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Posted at 10:30 AM ET, 03/ 5/2009

Bob Ryan Weighs in on Climate Change

By Andrew Freedman

* Big Warm-Up: Full Forecast | Best of Snowstorm Comments *

Beneath WRC-TV (NBC4) chief meteorologist Bob Ryan's sandy blond, made-for-television facade, lie some serious scientific chops. He holds a bachelor's degree in physics and a master's in atmospheric science, has published studies in peer-reviewed scientific journals, and is the only TV meteorologist ever to serve as president of the American Meteorological Society. With these bona fides, he is well suited to tackling the most controversial subject currently facing TV weathercasters: global climate change.

Last week he unveiled a new six-part online series of articles on the science of global change, which was published on the station's Web site and 'teased' on air. The articles mark a significant step towards providing viewers with climate science information in a manner that is easily understandable, engaging, and most importantly, politically/policy neutral.

Keep reading for more on Bob Ryan's viewpoints on the science of climate change...

Although Ryan and some of his colleagues around the country do occasionally address climate change, many broadcast meteorologists are quite skeptical of climate science, and some present a politically skewed view when they do report on it, if they cover the matter at all. There are a variety of reasons for this, including the politically charged nature of the issue, as well as the lack of familiarity with climate science among many meteorologists.

NBC4 Chief meteorologist Bob Ryan

Ryan's series, which reads like an introductory field guide to climate change, lays out the main scientific findings as well as some of the societal implications of a warming planet. While there are some portions that are a little confusing or wonky, such as how scientists differentiate between natural and man made climate change, the series is refreshing in its conversational tone and careful consideration of scientific uncertainties.

Ryan said the series came about from listening to viewers, who are eager to learn more about climate change.

"For many years, when I have talked at schools and groups about weather and climate, the question of climate change and global warming always comes up. Concerns and questions about our climate are now almost more of a daily topic of conversation rather than, "How's the Weather?" Ryan wrote.

In an interview with CWG, Ryan said he fears the public is growing more confused about what scientists know about climate change, and what their findings mean for society. "With what seems like increasing polarization of views and politics, I felt the science was (and still is) getting muddied or being selectively "cherry-picked" resulting in confusion for many people, especially young people," he stated.

"I wanted to try and write something that would attempt to show people, again especially students, how we might objectively look at the subject, and try and follow a scientific method, rather than just a political process to seek understanding."

In his series, Ryan starts off by explaining the scientific method, and peppers the text with examples of some of the great discoveries in climate science such as the iconic "Keeling Curve" of atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations.

In the past, Ryan has argued that TV meteorologists have a professional responsibility to discuss the science of climate change, without letting their personal, political or religious views color their reporting. Via email, Ryan again emphasized this point, and said the likelihood of upcoming national debates over climate policies makes it even more critical that TV meteorologists cover the topic.

"We all have political views on what should, or should not be done, but we should be able to keep that separate from what the science and current scientific research is telling us," Ryan stated. "If we have reached some political conclusion first and then look at science to find weaknesses in some studies or cherry pick some study to support our political view, we shouldn't be representing science, meteorology or climate science."

He continued, "If some TV [meteorologists] either 1) don't know anything about the science or 2) have a political, economic or some other "agenda" then they would better serve the public by not saying anything."

Ryan's new articles are clearly in keeping with his view that climate science is now part of a TV meteorologist's beat, and must be covered within a scientific framework. However, a sustained commitment to covering climate science on air as well as online will go much farther towards fostering a well informed public.

A well crafted "tome" of climate science information may well be beneficial for those who decide to invest the half hour or more of time required to read through it, but far more people could be reached via the television newscast and through shorter, more targeted online video pieces. One wonders what barriers are standing in the way of such coverage.

By Andrew Freedman  | March 5, 2009; 10:30 AM ET
Categories:  Climate Change, Freedman, Media  
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This is an important issue so thanks for bringing it up again. While viewers may discredit your average news broadcaster who is talking about climate issues, viewers are less likely to discredit a meteorologist who is thought of as the voice of science on your typical news show. As a result, people are more likely to take a meteorologists words as truth. For this reason, it is especially important for meteorologists to know the facts behind climate research.

This Article brings back memories of the interview you guys had with Brian Van De Graaff a few years ago where he essentially said he had no idea whether humans were impacting climate.

Nice job on the snowstorm predictions btw!

Posted by: jfva | March 5, 2009 11:19 AM | Report abuse

i find it extremely interesting (in a human psychology kind of way) that a disproportionate amount of meteorologists would be AGW skeptics.

Posted by: walter-in-fallschurch | March 5, 2009 11:53 AM | Report abuse

that's what's best about bob ryan. always looks at things through an objective lens. it's what makes him a great journalist, meteorologist, and public figure. he will forever be my favorite local forecaster

Posted by: tengoalyrunr30 | March 5, 2009 11:56 AM | Report abuse

being a meteorologist... qualifies Ryan as a climatologist ? roflmao

sounds logical. seems logical, but that is exactly the type of reasoning that has allowed alot of malarkey into the climate argument.

it's the forest & the trees. it's like asking a dentist to do heart surgery, because "after all" he's a doctor.

if you want to know what the local weather is, for next couple days, consult a meteorologist.

if you want to know what global weather might be, for the next century, consult a climatologist (which requires all sort of multi-displinary knowledge sets, and more skills than moving a mouse around...)

get real Washington Post, this is as silly a statement as the blog based unsubstantiations that George Will has taken to uttering.

learn to substantiate again, it's journalism 101 all over again, not "joe blows" blog

Posted by: you-dont | March 5, 2009 5:55 PM | Report abuse

Hi it is Bob Ryan,

Happy to respond to any and all comments. Only thing I ask is to read what I've written before the predictable (even more than the weather) rants and Pavlovian responses such as "you-don't". I look forward to comments, discussion of the science of these issues. I sure don't know what the correct path ahead is . . .but without some illumination/discussion don't we all stumble in the darkness together?

Bob Ryan

Posted by: rtryan1 | March 5, 2009 8:47 PM | Report abuse

Ricky Rood, climate blogger at wunderground, posted on the topic of climate change and TV meteorologists just a couple days ago: Check it out.

Posted by: Jason-CapitalWeatherGang | March 5, 2009 9:58 PM | Report abuse

Bob, thanks for well crafted set of articles. The links to so much reference material is greatly appreciated.

Do you have any thoughts on the impact of Japan's Greenhouse Gases Observing Satellite (GOSAT) ability to collect at 56,000 data locations vs. the almost 300 current data locations and it's impact on climate modeling or how it adds to our understanding of climate change?

Posted by: John-Burke | March 5, 2009 11:00 PM | Report abuse

Andrew - Thanks for posting this!

Posted by: Ann-CapitalWeatherGang | March 6, 2009 12:42 PM | Report abuse

Captain, you've got to make a decision; the tower-or Bob Ryan?
Boys, were goin' with Bob!

Nice to see you're still getting the tough calls right Bob.

Posted by: klcscott | March 8, 2009 3:22 AM | Report abuse

Hi John-Burke,
Forecasting weather and climate is a bit of a 3 legged stool as, I believe, UCAR President Rick Anthes put it. The science-understanding, the observations and the computing power to solve the mathematics . . .the language of science if you will. Having space based observations from platforms such as GOSAT will give researches terrific new observations. Being better able to identify and measure carbon/CO2 sources and sinks will make the models more realistic and can only help provide additional objective informa tion and results for decision makers . . .even us.

Bob Ryan

Posted by: rtryan1 | March 8, 2009 8:59 PM | Report abuse

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