Should be another hot summer in North Texas.

Television

Why Won’t Dallas’ TV Meteorologists Talk About Climate Change?

Do Pete Delkus and David Finfrock believe global warming is caused by human activity? We asked them.

The scientific consensus is overwhelming and unambiguous: The planet is getting hotter, faster, and it’s mostly our fault. While scientists are often reluctant to editorialize, the consensus also leans toward this being very bad news for life on Earth.

Public opinion is more divided, with only about half of American adults saying they believe climate change is caused by human activity. The other 50 percent are presumably either unfamiliar with climate scientists’ findings, or otherwise disdainful of the research. Certainly very few people are digging through the 169 pages of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s 2014 Synthesis Report, even if details on the “likelihood of severe, pervasive and irreversible impacts for people and ecosystems” do make for juicy reading.

Almost all of us, however, are regularly getting weather forecasts. For many people, the television weather forecaster may be their primary, if not their only, source of news on the climate. That news will be scarce. Dallas television meteorologists often seem tight-lipped or playfully evasive about the subject, to the extent that, a few weeks ago, I couldn’t have told you whether any of them had ever actually heard of climate change.

With that in mind, I emailed the chief meteorologists at the big four Dallas-Fort Worth news stations a set of questions. The informal survey, loosely based on a 2016 George Mason University survey of American Meteorological Society members, asked for each recipient’s thoughts on climate change, as well as their willingness to address the subject on air, among other things.

Channel 8’s Pete Delkus refused to wade into the “public quagmire of Climate Change/Global Warming.” Scott Padgett, of Channel 11, respectfully declined to participate, and declined to say why he was respectfully declining to participate. David Finfrock, chief meteorologist at Channel 5, answered the questions, as did Channel 4’s Dan Henry, after getting the OK from parent company executives in New York. (Their responses are below.)

Clockwise, from top left: Pete Delkus, David Finfrock, Scott Padgett, Dan Henry. Photos courtesy of their respective networks.

Most of us would be hard-pressed to pick the world’s most famous climate scientist out of a lineup, but we can all ID the local TV weatherperson—smiling self-assuredly with gleaming teeth, gesturing prophetically toward the green screen, rolling up shirtsleeves in times of crisis and severe weather. Meteorologists will be quick to say that they are not climate scientists, and that their expertise is not in the long-term forecasts of climate study. They are nevertheless bigger climate authorities than the vast majority of us, and in a unique position to shape public perception of an issue that, if you side with the experts, poses a near-existential threat to a sizable portion of humanity. (The American Meteorological Society, for the record, is in agreement that the “dominant cause” of global warming in the last century is human activity.)

The format of a local TV news station’s weather forecast isn’t particularly well-suited to educational programming on climate change, but surely there is time to connect, for example, news of the latest hottest year on record with global warming. If there’s no time to discuss it on air, a popular television meteorologist could easily share a link to a story on the same subject with their hundreds of thousands of social media followers. If, on the other hand, a meteorologist is a climate change skeptic or outright denier, putting them in the company of several top members of the current presidential administration, wouldn’t they still want that known? 

Are television meteorologists, or their employers, so worried about the potential for controversy? Do television viewers have a right to know what their trusted weather forecaster believes about climate change? Don’t broadcast meteorologists owe it to their viewers—and, at the risk of sounding too corny, to the future of the planet—to talk about the single biggest story in long-term weather trends?

Channel 5’s David Finfrock and Channel 4’s Dan Henry, to their credit, were willing to talk about it on the record. Here are their responses to the survey, lightly edited for grammar and clarity:

______________________________________________

Do you think climate change is happening?

David Finfrock, chief meteorologist for NBC 5 Dallas-Fort Worth: Climate change has happened ever since the earth was formed.  We have been through very hot spells, ice ages, and even meteor impacts that have affected the climate.  And yes, I believe the climate is changing now.

Do you believe that human activity is primarily responsible for recent global warming and global climate change? Why or why not?

D.F.: “Primarily” is a tough word to choose. As mentioned above, I believe that the earth’s climate will change, with or without a human population. But in recent centuries, I do believe that human activity has accelerated any natural warming that may have already been occurring. Since the dawn of the Industrial Revolution, the carbon dioxide content of the atmosphere has increased  considerably. It was 280 parts per million in the 18th century, but has now risen to over 400 parts per million. From the study of ice cores in glaciers, it is estimated that this is the highest level of CO2 in 650,000 years. Carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas, and is known to trap heat from the sun, and raise the earth’s temperature. There are other greenhouse gasses, including methane and even water vapor. But CO2 is the only one that has been increasing so dramatically in recent centuries.

Has your position on climate change changed in the last 20 years?

D.F.: Not really. It has simply been affirmed by more data. Every year that is warmer than the previous one just increases my confidence that the climate is changing.

Do you talk about climate change on the air or using your station’s online platform? Why or why not?

D.F.: I don’t often talk specifically about climate change on the air. But I do mention whenever we set records for another warmest-ever month or year, and showcase how much warmer recent years have been. But our TV broadcasts are mostly designed to give forecasts rather than look back at the climate, and with the limited time I have (generally 2 ½ minutes or less) I can’t go into detail very often. I do have more flexibility on social media, and will more often post climate change data there, rather than on TV.

Has the local climate in North Texas changed in the last 50 years? Do you think the local climate in North Texas will change in the next 50 years? How so?

D.F.: Definitely. North Texas has kept official climate records since 1898. Over that 118 year span, the seven warmest years have all occurred since 1998. The four warmest years have all occurred since 2006. But what many people don’t realize is that not only the temperature is changing. Rainfall has been increasing, but it has also become more variable. As I recall, the average rainfall when I started working back in 1975 was 32 or 33 inches. That “ normal” rainfall is based on the most recent three decades of rainfall data. And now, our average has increased to 36.14 inches. In 2015, DFW recorded 62.61 inches of rain, smashing the previous record by nine inches. But we have also experienced frequent dry spells: 2005 and 2014 were among the driest on record. So climate change is about more than “warming.” And yes, the climate will continue to change in the future.

How should policymakers respond to the problems posed by climate change? How should we?

D.F.: I believe that as a society we should do our best to keep our atmosphere and environment clean and wholesome for our children and grandchildren. But I can’t presume to tell policy-makers the best course of action. That is not my area of expertise.

Do you consider yourself a climate expert?

D.F.: No, my education and experience have primarily been in forecasting. I took only one climatology class at Texas A&M, and that was in 1974. I feel I certainly have more knowledge than the average layman. But I defer to the statements and publications of the American Meteorological Society, and to the expertise of actual climate scientists who are experts in the field.   

______________________________________________

Note: Henry, who was pressed for time, did not respond to the last several questions of the survey.

Do you think climate change is happening?

Dan Henry, chief meteorologist for KDFW FOX 4: I do believe our climate is changing.

Do you believe that human activity is primarily responsible for recent global warming and global climate change? Why or why not?

D.H.: I believe human activity has played a significant role, but to what degree I think is open for debate.

Has your position on climate change changed in the last 20 years?

D.H.: My position has changed based on the overwhelming amount of scientific evidence that points to climate change. Carbon dioxide levels had fluctuated between 200 and 300 parts per million for thousands of years, but since 1950 have risen dramatically to 400+ ppm. That can really only be attributed to human activity.

Do you talk about climate change on the air or using your station’s online platform? Why or why not?

D.H.: I really don’t talk about it much on the air because it is such a complex topic that I couldn’t even begin to scratch the surface. I have occasionally discussed it on social media, but honestly, the discussion it spurs almost always gets very ugly and very political. And any hope for meaningful dialogue is quickly lost.

Newsletter

Get a weekly recap in your inbox every Sunday of our best stories from the week plus a primer for the days ahead.

Find It

Search our directories for...

Dining

Dining

Bars

Bars

Events

Events

Attractions

Attractions

View All

View All

Comments

  • Jim Schermbeck

    Thanks for this. It identifies a huge, subtle area of public broadcasting that is not serving the public interest. Much the same thing as happened with the disappearance of local smog information at 6 and 10. For a while in the late 1990’s and early Oughts, it was routine to see loops of “ozone maps” on most DFW weather forecasts. No more, even on the worst “bad air” days.

    • Happy Bennett

      The feature which would be most helpful is some determination on a daily basis of particulate matter in the air, not just pollen or mold-mildew.

    • WuzYoungOnceToo

      – “Thanks for this. It identifies a huge, subtle area of public broadcasting that is not serving the public interest.”

      No, it really doesn’t. TV meteorologists are not climatologists, and having them pretend to be so on the air would in no way serve the public interest.

  • PeterTx52

    sorry folks but there is no such thing as “scientific consensus”. it is a myth spread by alarmists.
    science is constantly changing. at one time scientists believed that dinosaurs were cold-blooded that changed. at one time the consensus was that the sun revolved around the earth, that changed. at one time people poo-poo’d the idea that bacteria existed.
    “Let’s be clear: the work of science has nothing whatever to do with consensus. Consensus is the business of politics. Science, on the contrary, requires only one investigator who happens to be right, which means that he or she has results that are verifiable by reference to the real world.
    In science consensus is irrelevant. What is relevant is reproducible results. The greatest scientists in history are great precisely because they broke with the consensus. There is no such thing as consensus science. If it’s consensus, it isn’t science. If it’s science, it isn’t consensus. Period.”
    http://www.aei.org/publication/for-earth-day-michael-crichton-explains-why-there-is-no-such-thing-as-consensus-science/

    “Fossil beetles suggest that LA climate has been relatively stable for 50,000 years
    New radiocarbon dating of La Brea Tar Pits beetles indicates that Southern California’s Paleoclimate was very similar to today

    Research based on more than 180 fossil insects preserved in the La Brea Tar Pits of Los Angeles indicate that the climate in what is now southern California has been relatively stable over the past 50,000 years.

    The La Brea Tar Pits, which form one of the world’s richest Ice Age fossil sites, is famous for specimens of saber-toothed cats, mammoths, and giant sloths, but their insect collection is even larger and offers a relatively untapped treasure trove of information. The new study, published today in the journal Quaternary Science Reviews, is based on an analysis of seven species of beetles and offers the most robust environmental analysis for southern California to date.”
    https://wattsupwiththat.com/2017/05/24/study-climate-of-los-angeles-has-been-stable-for-50000-years/

    • Mavdog

      Noteworthy that you provide a quote on there not being “scientific consensus” from a person, Michael Crichton, whose expertise is composing fiction.

      • Amberdwebster

        Google is paying 97$ per hour! Work for few hours and have longer with friends & family! !mj437:
        On tuesday I got a great new Land Rover Range Rover from having earned $8752 this last four weeks.. Its the most-financialy rewarding I’ve had.. It sounds unbelievable but you wont forgive yourself if you don’t check it
        !mj437:
        ➽➽
        ➽➽;➽➽ http://GoogleFinancialJobsCash437HomeAmericaGetPay$97Hour ★★✫★★✫★★✫★★✫★★✫★★✫★★✫★★✫★★✫★★✫★★✫★★✫★★✫★★✫★★✫★★✫★★✫★★:::::!mj437..,.

      • Happy Bennett

        Crichton had a degree in Biology from Harvard and was a graduate of Harvard Medical School. He was a Post-Doc Fellow at the Salk Institute and taught a scientific technical writing course at MIT. A reasonable scientific back round, IMO. In contrast, I believe that Al Gore had a journalism degree, for example.

        • Mavdog

          Noting that the subject is not Al Gore, both Gore and Crichton received their diplomas from Harvard, Gore with a Government major and Crichton in Biological Anthropology. Neither of these individuals can be described as “scientists” or “researchers”, although both can be seen as having engaged in writing.

          • Happy Bennett

            Thanks for the additional info.

          • Mavdog

            you are welcome. Back to the original question, it does seem that the answer is yes, there can be “scientific consensus”.

          • Marcie Batten

            Empiricism

    • billmarvel

      A little background:.Ta152 has a long record as an oil/fracking industry apologist. He also denies that earthquakes are a result of fracking-related activities.

  • Mavdog

    The job of TV weather announcer is to give a brief summary of what the weather was and what their prediction on what the weather will be in between the airing of several advertisements. This is likely to the average viewer the most important segment of the news broadcast.

    Bottom line, these are TV workers who do not have the responsibility nor the platform to use their position on furthering this particular message. I’d analogize to sunbathing, do you want to have them get on a soapbox and lecture to those who go out and sit under the sun for hours in order to get a tan when it is without a doubt harmful to them? nah…

  • Big B

    I think Finfrock answered your question well: weather reports are for current conditions and reporting expected conditions in the short term. A trend over a few days or a week is irrelevant to climate change; a cold snap doesn’t disprove that climate is warming and a hot snap doesn’t prove it is. If a station wants to devote time to the topic on the news or otherwise, they can do so but as David notes, a meteorologist may not be the most qualified to speak on that topic. It’s fair to ask whether the news should be covering the topic more, but if you find fault with the level of coverage, don’t blame the weatherman.

    • Raul H

      I was about to post the same thing. I think Finfrock’s response was best. He’s good at explaining weather phenomena. I also trust (and miss) Steve McCauley. With their short allocation on the evening news, they have to focus on the most pressing matter (tomorrow’s and this weekend’s forecast).

  • DubiousBrother

    This post reminds me of the “settled science” nonsense of Al Gore and his global warming scheme which in turn reminded me of this peer reviewed study: https://heatst.com/culture-wars/professors-pull-off-clever-hoax-with-penis-paper-expose-liberal-academia-as-a-sham/

  • Bk Tyler

    i never watch 4 news but now may try it. finfrock is simply the best meterologist working today-right up there with THE greatest, harold taft. the others are kind of sleazy anyway, clothes too tight, too much hair product. yuck.

    • Happy Bennett

      Colleen Coyle is very easy on the eyes, and has a good sense of humor.

    • Raul H

      Finfrock is on the NBC affiliate on channel 5

  • Happy Bennett

    It’s hard enough to get any real salient “news” on the local news stations anymore. Most of the content is “filler” such as their version of sad human interest stories or “opinion”. Even Dale Hansen continues to talk about his family history of various members being sexually abused to bolster his opinions–no problem, other than I’m really not that interested in a nightly news context. This is why I go to other, more prompt and informative, news sources, because with weather, around here, especially, I want to know in a reasonable time about conditions tracking and predictions. Save the commentary for “Frontline” etc.

  • DubiousBrother

    My point was that the narrative for as long as I can remember was sun = bad = skin cancer. I had a dermatologist tell me to never go out in the sun without covering up or wearing sun screen.
    I never believed that extreme position and my view is more closely reflected by the two articles that I linked to which I read for the first time just before posting.
    Skin condition that 3 ointments made worse but simple sun exposure has almost eliminated. Sun has been scarce here the last several weeks.

  • WuzYoungOnceToo

    TV meteorologists aren’t climatologists, so asking why they’re not using their TV weather forecast time to discuss a topic that is outside their area of expertise is pretty silly.

  • cardigan

    “The scientific consensus is overwhelming and unambiguous: The planet is getting hotter, faster, and it’s mostly our fault.”

    The statements are provably false. George Mason University has a propaganda unit headed by PR man Ed Maibach, not a climate scientist.

  • Ken Duble

    Expecting weather forecasters to discuss climate change is like thinking a genealogist will pontificate of evolutionary biology.

  • JB-Dallas

    Excellent article and thank you for calling out this important and missing topic in DFW. Frinfrock is the only one that doesn’t wimp out and call it like it is. To me, the balance of the meteorologists are suspect in their silence.