On a summer morning in 2022, there was an email waiting for me in my inbox that would change my life forever.
As a local TV meteorologist with 18 years of experience at seven local television stations across five states, I was no stranger to hate mail. But this particular message took things to a scary new level.
My wife, Cathy, and I moved to Iowa in 2021 when I was recruited to become chief meteorologist at the Hearst-owned station KCCI-TV in Des Moines, Iowa. I had started one of the country’s first weekly series on climate change as a weekend meteorologist at NBC 10 Boston, which was one of the reasons I had been approached to fill the position.
My wife and I didn’t have any family or friends in Iowa — we moved so I could talk about climate change in a part of the country where it had rarely made headlines.
As I settled into my role, I instantly began receiving pushback from viewers.
At first, nothing was too surprising. One email read, “The new chief forecaster now repeatedly injects his views of climate change in the forecasts he presents.”
Another criticized what he called a “habit of spewing ‘climate change’ talking points without proper background and reference.” He added, “I do not watch Channel 8 to get a liberal view of the weather. I think he can do an excellent job with the weather, minus the opinions on ‘climate change.'”
With a Bachelor of Science degree in atmospheric and climate science and my Master of Science in emergency management, I do have training and expertise in the subject. But beyond that, I have always made it a priority to cite the sources of my data as well. But the detractors did not seem to care about qualifications or data.
The hate mail raged on until that fateful summer day in 2022, when I opened my email to a threatening message that began by asking for my home address and concluded by saying, “we conservative Iowans would like to give you an Iowan welcome you will never forget.”
My wife, who was running errands, swiftly returned home, and we called the police.
During the resulting police investigation, I would receive a barrage of emails from the same individual. In one email, he mentioned “talking about me with his friends.”
My #climate coverage has garnered negative feedback. But last month I received the first threat, followed by a flow of harassing emails. Police are investigating. It’s mentally exhausting & at times I have NOT been ok. If you’re facing this & need someone to talk to, I’m here. 1/ pic.twitter.com/SGbZfEr1uT— Chris Gloninger (@ChrisGloninger) July 16, 2022
I have always made sure to discuss the “why” behind the weather, regularly connecting the dots between extreme weather, climate change, and the forces behind it. The station knew this when it hired me — in fact, it embraced that.
And while the station was extremely supportive following the threat, in the fall of 2022, management brought up that new research apparently found that viewers didn’t want to hear about the “why” and that I needed to dial back the science and mentions of climate change.
That same fall, the man who sent me the threats pleaded guilty to harassment in the third degree, resulting in a fine of $150. But my wife and I still wondered if justice was really served and if there would be retaliation in any way. Between the threat, family health issues, my own health issues brought on by stress, and a disconnect on how the station should cover climate change, we decided it was time to move.
I don’t know the details of the station’s alleged climate research or what questions it had asked to arrive at its conclusions, but what happened after I announced my resignation showed me a different reality.
My inbox was immediately filled with hundreds of responses from viewers expressing their interest in climate change coverage — they wanted to know the “why” behind the weather and enjoyed learning something new on a nightly basis.
“I have come to actually look forward to the weather forecast since you have arrived. The education aspect was very enlightening and appreciated,” a viewer named Sue wrote.
Supportive emails, social media messages, and handwritten cards and letters continued to come in until my last day. Many Iowans were embarrassed by the cruelty of their neighbors, and I do want to be clear that my wife and I left the state with many happy memories and more friends than we came with.
I’m not posting this to show the accolades, I’m showing you this as an example. An example of the HUNDREDS of Iowans that want to learn/hear about the #climatecrisis. The majority know that there is a lot on the line and know #ClimateActionNow is a necessity. pic.twitter.com/1hXYsmvOUQ— Chris Gloninger (@ChrisGloninger) June 30, 2023
Many farmers, who have their finger on the pulse of day-to-day weather because their livelihoods depend on it, reached out to share how they’ve experienced climate change.
“I’m a retired farmer and have seen the climate change since about 1990,” a man named John wrote to me.
The Yale Program on Climate Change Communication and George Mason University found that just 11% of the public is dismissive of climate change; however, they are often the loudest. The response I got to my situation validates the data — it’s important to understand that this is not how the majority of Americans feel.
I feel immense pride in having helped educate the public about the impacts of climate change during my career and encourage my colleagues in local news to continue to be the voice that the country needs to hear. Their work is critical.
My call to action is for readers to read, watch, listen, and pay attention to local news. Buy your hometown paper. If climate isn’t being covered, ask that they connect the dots.
If your local television station or newspaper is covering the climate crisis, write in with words of appreciation and encouragement. Support those who are doing this important work.
The dismissive 11% should not drown out the majority of people who care about climate change, no matter how loudly they shout.
The Cool Down reached out to the management at KCCI for comment about their climate coverage but received no response.
Chris Gloninger is a senior scientist of climate and risk communication at Woods Hole Group in Bourne, Massachusetts. In this new role, Chris helps make communities become more resilient to climate change by assessing their climate vulnerabilities and through developing action plans for the future. You can follow him at @ChrisGloninger on Twitter.
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