Among the side effects of hurricanes Katrina and Rita was a media blitz on weather and climate. Ranging from well-informed, in-depth articles to markedly biased (on both sides) diatribes, the coverage was a microcosm of the way the world's media report on science.
As did many university scientists, NCAR and UCAR received an unprecedented amount of exposure in the recent crush of public interest on hurricanes, especially in how the storms relate to global climate change. "By the time Rita hit, the phone was ringing off the hook," says Anatta (her full name), who oversees media relations for UCAR Communications. "Everyone wanted to know, ‘Is it just our fickle weather or a harbinger of changes yet to come?'" A single paper by scientists at Georgia Institute of Technology and NCAR (see related story) generated so many media contacts that the scientists stopped counting them at 300, according to NCAR's Greg Holland.
Media coverage fulfills several important goals, such as improving scientific literacy. "A democratic society depends on an informed public," Anatta points out. Another goal is to help attract future researchers into the field.
UCAR's site for press clips, introduced earlier this year, provides an easy-to-scan resource for those who are formally or informally studying how the media cover weather and climate. The site lists all English-language news stories that mentioned NCAR or UCAR during the preceding two weeks, whether from the most widely viewed media such as BBC News or from a small-town newspaper or Web entrepreneur. Each clips includes a link to the media source, when available. The archival page extends back about three months and explains how to obain print copies of earlier coverage.