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Boiling Point

Story and photos by Kate Siberell

Studying weather and climate changeis like watching a pot of water on the stove. Both climate scientists and meteorologists observe the temperature of the stove burner, the temperature of the water, the size of the pot, how much water it contains, and the temperature of air around the pot. Though both look at the same scenario, each is concerned with a different end. Meteorologists focus on where the first bubble will burst. Climate scientists only care that the pot will eventually boil. TV weather casters have long been tagged as climate deniers. Though a large majority of them acknowledge that earth is in the middle of a significant warming trend, only 54 percent of respondents to a 2011 National Science Foundation survey were convinced that humans had anything to do with it.

Some think the planet is on an upward swing in temperature but will undoubtedly cycle down again, while a tiny minority thinks that climate change is a political conspiracy.

Climate change is a large-scale phenomenon with effects that are difficult to predict. The American Meteorological Society says the warming of the earth is unequivocal. Evidence shows increases in average air and ocean temperatures, along with widespread melting of snow and ice, and rising sea levels. In Montana, where weather is notoriously fickle, it seems that most meteorologists look beyond the first bubble while watching the pot.

What Montana TV meteorologists think of climate change:


Russ Thomas, KPAX Missoula.

Russ Thomas giving weather report at KPAX in Missoula

Russ Thomas graduated with a degree in meteorology in 2000 from Florida State University. He remembers a professor saying meteorologists question climate change the most. Thomas studies weather in detail at KPAX in Missoula. He understands there is more to climate change than the cut and dry, intense warming that’s generally perceived.

“It goes in cycles,” Thomas said. “There are periods where it’s a little bit warmer than usual, and periods where it’s a little cooler than usual. And that’s something that will continue to be there. We see this slow evolution of the climate getting warmer; it’s one of those things that is inevitable… but big picture, I think it’s hard to deny that global warming exists.”

Mike Rawlins, KRTV Great Falls.

Mike Rawlins giving a weather report at KRTV in Great Falls

Mike Rawlins works on the weather team at KRTV in Great Falls. He fell in love with weather when he was 8 years old, and used to do pretend weathercasts in his basement. He earned a seal of approval from the National Weather Association in 2011. He is a passionate meteorologist, exemplified by his choice to include updates from Climate Central, an independent organization of scientists and journalists, in his weather coverage.

“I wouldn’t call myself a climate researcher, but as a meteorologist it’s very clear that climate change is happening. I think there’s a lot of research there, and we’re seeing more and more people open their eyes to the idea. The huge debate now seems to be whether or not humans are responsible for this change. I think the answer is yes.”

Dave Cochran, ABC FOX in Missoula.

Dave Cochran giving a weather report at ABC Fox Montana

Dave Cochran originally wanted to be a commercial airplane pilot, which gives him a very practical approach to weather and climate change. He studied broadcast journalism at what was then the University of Southern Colorado, and worked at numerous stations as a reporter, producer, photojournalist, and anchor. He became good with computers and landed a job as the single weatherman at ABC FOX in Missoula, because he could do it all.

“Everything I’ve seen from people who are a heck of a lot smarter than I am; I just don’t think that you can pump as much pollution into the planet that we have globally, and not see some sort of change,” Cochran said. “And I think that a lot of the climate change debate going on right now has very little to do with science. It has more to do with the political anger in America today.”

Kate Siberell has a journalism degree from the University of Montana, and strives to surround herself with creative people doing cool things. She plans to travel the world and tell stories in innovative ways.