Paying attention to TV weather forecasts linked to belief in climate change

How often you watch weather reports from your local TV news outlet could shape your beliefs about the global climate. According to research published in the journal PLOS One, people who pay more attention to their local TV weather forecasts are more likely to believe in climate change.

The study, conducted by researchers at Colorado State University and George Mason University, was based on a telephone survey of 2,000 adult local TV news viewers in Virginia.

“Results of the study suggest that exposure to local TV weather forecasts can increase viewers’ perceptions of extreme local weather events, which in turn can increase their awareness about the impacts and reality of climate change,” Brittany Bloodhart and her colleagues said in their study.

The researchers found that people who paid more attention to local TV weather forecasts were more likely to perceive extreme weather changes like hot days, severe droughts, and intense storms. Paying attention to weather forecasts also weakly predicted certainty that climate change is happening, but this effect was increased when viewers had greater trust in TV weather forecasters.

The researchers also found differences based on political ideology. Paying attention to local weather information did not significantly influence liberals’ perceptions of climate change. However, it did increase perceptions of climate change for both moderates and conservatives.

The researchers said this could be a due to a ceiling effect. “That is, liberals are already likely to report strong beliefs and perceptions about climate change regardless of their exposure to weather information.”

“That the impact of this coverage is largest on members of society who are least predisposed to know or accept that climate change is occurring (i.e., political conservatives), is an especially important finding because it suggests that TV weathercasters may have an important role to play in bridging the political gap on the issue of climate change,” Bloodhart and her colleagues wrote.