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Climate change is impacting so much around us: heat, flooding, health, wildlife, housing, and more. WUSF, in collaboration with the Florida Climate Reporting Network, is bringing you stories on how climate change is affecting you.

'Plant a seed' – A meteorologist discusses the importance of talking about climate change

Hurricane Ian at peak intensity while approaching southwest Florida on Sept. 28, 2022.
Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite Program, CC BY-SA 4.0
Wikimedia Commons
Hurricane Ian at peak intensity while approaching southwest Florida on Sept. 28, 2022.

A Q&A with Jeff Berardelli, chief meteorologist and climate specialist at WFLA News Channel 8 in Tampa.

The following is a Q&A conducted with Jeff Berardelli, chief meteorologist and leader of the Max Defender 8 Weather Team in Tampa. Berardelli came to WFLA News Channel 8 in January 2022, after reporting for CBS in New York and previous positions as a meteorologist in the Tampa area and other parts of Florida. Berardelli earned a bachelor’s degree in atmospheric sciences and meteorology at Cornell University and a master’s degree in climate and society at Columbia University. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

What motivated you to work on climate issues and things related to climate science?

I’ve always been interested in climate science, but I got a lot more interested and a lot more focused on it right around the middle of the 2010s, so around 2015/16. … (W)e started to see things that we’ve never seen before on our computer maps … and I realized that the media wasn’t really talking about it. The stuff I was seeing was … flashing red on my weather maps, and yet there was very little in the media, especially national media. (There were) very few headlines about it, and I thought people should understand and be educated on how quickly we, as human beings, are changing the climate, because at some point, and we’re already seeing it, it comes back to haunt us.

This year is an El Niño event. What kind of patterns or expectations are in store for this upcoming year?

With the exception of hurricane season, we’re likely to see extremes that we’ve never experienced before in modern history. So, we’re going to see things happen that are going to be shocking and astonishing, because again, we’re taking climate change, which has … already warmed the earth by an average of 2 degrees.

Certain places warmed a lot more than that. And then on top of that, you’re putting all of the energy from what is going to likely be a strong El Niño, when you add the two together, you end up being able to reach extremes that you’ve never been able to reach before. So that’s what’s going to happen: astonishing things. There’s going to be heat waves that are unprecedented.

How does your work specifically impact these issues and how does it intersect?

Jeff Berardelli
Jeff Berardelli

My job is to educate people about what I know, right? I live at the intersection between weather and climate, and specifically extreme weather and climate change. That’s my specialty. So, there are certain events that are going to take place and have been taking place that are going to be pretty alarming and I think it’s my job as a scientist, the person who kind of lives at the intersection of both of those things, to put it into context and give people perspective on it.

These are good teaching opportunities, these moments, when extreme things happen, they allow me to kind of educate people on the latest science, the latest studies … the latest facts about how climate change is impacting our extreme weather. … My role is to act as both the scientist and also a communicator, because that’s exactly the field that I’m in.

What would you say to people that are less knowledgeable on climate science? How would you communicate the importance of science to these people?

So, first is people who don’t quite have the information, who you’re wanting to give that information to, so they better understand it.

They perhaps have other interests, and they just haven’t heard much about climate change, and for those people you just want to lay out the science. You don’t want to have any kind of bias in any kind of political direction, because if you do, people will tag you as you know, someone who’s got a political angle. So as a scientist and as a communicator, it’s my job to be unbiased, to present the scientific information as it is studied in the climate field, and also using my best knowledge to interpret what I’m seeing.

What would you say are one or a couple of major challenges caused by climate change in the area where you live?

Well, one of the biggest things we’re going to contend with is sea-level rise, but that’s in the more distant future. We’re expecting another 14 inches of sea level rise by 2050, but that’s a mortgage cycle, you know.

I would say the biggest thing that Floridians are facing is … homeowners’ insurance. As disasters get worse, and they are, especially hurricanes … At the same time, we need to build back better than we built before, because we want our homes to be built strong enough so they can be protected and building costs also are higher than they used to be, right?

For us, the possibility that hurricanes are getting stronger and they’re more rapidly intensifying (is) because there’s more energy, more heat to power stronger hurricanes. That’s obviously a direct impact here in the state of Florida.

What is something positive that you see being done about climate change? Something that might go unnoticed?

We are going through what is an industrial revolution like we’ve not seen in many, many, many decades since after World War II. People may not … realize it right now, but there’s an upheaval going on in manufacturing of stuff related to renewable energy right now across the United States – batteries, solar, wind, energy efficiency – and it’s going to transform the American economy at the same time as it allows us to reduce our emissions of fossil fuels, thus helping to curb climate change.

So as far as the average person goes, what could people do about climate change?

I always say, plant a seed today. That’s the biggest thing. Plant a seed, and what I mean by plant a seed is, talk about it with people, talk about it with your family members. Talk about it with your friends.

I would say that probably the biggest thing is, children should talk about it with their parents, because it’s usually the children who pick this up in school and realize it’s a problem and they can change the minds of their parents, who otherwise may not be willing to change their minds.

So, we all rub off on each other, and that’s why I say, planting a seed … (and) doing the right thing. Being the change that you want to see in your community. You put solar panels on your roof, someone else might come to you and say, “Hey, how much did those cost? And has it been beneficial to you?” And if it has, then they may put it on their roof, right?

I always tell people the biggest thing is, vote with your wallet. … You want to show companies what you think is important and what’s not and if you guide them in the right direction, and companies feel that pressure, it helps.

This Q&A was conducted by Megan Mascheri, a graduate research assistant at Florida Atlantic University who is pursuing a master’s degree in its geosciences program. She has worked as a research assistant for FAU’s Center for Environmental Studies since 2021. The center manages and funds The Invading Sea.

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