On Monday, both NBC's Nightly News and ABC's World News hyped a finding by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) that, in the panicked words of NBC environmental correspondent Anne Thompson, "Extreme weather blew March 2012 into the record books....It saw almost three times the average number of reported tornadoes."
ABC weather editor Sam Champion noted how some enjoyed the unseasonably warm weather, but then ominously warned of a "potential downside" being "so much darker." He proclaimed: "Local governments are racing to meet these challenges head on. Los Angeles today hosting a meeting of top scientists and public heath officials to plan for what they're calling, 'extreme climate risks.'"
Champion listed the threats:
Danger number one, extreme weather. The rising temperatures may create ideal conditions for more severe thunderstorms and tornadoes....Danger number two, economic crisis....It's feared these extreme temperature fluctuations can endanger a whole year's crops....Danger number three, a possible public health crisis....a Harvard study revealed that even small increases in summer temperatures, as small as 2 degrees, had a direct link to shorter life expectancy for seniors with chronic medical conditions....Researchers predicted a tiny heat spike could result in 10,000 additional deaths a year.
Thompson admitted that there was "no one culprit to blame for the rising thermometer," but quickly added: "there is a prime suspect." A sound bite followed of Tom Karl, the head of NOAA's National Climatic Data Center: "Right now, we have a climate on steroids. What we mean by that is green house gases continue to increase in the atmosphere."
In 2011, Karl was accused of trying to suppress global warming data by a fellow climatologist.
Despite the assertions made in both reports, NOAA's own Frequently Asked Questions section of its website largely dispels the notion of global warming causing an increase in tornado activity: "Does 'global warming' cause tornadoes? No. Thunderstorms do. The harder question may be, 'Will climate change influence tornado occurrence?' The best answer is: We don't know." [h/t to The Heritage Foundation's The Foundry blog]
Here is a transcript of Thompson's April 9 Nightly News report:
BRIAN WILLIAMS: Back in this country tonight, there are now definitive facts to prove what we all felt was true during this very bizarre winter season just past. Some places witnessed summer arriving in March, really. A ton of records fell, and violent weather hit across a lot of the country. Our report tonight from our chief environmental affairs correspondent Anne Thompson.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: This is a tornado!
ANNE THOMPSON: Extreme weather blew March 2012 into the record books. It saw almost three times the average number of reported tornadoes. NOAA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, says our the unusually warm weather created conditions favorable for twisters. And while there's no one culprit to blame for the rising thermometer, there is a prime suspect.
TOM KARL [NOAA]: Right now, we have a climate on steroids. What we mean by that is green house gases continue to increase in the atmosphere.
THOMPSON: The average temperature this March, 51.1 degrees, 8.6 degrees above normal. This time lapse animation from NOAA shows where the 15,000-plus records were broken. Every state in the nation set at least one daily record high in March. March brought rain and drought relief to eastern Texas and parts of Oklahoma, but above the tree line on the Rocky Mountains, near Boulder, Colorado, there is bare ground where there should be snow. Colorado's snow pack, just 49% of average. Less snow means less water for Tim Farrell's organic farm. Today, he laid down a barrier to hold in moisture for his strawberries, but without water, he may have to make a tough choice.
TIM FARRELL: We've been trying to save our fruit trees and we would then have to let go of all of our vegetables.
THOMPSON: NOAA's forecast is for this warming trend to continue, particularly in the mid-Atlantic and southern sections of the country, and nowhere is it predicted to be colder than normal. Anne Thompson, NBC News, New York.
Here is a full transcript of Champion's April 9 World News report:
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: And it's official, the nation's top scientists crunched the numbers and declared March 2012 the single hottest March on record, dating back to 1895. Watch this, every dot another record shattered, more than 15,000 in all. And as ABC's weather editor Sam Champion explains, that extreme weather could have extreme consequences for everything from your health to your wallet.
SAM CHAMPION: Some are calling it the year without winter, and now, it's one for the record books. The average temperature in March is usually 42.5 degrees. But this year? 51 degrees, about 8.6 degrees higher than normal.
JAKE CROUCH [NOAA, NATL. CLIMATIC DATA CTR.]: Under normal circumstances, we would expect this large of a temperature departure from normal about once every 280 years.
CHAMPION: The upside of the heat wave, scenes like this, people enjoying the sun, skiing in bathing suits. But the potential downside, so much darker. And some say, we're already seeing it. Local governments are racing to meet these challenges head on. Los Angeles today hosting a meeting of top scientists and public heath officials to plan for what they're calling, "extreme climate risks."
Danger number one, extreme weather. The rising temperatures may create ideal conditions for more severe thunderstorms and tornadoes. 223 twisters reported in March alone, a month which typically sees 80.
Danger number two, economic crisis. This unprecedented heat also raising alarms for farmers.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: To say that they're concerned would be an understatement.
CHAMPION: It's feared these extreme temperature fluctuations can endanger a whole year's crops.
Danger number three, a possible public health crisis. Today, a Harvard study revealed that even small increases in summer temperatures, as small as 2 degrees, had a direct link to shorter life expectancy for seniors with chronic medical conditions such diabetes, heart failure or lung disease. Researchers predicted a tiny heat spike could result in 10,000 additional deaths a year.
RICHARD SOMERVILLE [PROFESSOR, SCRIPPS INST. OF OCEANOGRAPHY]: There are many public health consequences and I think this is a wake-up call.
STEPHANOPOULOS: So, Sam, we had this warm winter, warmer March, what does it mean for summer?
CHAMPION: George, you know you and I have talked about this and I don't really believe in long-term forecasts, but the weather service does put out an outlook for 30 days and 90 days, and I think that's reasonable, it kind of gives us a guideline. On the 30-day outlook, they're basically saying 2/3 of the country to expect warmer-than-normal, warmer-than-average temperatures. In that 90-day outlook, the longest distance they'll go in an outlook, says at least half the country to expect warmer-than-normal temperatures. So the answer is, yeah, more heat throughout the summer.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Okay, Sam, thanks. See you in the morning.