The climate crisis makes the weather personalities in the air serious

Meteorologist Warren Dean remembers feeling helpless as a dome of deadly heat hung over British Columbia last summer.

the CTV News The Vancouver Island weathercaster says he and his colleagues tried to impress upon the public the seriousness of the unprecedented extreme heat event, but there were still those who did not heed the warnings being issued by meteorologists.

“It was really helpless to see the result and to see so many people suffer from it,” Dean, a climate specialist for 16 years, said of the heat dome that resulted in more than 600 deaths.

“I think we did a very good job as a weather community, as a forecast community, to give enough advance notice to make adjustments, but we still got the ‘Well, it’s not going to be that bad.’ And I think what it showed us is that it can be that bad.”

Dean is one of several on-air Canadian weather personalities who say they have been changing their tone and approach in light of worsening climate change.

While some may consider on-air meteorologists to be typically more light-hearted TV personalities, Dean said he has been making an effort over the past five years to share “the bigger picture” with his audience, delving into why a region you’re looking at certain weather conditions and how they might affect those who live there.

“I’ve taken a very educational route to this when I put out my forecast and really dig into the science of it,” he said. “To be able to really show people what’s going on, explain the reasons why we’re having this and try to explain why it’s a crisis.”

CBC meteorologist Colette Kennedy, who has been reporting on the weather since 1995, said she has also changed her focus of her work as more extreme weather events occur.

That means reminding yourself that it’s okay not to end the weather forecasts in a “nice happy place,” she said.

“We tend to speak in optimistic tones when we talk only about general forecasts, the difference is that when there is severe weather, then it is very serious and life-threatening, and a very different approach is taken,” he said.

Meteorologist Warren Dean remembers feeling helpless as a dome of deadly heat hung over British Columbia last summer.

“Now there’s this place in the middle where you’re just talking about a forecast, it’s not severe weather in the sense of tornadoes and severe thunderstorms, it’s severe in the sense of long-term effects on our planet. And I have to get comfortable delivering bad news.

Jim Abraham, president of the Canadian Meteorological and Oceanographic Society, said the “unique challenge” for meteorologists and on-air weather personalities when it comes to climate change is to prepare the public “for something they’ve never experienced before.”

“Something that all meteorologists are grappling with around the world is, how do we communicate risk in a way that the public understands well?” he said. “I certainly think it’s a work in progress.”

Abraham said weather personalities on the air have long forecast temperatures, humidex levels, the strength of winds and the amount of precipitation.

But they should also share the “impacts of those particular weather elements,” he said, and what people can do to minimize the effects of such weather not only on the general population, but also on those who are most marginalized and vulnerable.

Abraham added that there needs to be more collaboration between governments, meteorologists, on-air weather personalities and emergency managers to ensure messages are “consistent and clear”.

“I don’t think the public recognizes the risk with heat, for example,” he said. “I doubt many Canadians realize that the largest loss of life from a weather event in Canadian history took place in British Columbia last year with the heat dome.”

The CBC’s Kennedy said it’s important for everyone who works in the meteorology field to adapt as climate change continues to affect people’s lives.

“We have been concerned about climate change for a long time, but progress is slow,” he said. “We don’t have the luxury of time with extremes and life-threatening conditions.”

This report from The Canadian Press was first published on July 26, 2022.

This story was produced with the financial assistance of Meta and the Canadian Press News Fellowship.

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