STUDY: Media Largely Ignored Climate Change in Coverage Of Winter Snowstorms

STUDY: Media Largely Ignored Climate Change in Coverage Of Winter Snowstorms

››› ››› KEVIN KALHOEFER

Most of the largest newspapers in the Northeast corridor did not publish a single piece covering this winter's major snowstorms in the context of global warming, despite strong scientific evidence that climate change creates the conditions for heavier snowstorms. The major broadcast networks and cable news channels also provided scant mention of climate change in their discussions of the snowstorms, with the notable exception of MSNBC, which provided extensive coverage of the topic. On the opposite end of the spectrum, Fox News, the Boston Herald and the Providence Journal featured content that used the snowstorms to deny climate science.

Media Largely Ignored Connection To Climate Change In Winter Snowstorm Coverage

Television And Print Media Rarely Tied Winter Snowstorms To Climate Change. From January 20 to March 11 this year, the television and print media outlets reviewed by Media Matters tied winter snowstorms in the Northeast to climate change just 25 times in 939 articles or segments mentioning the storms. Climate change was mentioned in only two percent of snowstorm-related newspaper articles, two percent of snowstorm-related segments on the major broadcast networks (including PBS), and five percent of snowstorm-related segments on cable news.

Media Rarely Mentioned Climate Change In Coverage Of Northeast Snowstorms

Most Of The Largest Northeastern Newspapers Failed To Connect Winter Storms To Climate Change

Out Of More Than 500 Newspaper Articles Discussing The Storms, Only 12 Tied The Storms To Climate Change. Media Matters reviewed news articles, op-eds, and editorials about this winter's snowstorms that ran in the print editions of the largest newspapers in each state in the Northeast Corridor, along with USA Today, which is a national newspaper. Over the three-month period Media Matters analyzed, these 22 newspapers published 569 articles that discussed the storms in the Northeast; only 12 of those articles tied the storms to climate change.

Thirteen Northeast Corridor Newspapers, Including The New York Times And The Wall Street Journal, Did Not Once Mention Climate Change In Their Winter Storm Coverage. Among the 22 newspapers Media Matters examined, these 13 newspapers failed to publish a single piece linking the recent snowstorms to climate change: The New York Times, Bangor Daily News, Boston Herald, New Hampshire Union Leader, New Haven Register, New York Daily News, New York Post, Newsday, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Providence Journal, The Record of Bergen County, NJ, and The Wall Street Journal.

Which Newspapers Connected The Northeast Snowstorms To Climate Change?

These Newspapers Did Address The Role Of Climate Change - But They Did So Sparingly 

Three of The Boston Globe's 65 Snowstorm Articles Mentioned Climate Change, The Most Of Any Northeast Newspaper. The Boston Globe mentioned a connection to climate change in three of its 65 pieces about the winter storms in the Northeast.

  • A February 4 article stated that attempts to write off global warming because of record snowfall don't "hold up to scientific scrutiny, according to recent research from a Massachusetts Institute of Technology researcher. In fact, a warming world could mean less overall snow in a given year, but no reprieve from extreme snow events, at least in places like Boston." [The Boston Globe, 2/4/15]
  • A February 10 article explained how a curve in the jet stream contributed to the record snowfall and stated that, "[w]hile no individual weather event is indicative of climate change, Paul O'Gorman, an atmospheric scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology has found evidence that a warming climate will decrease overall snowfall each winter but increase the intensity of extreme events." [The Boston Globe, 2/10/15]
  • A February 11 article about a recent study of historic snowstorms in the Northeast noted that past periods of intense storms "coincided with warmer temperatures in the Atlantic Ocean, suggesting that the same pattern might occur now as sea surface temperatures rise because of climate change." [The Boston Globe, 2/11/15]

USA Today Mentioned Climate Change Once In 20 Pieces On The Snowstorms; The News Journal Once In 12 Snowstorm Articles. A February 10 USA Today article that was also published in the Burlington Free Press and The News Journal of Wilmington, Delaware reported that "Boston's snowy winter could point to weather patterns affected by global warming," and quoted scientist Kevin Trenberth and meteorologist Brad Johnson discussing how conditions created by climate change contributed to the record levels of snow. This was the only article connecting the storms to climate change in USA Today, which published 20 pieces on the snowstorms, and in The News Journal, which printed 12 pieces on the snowstorms. [USA Today, 2/10/15; Burlington Free Press, 2/10/15 via Nexis; The News Journal, 2/10/15 via Nexis]

Burlington Free Press Was Only Newspaper Besides The Globe To Run Multiple Articles On The Climate Change Connection, Publishing Two Out Of 14 Total Snowstorm Stories. In addition to the USA Today article it republished, the Burlington Free Press also featured a February 6 article stating: "The December storms and pervasive power outages provide a stark reminder of the challenges we face with global warming. ... Utilities and road crews across the state are working harder and spending more money to clean up after storms and prepare for the next one. And the next one seems to be coming on fiercer and sooner than it did in the past." The two climate-related articles were part of 14 total pieces that the Free Press ran about the snowstorms. [Burlington Free Press, 2/6/15 via Nexis]

The Washington Post Mentioned Climate Change In One Of Its 29 Stories On The Snowstorms. A February 2 article in The Washington Post cited a recent study from the University of Toronto on probable effects of climate change, which found that "[l]arge storms like the blizzard that battered New England last week may become more severe but less frequent as the Earth's climate changes." Out of 29 pieces in the Post that addressed the winter storms, the February 2 article was the only one to mention a connection to climate change. [The Washington Post, 2/2/15]

The Baltimore Sun Mentioned Climate Change In One Of Its 13 Articles About The Snowstorms. The Baltimore Sun mentioned the climate change connection once in its 13 pieces about the snowstorms. In a March 5 editorial discussing Sen. Jim Inhofe's (R-OK) attempt to disprove global warming by bringing a snowball to the Senate floor, the Sun wrote that the "most insufferable effect of winter weather" is "the postings on the Internet by those who think with this latest snowfall they've uncovered proof positive that climate change is a hoax." The Sun explained that claim is "nonsensical," and went on to criticize the mindset of those who "won't accept that something referred to as 'global warming' can be connected to snowy weather." [The Baltimore Sun, 3/5/15]

Hartford Courant Addressed Climate Change In One Of Its 17 Snowstorm Articles. In a February 1 article about the impact that the recent snowstorms have had on the ability of wildlife in Connecticut to find food, the Hartford Courant stated, "most scientists agree that climate change is likely to bring us more volatile weather patterns, including frequent and harsher winter storms, creating new challenges for our wildlife." Of 17 pieces published in the Hartford Courant discussing the recent snowstorms, this was the only one that connected the storms to climate change. [Hartford Courant, 2/1/15]

Portland Press Herald Mentioned Climate Change In One Of Its 41 Pieces On The Snowstorms. A January 29 article in the Portland Press Herald cited local television weather forecasters Kevin Mannix and David Epstein dismissing the notion that a recent blizzard disproves global warming. The article added: "While global warming is used to describe the general warming of the entire planet, its effect could make some places wetter than before, while other places actually become colder." This was the only climate-related article out of the 41 pieces that the Press Herald published discussing the winter storms in the Northeast. [Portland Press Herald, 1/29/15]

Only Climate Mentions In Boston Herald And Providence Journal Were Columns Denying Connection To Snowstorms

Boston Herald Columnist Howie Carr Mocked "Cult Of Climate Change" For Claiming Climate Connection To Winter Storms. In a January 28 column headlined "Cult of climate change at it again," Boston Herald columnist Howie Carr mocked the idea that global warming can lead to both warming temperatures and more severe winter storms, writing:

Here's the headline yesterday in one of the U.K.'s leading moonbat broadsheets:

'Climate change responsible for super-charging winter storms, scientists say.

'Homer Simpson used to say, 'Donuts! Is there anything they can't do?'

Listen Homer, donuts got nothing on global warming, er climate change. It causes blizzards ... and heat waves. Floods ... and droughts. That's why 1,700 billionaires had to fly to Davos this week to huddle over how to cut down on the carbon footprint - your carbon footprint, not theirs. [Boston Herald, 1/28/15 via Nexis]

Providence Journal Op-Ed: "Weather Augurs" Changed Term From Global Warming To Climate Change To Account For Continuing Snowfall. The Providence Journal published an op-ed in which communications consultant James Baar claimed that the incorrect prediction of a massive blizzard hitting New York City should dissuade people from trusting the models used by climate scientists. In the op-ed, Barr wrote: "In the 1990s, the coming cataclysm was called 'global warming,' which would make snow a rare event. By 2000, since snow continued to fall, the weather augurs reassured the faithful by switching to the ambiguous name of 'climate change' and declaring that this was the cause of all severe weather (cold or hot)." [Providence Journal, 2/15/15]

Other Than MSNBC, TV Outlets Rarely Connected Snowstorms To Climate Change - And CBS Didn't At All

Cable And Network News Channels Connected Storms To Climate Change In 13 Of 370 Segments. Cable news networks connected the snowstorms to climate change or refuted deniers claiming that snowstorms disprove global warming in nine of the 183 segments about the storms that aired during their prime time weekday programming. The broadcast networks (including PBS) discussed climate change or dismissed snowstorm-related climate science denial in four out of 187 morning and evening news segments about the snowstorms.

CBS Did Not Once Link Northeast Winter Storms To Climate Change. CBS aired 52 segments that mentioned the winter storms in the Northeast, yet the network did not mention a link between the storms and climate change in any of their coverage on CBS This Morning or CBS Evening News.

MSNBC Mentioned Climate Change Most Frequently In Snowstorm Coverage. Among the media outlets Media Matters analyzed, MSNBC devoted the most coverage to the connection between climate change and the winter storms, mentioning the role of climate change in eight out of 28 segments that discussed the snowstorms. The Ed Show tied the storms to climate on January 26, February 9, and March 2, and All In with Chris Hayes aired two segments on January 26 and February 2 that mentioned a connection between the storms and climate change. Hardball aired a January 26 segment mentioning the climate connection, as well as a February 27 segment refuting Sen. Inhofe's claim that the snowfall disproves global warming, and Last Word with Lawrence O'Donnell aired a January 26 segment linking the storms to climate change. [MSNBC, The Ed Show, 1/26/15; 2/9/15; 3/2/15; MSNBC, All In with Chris Hayes, 1/26/15; 2/2/15; MSNBC, Hardball, 1/26/15; 2/27/15; MSNBC, Last Word with Lawrence O'Donnell, 1/26/15]

On the January 26 edition of The Ed Show, Ed Schultz noted that "many scientists think that there is a direct link between severe weather and climate change" and that "meteorologists say high sea surface temperatures are helping fuel weather patterns that we are seeing unfold in front of us, especially this blizzard."

Similarly, on the January 26 edition of his show, Chris Hayes noted that storms draw energy from warmer oceans, "which is partly produced by a rising temperature globally, and that even factors in winter storms as well." Hayes interviewed meteorologist Paul Douglas, who explained how climate change can "turbo charge" storms such as the one that was impacting the east coast at the time. Douglas stated: "[O]ceanographers and climate scientists confirm 93 percent of that excess heat is going into the world's oceans. And that can make for stronger typhoons. It can also turbo charge storms like the kind of storm we're looking at tonight." 

On the January 26 edition of Last Word with Lawrence O'Donnell, fill-in host Ari Melber followed up a report about extreme weather on the east coast with an interview with University of Maryland professor and NASA-affiliated severe weather meteorologist Jeff Halverson, who provided two reasons that a warming climate can lead to heavier snow. Halverson explained that global warming may be weakening the jet stream around the Arctic pole, which then "develops a little more curvy flow... that really causes these storms to bomb out and to thrive over the North Atlantic." He added that warming oceans provide more energy into storm systems, "that translates into... heavier snow."

In CNN's Only Climate-Related Segment, Joe Romm Explained How Warmer Climate Can Lead To "Monster Snowstorms."  Out of the 124 segments CNN aired about the winter storms, only one segment connected the storms to climate change. Following a segment on the record amounts of snowfall in Massachusetts and Rhode Island, anchor Carol Costello interviewed blogger and climate expert Joe Romm during the January 28 edition of CNN's Newsroom. Romm explained how climate change can lead to more intense storms and cited the recent winter storms as a case in point. [CNN, Newsroom, 1/28/15]

ABC's The View Twice Mentioned How Climate Change Can Lead To Increased Snowfall, But Topic Wasn't Addressed On Good Morning America Or World News Tonight. ABC did not mention the relationship between the snowstorms and climate change on its morning or nightly news programs, despite discussions of the snowstorms occurring 37 times on Good Morning America and 17 times on World News Tonight. But the subject did come up in two of the five discussions about the snowstorms on The View, courtesy of co-host Rosie Perez. On the February 17 edition of The View, Perez stated that "scientists are saying that climate change is real, and part of the reason why we have so much more rain and snowfall," adding that "we should be taking this very seriously, especially in an election year, 2016." On the March 2 edition of The View, Perez similarly explained how climate change helps explain "why we're getting so much snow." [ABC, The View, 2/17/15; 3/2/15]

Al Roker Criticized "Naysayers" Who Use Snowstorms To Deny Climate Change, But NBC Otherwise Ignored The Issue. NBC connected climate change to severe winter weather in just one of its 62 segments that discussed the winter storms. On the February 10 edition of Today, co-hosts Al Roker and Tamron Hall agreed that the snow storms in Boston were "unprecedented" and "record-breaking," and Roker criticized "naysayers" who use snowstorms to try to dispute global warming. [NBC, Today, 2/10/15]

PBS Newshour Only Mentioned Climate Once In Its 14 Segments Related To The Snowstorms. On the February 18 edition of PBS's NewsHour, host Gwen Ifill introduced a segment on science and belief by stating, "So, even snowfall can spark debate. Some say it`s proof global warming doesn't exist. Others argue it is proof climate change is behind the extreme weather. It`s just another example where science and doubt feed on each other." The segment itself made clear that the vast majority of scientists say climate change is real and caused by human activity, and that climate change denial is an example of "anti-scientific views." NewsHour aired stories mentioning the snowstorms 14 times, but this was the only segment making any connection between the storms and climate change. [PBS, NewsHour, 2/18/15]

Fox News' Snowstorm Coverage Only Mentioned Climate Change To Deny The Science

Fox News Disputed Connection Between Snowstorms And Global Warming. Over the three-month period Media Matters examined, Fox News aired 31 segments that addressed the winter storms, six of which disputed a connection between the storms and global warming. The O'Reilly Factor did so the most frequently, airing three segments in which either O'Reilly or correspondent Jesse Watters ridiculed the notion that climate change was playing a role in the storms. The Five aired two segments disputing the connection between winter storms and climate change, and Sean Hannity also did so on the January 27 edition of his Fox News show, Hannity. [Fox News, The O'Reilly Factor, 1/27/15; 1/28/15; 2/23/15; Fox News, The Five, 1/26/15; 1/27/15; Fox News, Hannity, 1/27/15]

For example, on the January 27 edition of The Five, co-host Greg Gutfeld asserted that there was "not a single scintilla of proof" of a connection between climate change and extreme weather -- including the Northeast snowstorms. As purported evidence, Gutfeld pointed to a blizzard in Saratoga Springs in 1888, declaring that if "this current blizzard in fact proves climate change ... the logical conclusion is that climate change is awesome, because a storm 130 years ago was much worse."

On the same day's edition of his show, Hannity similarly accused media figures who link winter storms to climate change of promoting a "global warming agenda" and invited Weatherbell.com meteorologist Joe Bastardi on the show to dismiss the connection between the snowstorms and climate change.

Global Warming Can Lead To More Heavy Precipitation, Such As The Recent Snowstorms In The Northeast

Northeast Experienced Three High-Impact Snowstorms This Year. According to the National Climatic Data Center's Northeast Snowfall Impact Scale, the Northeast urban corridor experienced three high-impact snowstorms -- characterized as having large areas of 10 inch snowfall accumulations and greater -- since the beginning of the year. [Regional Snowfall Index, accessed 3/25/15]  

National Center For Atmospheric Research Scientist: Climate Change Played Key Role In Creating Conditions For Blizzard. Kevin Trenberth, a climate scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research, explained to Think Progress that although "winter" was the "number 1 cause" of the recent blizzard, warmer ocean temperatures as a result of global warming also played a significant role. Trenberth explained that warmer sea surface temperatures have increased the amount of water vapor in the air by 10 percent. He concluded that "about half" of this phenomenon can be attributed to climate change. [Think Progress, 1/26/15]

Michael Mann: Climate Change Is Intensifying Winter Storms. In an interview with Yale's Climate Connections, Penn State professor of meteorology Michael Mann stated that warmer than usual portions of the Atlantic added more energy to the atmosphere this winter, which made the winter storms more intense. Mann concluded: "[C]limate change is actually providing more energy to intensify these nor'easters, and it's providing more moisture so that they can convert that moisture into record snowfalls." [Yale Climate Connections, 3/30/15]

NOAA Scientist: Climate Change's Impact On Jet Stream Can Lead To Heavier Amounts Of Snow. David Easterling, chief of the Global Climate Applications Division of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's National Climatic Data Center explained to the Huffington Post that global warming-induced changes in the jet stream may slow storms down and lead to heavier amounts of snowfall. He explained that a "storm that might have moved across the Northeast in 24 hours may now take 48 hours," giving them more time to drop snow in one place. [Huffington Post, 1/26/15]

Washington Post Blog: Warmer Oceans And More Atmospheric Heat Lead To More Snow. In an online blog post about Boston's heavy snowfall, The Washington Post's Christopher Mooney interviewed climate science experts who explained how warmer oceans and more atmospheric heat caused by global warming can increase the amount of water vapor -- the "jet fuel of precipitation" -- in the atmosphere and lead to more snow. [Washington Post, 2/10/15]*

Laden: Study Shows How "Recent Heavy Storms In New England" Are An "Impact Of Climate Change." In a Science Blogs post, Greg Laden wrote that a recent study in the American Geophysical Union found that recent trends, such as increased precipitation in the Northeast, "constitute an important hydrological impact of climate change":

So, now on to the details of the new paper just out in the American Geophysical Union addresses change in weather resulting from anthropogenic global warming. This study looks specifically at precipitation in the Northeastern United States. The paper is timely (though only by accident, the timing of peer reviewed publication and that of news cycles are entirely unconnected!) because of the recent heavy snows in New England. The study concludes that there is "... evidence of increasing persistence in daily precipitation in the Northeastern United States that suggests global circulation changes are affecting regional precipitation patterns... Precipitation in the northeastern United States is becoming more persistent; Precipitation in the northeastern United States is becoming more intense; [and these] Observed trends constitute an important hydrological impact of climate change." [Science Blogs, 2/23/15]

* Chris Mooney's blog post for the Washington Post was not counted as part of our study because it was published in the Washington Post's online edition. Our analysis only counted articles published in newspapers' print editions.

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