Much of 2022’s extreme weather coverage from national TV news outlets failed to connect the consequences of climate-driven events such as wildfires, hurricanes, heat waves, and megadroughts to their primary cause: global warming induced primarily by the burning of fossil fuels. Corporate broadcast and cable TV news reporting on extreme weather events in 2022 too often neglected to connect these disasters to the climate crisis, allowed systemic failures that are exposed by extreme climate events to go unchallenged, and failed to demand accountability for those exacerbating climate change, as well as its impacts and injustices.
A roundup of this year’s extreme weather coverage found that national TV news shows mentioned climate change in only 17% of segments about mid-June’s multiple concurrent extreme weather events, while broadcast and cable coverage of Yosemite National Park’s Washburn Fire from July 9-11 mentioned climate change in just 37% of segments. Similarly, only 32% of national TV news segments about the global extreme heat waves from July 16-18 mentioned climate change.
During broadcast and cable news coverage of a record-breaking heat dome that afflicted the American West from late-August through early-September, climate change was mentioned in only 12% of segments. And, from August 25 through September 15, national TV news coverage of Pakistan’s catastrophic floods mentioned climate change in 35 of 78 segments.
Moving into hurricane season, broadcast and cable news coverage of Hurricane Fiona from September 14-20 mentioned climate change in only 7 out of 233 segments, while national TV news coverage of Hurricane Ian mentioned climate only 46 times across 1,020 segments.
There were some notable positive examples among 2022’s extreme weather segments, however, which contextualized the role of climate change, amplified voices from vulnerable communities, and demanded accountability for the polluting industries driving the climate crisis. As such, they should serve as a model for how broadcast and cable news shows should approach their coverage of extreme weather in 2023 and going forward.
Here are a few of the best extreme weather segments aired in 2022
One of broadcast news’ better segments aired during the July 18 episode of CBS Mornings, which demonstrated how extreme weather coverage benefits from experts who can credibly communicate climate science and the urgency of climate action to viewers. The segment, which was about the extreme heat gripping multiple places on Earth, featured an interview with Kirsty McCabe of the U.K.’s Royal Meteorological Society, who stated that “climate change has everything to do with the extreme weather that we're seeing at the moment — and it's human-induced climate change, it’s not a natural variation.” She also noted that “if we don't do something now and take drastic action, we will continue to see these things happening.”
One of the strongest extreme weather segments on either broadcast or cable news aired during the September 20 episode of CBS Mornings. Correspondent David Begnaud, who also did exceptional reporting during and after 2017’s Hurricane Maria, used a nearly eight-minute segment about Hurricane Fiona to demand accountability from the utility company currently tasked with rebuilding and improving Puerto Rico’s grid, and to amplify the voices of vulnerable people who face immediate risk when critical infrastructure fails.
The October 4 episode of NBC Nightly News aired a strong segment during its coverage of Hurricane Ian that highlighted how poor communities and communities of color in southwest Florida were excluded from rescue and relief efforts.
One of the stronger cable news extreme weather segments aired during the July 10 episode of CNN Newsroom with Jim Acosta, during which correspondent René Marsh discussed the Washburn Fire’s threat to Yosemite’s sequoia trees and explained how wildfires, hotter temperatures, and sea-level rise threaten national parks more broadly. She noted, “It is not just Yosemite. This issue of climate change and the impact of climate change at these national parks is an issue across the United States.”
Another of the year’s strongest extreme weather segments aired during the September 5 episode of MSNBC’s Jose Diaz-Balart Reports and featured an excellent interview with climate scientist Katharine Hayhoe about the Western U.S. heat wave. Hayhoe noted, “We need to be cutting out heat-trapping gas emissions as much as possible, as soon as possible,” and ended the interview by stating, “It’s not about saving the planet. It’s about saving us.
A segment about Pakistan’s devastating flooding during the September 2 episode of CNN Tonight detailed how extreme heat and precipitation around the world are linked by climate change and explained why Pakistan’s unique geography makes the country extremely vulnerable to harmful climate impacts.
During the September 19 episode of MSNBC’s Alex Wagner Tonight, in a segment focused on how Puerto Rico was recovering in the aftermath of Hurricane Fiona, host Alex Wagner provided viewers with a detailed breakdown of the corruption, scandal, and federal neglect hindering the island’s grid improvement since Hurricane Maria five years earlier.
In a strong segment about Hurricane Ian, the October 2 episode of MSNBC’s American Voices with Alicia Menendez featured climate scientist Suzana J. Camargo explaining the science behind the rapid intensification of storms like Ian and the need to build climate resiliency by reducing fossil fuels use and improving infrastructure.
The October 7 episode of CNN's New Day featured another one of the year’s best segments. CNN chief climate correspondent Bill Weir highlighted one Florida community that runs on 100% solar power and was largely spared from Ian’s wrath even though it is only 15 miles from Fort Myers, which was “ground zero for storm surge” during the hurricane. The solutions-focused segment demonstrated the potential resiliency benefits of renewable energy and protected wetlands.
In 2023, national TV news must commit to sustained and substantive extreme weather coverage
Extreme climate events are becoming more frequent and devastating, and national TV news outlets must commit to immediately improving their extreme weather coverage. Unfortunately, so much of extreme weather coverage is now characterized by shallow coverage that prioritizes disaster imagery over substantive reporting — broadcast and cable news shows are adept at showing the carnage of extreme weather events, the hollowed out faces of those who have lost everything, and the hand-wringing and expressions of empathy from concerned hosts and public officials.
To begin improving their extreme weather coverage, broadcast and cable news networks must follow the example set by the better extreme weather segments featured above. This includes consistently connecting extreme weather events to climate change and informing viewers that the climate crisis is being primarily driven by the burning of fossil fuels and the reluctance of rich countries to immediately transition away from fossil fuels. Media must also connect extreme weather events to policies and practices made by local, state, and federal officials that exacerbate climate impacts and hamper recovery, while building awareness and support for public policies that could mitigate the worst consequences of global warming. Finally, national TV news shows must continue telling the story of the people and communities who are recovering after an extreme weather event has upended their lives, focusing on the plight of victims while promoting resiliency and pushing for solutions to the climate crisis.