MALE CORRESPONDENT: Today on Forecast Earth - BOB GARFIELD: This year, when The Weather Channel celebrated its 25th anniversary with a roundup of the 100 biggest weather moments, global warming came in at number one. Now, one of cable's last privately owned channels is training its meteorologists to work long-term climate change into its short-term forecasts. [CLIP: FORECAST EARTH] HEIDI CULLEN: Hello, and welcome to Forecast Earth¸ the first weekly series to examine the science of global warming and how it impacts you. [END OF CLIP] BOB GARFIELD: In 2003, largely in response to Katrina, the network hired climate expert and science advocate Dr. Heidi Cullen to spearhead a new weekly program, Forecast Earth, the first weekly TV series devoted to climate change.*
Cullen has featured such guests as Al Gore, Dr. James Hansen of NASA, Andrew Revkin of The New York Times, Ted Turner and Sir Richard Branson. In an attempt to bridge the gap between science and weather, she sees going green as a new direction for network programming on both national and local meteorological fronts. Heidi, welcome to the show. HEIDI CULLEN: Thanks very much for having me. BOB GARFIELD: When you were first hired at The Weather Channel, what was the mandate? HEIDI CULLEN: Well, the mandate was really to start talking about climate, and that meant anything from droughts and El Ninos to global warming. And four years ago when I started, you know, there wasn't a whole lot to work from because there wasn't a whole lot of ongoing global warming coverage at the time. So, you know, we've really been trying to figure out how to cover it as a breaking weather story, so to speak. And it's not always easy. [LAUGHS] BOB GARFIELD: Is there even scientific consensus at this point that warming temperatures worldwide are actually affecting the weather itself - you know, for example, incidents of hurricanes in the South Atlantic? HEIDI CULLEN: The hurricane part is still very much a work in progress. The IPCC Report, which came out this year, did state clearly, though, that, you know, long-term drought has increased, that we've seen an increase in extreme precipitation events, an increase in extreme heat events.
Meteorologists have an opportunity, you know, when a heat wave pops up, to say, you know, this heat wave is consistent with what models project for the future. Models project that heat waves will become more long-lasting, more intense and more frequent. And so you can make a statement as to whether, you know, a current weather event is consistent with what we expect from global warming. BOB GARFIELD: Now, you say that meteorologists often have the opportunity to discuss climate change, but you have also created quite a stink in the past by suggesting that they also have the obligation to make those connections.
You said publicly that you believe that the American Meteorological Society should have to certify that a meteorologist has at least fundamental climate change training in order to stand up there and say whether it's likely to rain tomorrow. HEIDI CULLEN: You get questions so much more now than you used to. And I think a lot of meteorologists, you know, they get asked the question, you know, is this heat wave, is it global warming? And they haven't really had the chance, they haven't been given the time to do the background reading and get up to speed on the state of the science.
And I thought that the AMS was a good forum with which to start this process of education, because, you know, meteorologists represent the scientists that the America public is most in contact with. BOB GARFIELD: Now, I want to ask you about that, because while climate change is an interesting scientific issue, it's also become a political issue. Do you get flamed with emails by people accusing you of being, you know, a tool of the tree-huggers and the left wing? HEIDI CULLEN: Yeah. You know, it was funny, because the first time somebody called me a tree-hugger, I was a little bit hurt [LAUGHS], you know. And, you know, I didn't want to be seen as an advocate. I wanted to be seen as a scientist who was bringing just, you know, the facts on global warming.
And it was funny, because after Katrina hit, I think I began to realize that, you know, there's responsibility, even as a scientist, to give the facts but also to express my concern. You know, Abraham Lincoln created the National Academy of Sciences to inform policymakers, so the scientists give you the facts and then the policymakers take it from there.
Well, I don't think that it's enough to just give the facts. I think you've also got to associate a level of concern with it. BOB GARFIELD: Has there been any backlash from viewers or advertisers? HEIDI CULLEN: Well, you know, our viewership, The Weather Channel viewership, we're national, we're available in about 90 million homes, and, you know, we really speak to a very mainstream audience. You know, I get plenty of people telling me that my science is just politics.
Yet at the same time, over the past year, I mean, the number of networks now who've decided to do green coverage is really, it's astounding, and I'm really curious to see, you know, what it's going to look like when all of these other different networks start to cover it. BOB GARFIELD: Well, Heidi, I very much appreciate your spending the time with us. HEIDI CULLEN: Hey, my pleasure. Thanks very much. BOB GARFIELD: Climatologist Dr. Heidi Cullen is the host of The Weather Channel's Forecast Earth. [MUSIC UP AND UNDER] BROOKE GLADSTONE: Coming up, two how-to’s - how to get a good quote from a hung-over rock star - BOB GARFIELD: And how to get that shirtless guy on Cops to sign a release form. BROOKE GLADSTONE: This is On the Media from NPR.
*This sentence was intended to read as: In 2003, the network hired climate expert and science advocate Dr. Heidi Cullen to build their climate program. Largely in response to Katrina in 2005, The Weather Channel furthered their global warming mandate and launched Dr. Cullen’s new weekly program, Forecast Earth, the first weekly TV series devoted to climate change.