Network Coverage of ‘Extreme Weather’ Up Nearly 1,000 Percent

Ten years ago ABC, CBS and NBC barely used the phrase, now they go to extremes despite scientific disagreement.

A “bizarre cold snap” is hitting the U.S. and the media have already begun to draw comparisons to the polar vortex. It is only a matter of time before the networks resume panic over “extreme weather.”

Use of the phrase “extreme weather” in news stories has exploded in recent years. Almost a decade ago, before former Vice President Al Gore’s film “An Inconvenient Truth” was released, the broadcast news networks rarely used the term. Gore’s 2006 movie and book of the same name used the phrase “extreme weather” and linked the hurricanes, floods, drought and other natural disasters to global warming. The networks have lauded Gore and his film for years.


Between July 2004 and July 2005, a year before Gore’s movie, the three networks only used the phrase “extreme weather” in 18 stories on their morning and evening news shows in that entire year.

Now, it is a favorite phrase of the networks. In the past year (July 2013 through July 2014), the same network news shows talked about it 988 percent more: in a whopping 196 stories. That’s more than enough stories to see one every other day on average.

During that time, extreme weather was frequently used by the networks to describe heat waves, droughts, tornadoes, hurricanes and winter storms, and they often included the phrase in onscreen graphics or chyrons during weather stories. ABC even has an “extreme weather team” dedicated to covering such events. Some of those reports explicitly linked the events to climate change, but even when they didn’t the stories fueled the narrative of climate alarmism.

The networks have worked tirelessly to promote the idea that extreme weather events were more common than they actually have been. What used to just be called weather, is now extreme. On May 6, 2014, NBC White House Correspondent Peter Alexander told “Nightly News” viewers to “just think of all the extreme weather headlines in the last months. Floods, tornadoes, record cold and record droughts.”

ABC correspondent Dan Harris announced on Feb. 22, 2014, “Good Morning America” that “much of America [is] dealing with extreme weather right now. A really nasty mix of twisters, high winds and flooding rains.”

But even alarmist scientists who worried about the danger of global warming admitted connecting so-called “extreme weather” to climate change was “controversial” and lacks proof. The United Nations reduced its certainty regarding a connection between heat waves, droughts and tropical cyclones and climate change in 2013.

While discussing extreme weather, including simultaneous “extended periods of cold” and “unprecedented winter warmth,” climate alarmist Michael Mann of Penn State University said that connections to climate change were “a speculative and genuinely controversial area of the science.”

As for claims that storms are becoming more frequent, that hasn’t been the case with hurricanes. Climatologist Dr. John Christy who has looked back to the 1850s told the MRC in 2013 “there is no trend in hurricanes.” He said, “[I]f you look at the last seven years, there has not been single major hurricane hit the United States. This is the longest period of such a dearth of hurricanes in that entire record.”

In early 2014, when the networks hyped a drought in California as the “worst drought on record,” Dr. Martin Hoerling, a federal climate researcher, disagreed and told the MRC it was consistent with previous California droughts.

Gore Warns about Increase in ‘Extreme Weather,’ Networks Echo Fears

Alarmist scientists and politicians often claim extreme weather events have increased, despite evidence to the contrary. ABC, CBS and NBC seem only too eager to repeat and bolster these arguments.

Prominent climate alarmists claim man-made climate change is causing extreme weather events. In January 2014, Gore told the World Economic Forum in Davos that “these extreme weather events which are now a hundred times more common than 30 years ago are really waking people’s awareness all over the world” to the effects of global warming. Gore was just building on what he’d already suggested about natural disasters in “An Inconvenient Truth.”

Similarly, in a June 2013 speech at Georgetown University, President Barack Obama told his audience that “we also know that in a world that’s warmer than it used to be, all weather events are affected by a warming planet” before connecting the devastation of Hurricane Sandy, wildfires, droughts and heat waves to climate change.

Their claims didn’t sound all that different from some network news reports.

On May 7, 2014, the “Today” show weather and feature anchor Al Roker warned of “more dangerous floods. More frequent and powerful storms. Wildfires burning more often with less water on hand to put them out.”

Sometimes the networks connected these extreme weather events to man-made global warming, although not always. CBS Senior Foreign Correspondent Mark Phillips wanted it both ways on the March 31, 2014, “Evening News.” Phillips said, “no single event can be blamed on climate change, but a winter of extreme weather in the U.S. and Europe, drought in the west, they are all signs the environmental and economic risks are already being felt.”

Meanwhile, ABC repeated White House alarm over extreme weather. ABC’s “World News” anchor Diane Sawyer channeled Obama’s worries on May 6, 2014, saying “is this extreme weather all around us global warming or not? The president’s answer is yes. And it’s underway right here, right now.” Sawyer’s statement came amidst media frenzy over a White House climate change report. The networks devoted 27 minutes of news coverage to that report in just two days.

But there were problems with the claims that “extreme weather” increased and that it was linked to global warming, as even some alarmists like Mann have admitted.

Judith Curry, a climatologist with the Georgia Institute of Technology, found that even the United Nations’ 2013 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Assessment Report lowered its confidence in the climate change-extreme weather connection from previous iterations of the report. She found that the UN had become less confident about “an increase in heat waves,” “increasing trends in droughts” and “increases in intense tropical cyclone activity.”

In an interview with the MRC’s Business and Media Institute, meteorologist and weather forecaster Joe Bastardi, who worked for AccuWeather for many years, skewered the media’s “extreme weather” claims.

Drawing upon his long career of forecasting extreme weather and the history of global weather patterns Bastardi contended that “extreme weather is natural” and “there is always extreme weather somewhere.” In his view, extreme weather events are part of natural cycles and have always been natural occurrences. In fact, Bastardi said “It is less likely to have a day that is perfectly average than to have one that is one or two standard deviations above or below normal.”

Peer-reviewed studies have also refuted the connection between extreme weather and climate change. The Heartland Institute regularly responds to the IPCC’s one-sided alarmist view of climate change with Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change (NIPCC) reports such as Climate Change Reconsidered II: Physical Science, released in 2013.

Climate Change Reconsidered compiled peer-reviewed academic articles by scientists from around the world and found that “the claim that global warming will lead to more extremes of climate and weather” was both “theoretically unsound” and “unsupported by empirical evidence.” It also addressed the alleged prevalence of heat waves, wildfires, droughts, floods, tornados and hurricanes, and said that “no relationship exists between such events and global warming.”

Methodology: The Media Research Center’s Business and Media Institute analyzed broadcast network transcripts for morning and evening shows looking for stories using the phrase “extreme weather” between July 1, 2004, and July 1, 2005, and also between July 1, 2013, and July 1, 2014.

— Sean Long is Staff Writer at the Media Research Center. Follow Sean Long on Twitter.