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October 2005

Weathering the media coverage


Anatta with the September 26 issue of Time. (Photo by Carlye Calvin. More images.)

For UCAR and NCAR, the recent series of hurricanes has produced something of a perfect storm of news coverage.

At the same time that media interest was piqued by a possible link between tropical cyclones and climate change, CGD's Kevin Trenberth and MMM's Greg Holland made headlines for warning that storms are intensifying. In addition, MMM's Chris Davis and colleagues were busy tracking hurricanes Katrina and Rita with the powerful Weather Research and Forecasting model while Wen-Chau Lee and other EOL staff were flying straight into those same hurricanes during a field program in Florida (the Hurricane Rainband and Intensity Change Experiment, or RAINEX) .

"By the time Rita hit, the phone was ringing off the hook," says Anatta, who oversees media relations for UCAR Communications. "The scientists were heroic in responding to the media onslaught."

The result: NCAR scientists in recent months have been quoted around the world by news organizations ranging from CNN Headline News, NBC Nightly News, and USA Today to the British Broadcasting Corporation, Taipei Times, and Sydney Morning Herald.

Documentary filmmakers from the likes of the BBC and National Geographic dispatched film crews to cover RAINEX and to interview scientists in Boulder. The question "Are We Making Hurricanes Worse?" hit the cover of the September 26 issue of Time magazine, with the first page of the story quoting both Kevin and Greg.

UCAR and NCAR have consistently enjoyed wide coverage over the years, says Anatta. But the media interest in recent months has been particularly intense because of the lively scientific debate over whether greenhouse gases are fueling more powerful tropical cyclones by warming the oceans (see story).

"Everyone wants to know, 'Is it just our fickle weather or a harbinger of changes yet to come?' We've got people who can help answer that," says Anatta.

She explains that media coverage fulfills several important goals, including letting taxpayers know how the organization is putting their money to good use. Another goal is to improve overall scientific literacy. "A democratic society depends on an informed public," she points out. The coverage can also help attract future researchers into the field.

Although aimed primarily at the media, UCAR's news releases are used by professors in their classrooms. Researchers from around the world who want to find out what their colleagues are working on often see the releases on the Web and follow up with calls to NCAR scientists.

Hurricanes aside, recent news releases have highlighted other research areas ranging from the impact of wildfires on pollution to the genesis of powerful solar storms. Current coverage spotlights Jerry Meehl's work in CGD on the effect of climate change on precipitation.

Although some scientists worry about having their comments misconstrued by reporters or losing time that could be spent on research, they also welcome the opportunity to talk to the media. "It's important for us to try to make science accessible to the public," says Chris Davis. "I think the reward is feeling that you may have communicated something useful."

• by David Hosansky

On the Web

To review media coverage of UCAR and NCAR



To catch NCAR on primetime television, see the PBS climate-change documentary, "Global Warming: the Signs and the Science," on November 2 at 8:00 p.m. The documentary is expected to quote CGD's Kevin Trenberth.

HBO's "Too Hot Not to Handle" will air in April 2006, coinciding with Earth Day. The crew filmed interviews with Kevin as well as CGD's Warren Washington, Bill Collins, and Tom Wigley.

Also in this issue...

NCAR hurricane work reaches new intensity

A visitor from New Orleans

SACNAS visitors

Taking command after Katrina

A day for girl scouts

Vin Lally

A first-class home for conferences

New HR Web system

bluevista doubles supercomputing capacity

New climate exhibit

Weathering the media coverage

Delphi Question

Just One Look


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