National Public Radio (NPR) recently attributed a destructive fire in Denton, Montana in December 2021 to climate change, saying, “The Great Plains are facing increasing fire risks due to climate change, and efforts are underway to get prairie-dwellers to adapt to the new reality.”
You can read the article and listen to it here at NPR.
Professor Jim Steele, long-time director of San Francisco State University’s Sierra Nevada Field Campus, analyzed the claim showing how NPR missed or misconstrued the critical nuances of the story. What follows is excerpts from his tweet, originally posted on WUWT by Charles Rotter. – Editor
Guest essay by Jim Steele and Charles Rotter:
Steele wrote on Twitter,
“I listen to NPR radio to hear what fake climate propaganda they’re pushing. Today was ‘Climate Change is Increasing the Fire Risk on the mostly treeless Great Plains’.”
Accusing NPR of fearmongering climate change, Steele goes on to explicate their flawed reasoning in blaming the Denton fire on global warming.
“NPR blamed the December 2021 destructive fire in Denton Montana, on 70 mph winds, the supposedly unusual 56°F nighttime temperatures, and lack of snow on the ground, and suggesting it was all due to global warming. But NPR perverted well-established natural weather science.”
He points out that NPR conveniently ignored the fact that the fire was started due to high winds toppling a power line, rather than some climate-induced anomaly.
Steele also brings up the concept of the winter jet stream and its role in producing strong winter Chinooks or fohn winds in eastern Montana. Steele elucidates.
“The native Blackfeet of that region long ago referred to the Chinooks as snow-eaters because the dry warm winds remove the snow,”
According to Steele,
“Foehn winds dry as the water vapor in the rising winds, condenses leaving snow over the Rocky Mtns at higher elevations, but that also releases latent heat that warms the air which warms further as the winds descend onto the Great Plains.”
The unique climatic characteristic of the region with Foehn winds was conveniently omitted from the NPR story. Steele also provided an explanatory graphic:
Steele invokes historical data to emphasize his point, recalling two notable instances in Montana’s weather history.
“In December 1933 around Havre MT, just 130 miles north of Denton, Chinook winds raised temperatures 27°F in just 5 minutes, and over the next 36 hours temperatures rose by 53°F. The most extreme temperature change in a 24-hour period happened January 15, 1972, in Loma MT, just 70 miles north of Denton, when temperatures increased from −54 °F to 49 °F.”
His rebuke ends with a rhetorical question,
“I wonder how many people realize NPR is brainwashing the public?”
This is a call to the public to question the information they receive and to strive to understand the underlying processes that drive our environment.
Steele’s critique of NPR’s coverage highlights a pressing issue in the current climate conversation: the tendency to attribute extreme weather events solely to climate change. It is crucial to remember that weather is complex and influenced by many factors.
Misinformation and fearmongering narratives do little to inform the public. The need for reliable, accurate reporting that goes beyond simplistic narratives to encompass the complex reality of our climate, and scientific issues in general, has never been more important.