Hurricane Dorian wreaks havoc in the Atlantic.
Ceci Freed / Media Matters

Research/Study Research/Study

Climate change is fueling storms like Hurricane Dorian. But you wouldn't know that from watching broadcast TV news.

Despite the destructive power of Hurricane Dorian, broadcast TV news aired just one segment from August 28 through September 5 that mentioned the links between climate change and hurricanes like Dorian. CBS ran the only segment, while ABC and NBC both failed to air a single segment linking climate change to the development and destruction of Dorian.

  • Toplines

    • Scientists agree there is strong evidence that climate change has increased the intensity, frequency, and possibly the duration of extreme weather events like Dorian;
    • Networks aired 216 segments on Dorian and just one mentioned climate change;
    • ABC and NBC did not mention climate change in the context of Dorian at all; ABC's only mention of climate change came during a segment on Prince Harry's plane travel.
  • Broadcast news coverage of Hurricane Dorian and links to climate change
  • Climate science states that global warming is fueling storms like Dorian

  • Hurricane Dorian is currently battering the East Coast after devastating the Bahamas, and the storm’s development and trajectory have been strongly linked to climate change. But as the climate crisis continues to unfold, scientists want to reframe the question about the role climate plays in the formation of destructive storms like Dorian. According to a recent New York Times article about climate change’s effects on extreme weather events:

  • While it’s common to hear the question, “Was it caused by climate change?” scientists argue that this is an unhelpful way to look at the issue. As Katharine Hayhoe, a climate scientist at Texas Tech University, put it recently on Twitter, “that’s the wrong question. The right one is, ‘how much worse did climate change make it?’”

  • Dorian rapidly intensified to become a Category 5. In fact, Dorian is one of the strongest storms to make landfall ever recorded in the Atlantic, and it's the strongest storm ever to hit the Bahamas. And warmer ocean water and air means this rapid intensification is happening more frequently.

    The increasing number of strong storms like Dorian is also linked to climate change. Dorian became the fifth Category 5 storm formed in the Atlantic in just the last four years, and climate researchers have warned that Category 4 and 5 storms “could become nearly twice as common over the next century as a result of climate change, even as the total number of storms declines.”

    Dorian stalled over the Bahamas for about two days, a troubling new trend that researchers have cautiously attributed to a shift in atmospheric circulation patterns due to climate change. According to Bob Berwyn of InsideClimate News:

  • Recent research shows that more North Atlantic hurricanes have been stalling as Dorian did, leading to more extreme rainfall. Their average forward speed has also decreased by 17 percent—from 11.5 mph, to 9.6 mph—from 1944 to 2017, according to a study published in June by federal scientists at NASA and NOAA.

    How that slowing is connected to global warming is still an area of debate. There are different mechanisms at work in the tropics and mid-latitudes, but, "in the broadest sense, global warming makes the global atmospheric circulation slow down," said NOAA hurricane expert Jim Kossin, co-author of the June study.

  • Dorian recently made landfall in North Carolina as a Category 1 hurricane after causing cataclysmic damage to the Bahamas. Billions of dollars may be needed for repairs on the islands, and the death toll stands at 30 and is expected to rise.

  • Despite compelling evidence, broadcast TV news failed to connect Dorian to climate change

  • Broadcast TV news shows aired 216 segments on Dorian from August 28 through September 5. CBS led with 84, followed by ABC with 73, and NBC with 59. The only segment that discussed climate in the context of the storm aired on the September 4 episode of CBS This Morning. ABC and NBC did not air a single segment that linked Dorian to climate change.

    ABC’s only mention of climate change at all during this period was in a segment about Prince Harry’s travel sustainability project, which continues the network’s trend of prioritizing coverage of the British royal family over the climate crisis. CBS also aired a segment about Prince Harry that mentioned climate. This means that broadcast TV news aired more climate segments about Prince Harry’s travel initiative than the hurricane that ravaged the Bahamas for nearly two full days.

  • How often did broadcast TV news mention the links between climate change and  hurricanes like Dorian?
  • CBS’ sole segment was an informative analysis of how climate change is fueling storms like Dorian, and it’s worth a watch.

    From the September 4 episode of CBS This Morning

  • Why it’s important for broadcast TV news to connect extreme weather events to climate change

  • Broadcast news shows have failed to connect extreme weather to climate change time after time. In 2019, Media Matters found that broadcast TV news ignored the links between climate change and the bomb cyclone that triggered historic floods in the Midwest. Media Matters also found that ABC and NBC failed to connect climate change to the nation’s first major heat wave of the summer, which affected close to one-third of the population, set numerous one-day temperature records, and claimed at least six lives.

    According to a 2019 national survey conducted by the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication, “Six in ten Americans (60%) think global warming is affecting weather in the United States, and about three in ten think weather is being affected ‘a lot’ (28%).” The survey also found that most Americans are concerned about the local harm from extreme weather events. Linking extreme storms like Dorian to climate change can help the public better understand how the climate crisis is affecting their daily lives and galvanize public action around finding and implementing potential solutions.

    But during a time when we desperately need media climate coverage to increase and improve, broadcast TV news’ ongoing failure to connect climate consequences to climate science is shameful.

  • Methodology

  • Media Matters searched Nexis, Snapstream, and iQ media for broadcast network TV news segments that covered Hurricane Dorian using the search term Dorian, and then we searched within those segments for mentions of climate change or global warming or greenhouse gas(es). We analyzed morning, nightly, weekend edition, and Sunday news shows on ABC, CBS, and NBC from August 28 to September 5.

    Counted segments included weather reports, which were mentions of Hurricane Dorian within a meteorologist’s report or a general discussion of weather. We omitted teasers and news headline rundowns, which were announcements of the top stories of the day.