Information Press recently interviewed meteorologist Dave Hovde on climate change and television weather forecasting. Here is that Q&A:
IP: Can you and do you mention “climate change” on the air? If not, why? What’s KSBY’s policy on this, if any?
DH: I am a big proponent of talking about climate change. It is real and it in my opinion is pretty obvious, not only from the excellent professional research (peer tested and published) done on the topic but also anecdotally. I do more discussion on this on my Facebook fan page than I do on air. I frequently post the latest research and sometimes there is spirited debate. Frankly I have noticed that there are fewer doubters than there were even five years ago. KSBY encourages me to speak professionally on subjects like global warming; clearly there is a line to walk between discussing science and something political. I think we run good pieces on the news when they are available. The biggest issue is that you need more than 30 seconds to speak intelligently on the topic, so the online delivery mechanism works best to get the word out in my opinion, but I wouldn’t say we are shy about running it on air either.
IP: What reaction do you get from viewers when you mention climate change, if any? Anyone still angry about it, or is the number of critical “climate change” encounters dropping?
DH: As I said earlier, the public reaction in my opinion has changed. I think there is a broader acceptance that it is real. Again it is my opinion that year after year of weather extremes and a mountain of solid academic research has finally resulted in some traction on the issue. I will say that there are always a couple people who you just can’t convince, but most of those folks simply are not in review of their views. It is always a good thing to challenge whatever you think. Discussion at professional weather conferences sometimes touches on what to do about the doubters. Essentially you have to be careful not to engage in a firefight with those who can’t be swayed and instead to inform those who care to learn more. This is an important point in human history in my opinion.
IP: Do you base any lingering denial about climate change within the weathercasting community on the irony of your inability to forecast more than seven days out? Do you have any views on this you can share?
DH: There actually is not much doubt in the professional weather community about this. There are a few loud doubters but I would say nearly all I know in the field accept the science. I would debate the assertion we can’t forecast more than seven days out, but I understand the point that there is a difference between local weather forecasting and climate forecasting. Frankly I think both are pretty accurate, but it is important to note they are different fields. To understand it better it is easier to see it as how not every doctor treats everything; there are fields of study. My focus is on local short-term forecasting, but of course it is critical to understand the system as a whole. I think there was a really unfortunate climate in media about five years ago where ‘balance’ was touted as the goal of journalism. The belief was that you have to get both sides of every story. However this assumes that everyone is right enough to be entitled to have equal weight in a discussion. If one person says climate change is real and one person says it is not it appears there is a debate. However the sheer bulk of research and data says nearly everyone accepts it is getting warmer, yet a few professional doubters get a lot more air time than they should. The evidence against global warming is flimsy, and has regularly failed the rigors of peer review. Trust me, if the processional doubters of global warming could poke holes in the data they would. It would be a real feather in the hat to publish something conclusive that it wasn’t happening if for no other reason than to beat the “publish or perish” doctrine. The American Meteorological Society and others have taken strong views that global climate change is happening: “Warming of the climate system now is unequivocal.” I entirely endorse the views of the AMS.
IP: In this era of cutbacks, do budget constraints sometimes hinder your ability to provide more accurate and timely forecasts in terms of storms and sudden changes in the weather?
DH: No, I would argue the opposite. The internet, computer technology and constant news cycle make it easier than ever to get accurate updated information out quickly. In fact, I think if there is any view that forecasting is worse it is simply not true to say. Ten years ago we didn’t give hour by hour forecasts or could detail it to the resolution as we do today. We simply forecast more conditions. If you say, tomorrow will be partly cloudy…your chances of being right are pretty good at some point. But if you say… at 7 it’ll be mostly cloudy and 56 with winds NW at 5 and at noon it’ll be 65,partly cloudy with NW winds of 23 miles per hour… you can see how that is a much more difficult forecast. I am excited about how far we have come. Again I think it is highly accurate and the delivery is also very dynamic and easy to get updates out to people. I think weather forecast is saving more lives than ever.
IP: Are the tools of weather forecasting becoming outdated and aging (satellites) which could lead to “fuzzier” forecasting in the near future?
DH: It is a concern but there is exciting new news about this being recognized: http://www.climatecentral.org/news/senate-bill-would-increase-funding-for-weather-climate-satellites-15725
IP: With weather prediction so critical to the U.S. economy, public safety and the environment — and weather patterns in flux — how important will weather forecasting be to our future?
DH: It is critical. The big issue in my opinion is how we incorporate new climate information into computer models. Managing power and water demands in a warmer and more severe environment will be essential. Weather forecasting can’t be undersold to resource management for all kinds of infrastructure. Media forecasts are only a very tiny part of the science.
IP: As far as you can see, in terms of the technology and how weather is delivered to the public, what does the future of weather forecasting look like to you?
DH: I think computers will do an even larger job in generating information, but perhaps too much to navigate. Already every person at home can look at computer models and forecast for themselves if they like. I think having a professional to navigate and tell a narrative that helps people understand the flood of information will be very important. Remember, a phone will or the internet will spit out all kinds of numbers and projected conditions but it is the story that matters. Remember climate change is important to humans, plants and animals… I am not sure computers care; if fact I am certain they don’t.
Dave Hovde is a member of the American Meteorological Society and the National Weather Association. He came to KSBY-TV from Fargo, North Dakota where he also served as chief meteorologist. He has extensive experience in California, having served as chief meteorologist at KERO-TV in Bakersfield. He is a graduate of Minnesota State University. Dave received Golden Mike awards for “Best Weather Television Segment “in 2003, 2006 and 2007.