Commentary: In TV hurricane coverage virtually no trace of the C-word.

Irma swirl

September 11, 2017

For all of its A-plus, life-saving urgency in backing up evacuation efforts, TV news still can't bring itself to even ask the question.

By Peter Dykstra
The Daily Climate 

I was in charge of CNN's Weather Department for five years, including the mind-boggling mid-2000's when Katrina was far from the only Atlantic coast catastrophe.  

I've watched less and less of CNN and its cable competitors in recent years, despite the fact that turning 60 years old makes me a demographically-typical viewer. 

With the twin horrors of Harvey and Irma raking the Texas Gulf coast, Caribbean and Florida, I've once again been immersed in following the drumbeat of storms and their aftermaths. I've found both great pride in how TV steps up to help save lives in advance of a major storm, and equal dismay in the utter silence about the potential links between extreme weather, severe storms and climate change.  

Even if it's a little incongruous to be doing a live shot in thigh-deep water in a street intersection, declaring that emergency personnel are the only ones with any business being outside, TV reporters and meteorologists routinely play a heroic role when they chase potential viewers away from the couch and into the evacuation queue. storm 2

They help save lives. 

When they cite the best-available projections on rainfall, flood risks, wind speeds and storm surge associated with a landfalling hurricane, they almost surely save even more lives. They're pros. They know what they're doing. 

My former CNN colleague Chad Myers recently delivered a brilliant description of "reverse surge," where a hurricane's rotation causes a deceptive, potentially lethal drop in flooding levels.  

So let's give an A-plus, a combat medal, a hearty thanks, for TV news living up to its most noble potential. But even if you're still in the isolated minority—relegated to Fox News viewers, the alt-right, and Cabinet or House Science Committee meetings—who believe it's the wrong time to utter the "C" word, you can't even raise the question of whether climate change may be forcing extreme weather into hyper-drive? Really? Not even a question? About something that, in the long run, has the potential to save far more lives?  

For all of its A-plus, life-saving urgency in backing up evacuation efforts, TV news still can't bring itself to even ask the question. I'm not even suggesting that climate scientists be shown the same respect as local fire chiefs, that would be a bridge too far submerged. But ask the question, for goodness sakes.

However, you can't even ask the question as a part of wall-to-wall coverage of drained gas stations, or the ill-placed bravado of beach-town oddballs vowing to ride it out. This is F-minus territory, TV folks. 

It's a part of the story that dives deeply into the political gridlock you otherwise cover obsessively. From South Beach to Key West to Mar-A-Lago, surely it drags hurricane coverage into politically-tainted waters. But the science is on your side if you go there, and if you choose not to, you're not just taking political sides, you're taking political sides against prevailing science. 

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt took time away from his busy schedule of disembowling the EPA to point out that this was the "wrong time" to discuss climate change. Not to touch another politically third-rail issue, but this is a little like the gun enthusiasts who insist, as often as is necessary, that the latest schoolroom mass shooting is the worst possible time to mention guns.

Think about it. Ask the questions. Say the C-word. If you're already pulling an F-minus, you don't have a whole lot to lose.

The Daily Climate is an independent, foundation-funded news service covering energy, the environment and climate change. Find us on Twitter @TheDailyClimate or email editor Brian Bienkowski at bbienkowski [at] EHN.org

Top photo: NASA; Second photo: CNN

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