) this uncertainty is threatening (even harmful), financially, socially, and intellectually; 4) more research, earth observation (especially from space), and general investment will clarify warming issues; 5) the general public wants and deserves the best possible current information about warming and human activity. It seems to me irresponsible for a professional to outright reject or fail to relate the best possible current research in the field when asked for an opinion (for example, about drugs on a doctor’s visit). For the reasons above this should be a required part of continuing education for certification. Any difference in opinion with research needs to be carefully reasoned and articulated, but should not be stifled. Finally I would beg AMS members (especially those working in the media) to advocate for research to clarify and measure climate changes and their consequences.

  • 8 Mike // Nov 19, 2008 at 5:22 pm

    Hmm, lets see now…a local TV forecaster versus climate scientists, the AMS and the IPCC. Wow, gotta decide…gotta decide….

  • 9 Joe // Dec 20, 2008 at 7:24 pm

    I think it is regretable that Dr. Heidi Cullen made comments that indicated that meteorologists be stripped of their certification for not reporting about global warming. She is no doubt thoroughly emmersed and educated with the science surrounding global warming, (quite possibly more than most meteorologists), and with that knowledge, has a keen awareness to the problems and recognizes the urgency with whcih we should act, perhaps a great deal more than even the average person can grasp.

    I don’t feel her aim was to isolate meteorologists, instead she recognizes the seriousness of the problem, and flat out wishes that ALL meteorologists would read the mission statement for the meteorolgical society. This was the essense of her message.

    Meterologists; please learn, and please help, this problem is serious.

  • 10 Bruce A. Kershaw // Aug 8, 2010 at 8:08 pm

    In 1897 CO2 was patented as a refrigerant after 62 years of study, and after 175 years of being a refrigerant, It still is.

    The U.N. study is missing 500 years of climate science and 175 years of proven CO2 science.

    It is a invalid study.

    $25,000 reward for the proof CO2 causes Climate Change.

    Go to http://co2u.info

    Thank You

    Bruce A. Kershaw
    Expert in CO2 science since 1976

  • 11 Bruce A. Kershaw // Sep 5, 2010 at 10:28 am

    Correction,

    CO2 has been a proven Refrigerant since 1835.

    CO2 was Patented as a refrigerant in 1924.

    In 1897 CO2 was patented to carbonate Drinks.

    Because of the Clean Air Act, recycled CO2 has been an Emission Control Device on every car on the road, as a refrigerant since 1972, to lower NOx emissions.
    NOx causes O3 Ozone at ground level, causing respiratory illness at ground level.

    CO2 is responsible for cleaner air since 1972.

  • 12 Bruce A. Kershaw // Sep 5, 2010 at 10:34 am

    Just in the U.S. 32,000 peer reviewed scientists have signed a petition stating the U.N. study is Flawed.
    There is no Consensus.

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