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The climate outside is frightful

We've had a string of days with temperatures hovering around 70 degrees in Atlanta - more like late spring than late autumn. It has left me in a funk.

We've had a string of days with temperatures hovering around 70 degrees in Atlanta - more like late spring than late autumn. It has left me in a funk.

Yes, it was pleasant to don a short-sleeved shirt to put up my Christmas lights. But I fear the unseasonable temperatures are a harbinger of disaster. What will it take to get people focused on the crisis of climate change?

It would certainly help if television weather forecasters at least noted the possibility of a link between the un-December-like weather and disastrous global warming. They are popular figures who are embraced by viewers as climate authorities. They should help the public understand the dangers of global warming.

But you're unlikely to hear about global warming when you're watching the weather on the 6 o'clock news. That's partly because many TV weather men and women dispute the science of climate change, according to a recent study. Their ignorance has contributed to public apathy.

Even though cooler weather is expected soon, 2012 is on track to be among the hottest years on record, according to the World Meteorological Organization. With the exception of 1998, the hottest years have occurred since 2000, climate scientists say. The long-standing consensus among scientists is that greenhouse gases are warming the Earth, melting polar ice caps, raising sea levels, and creating environmental havoc.

Yet many television forecasters - who are generally not climate scientists - remain skeptical. Only about 19 percent believe human activity is the primary cause of climate change, according to a 2011 study by George Mason University and the University of Texas. Only 18 percent know that scientists have concluded that human activity is warming the planet, the study found.

Quiet as it's kept, you don't have to know much science to be a TV weatherman. Those with science degrees tend to be experts in short-range climate models. They know little about long-term climate trends.

By contrast, climate scientists usually have graduate degrees and are associated with research institutions. They use complicated models to study long-term weather patterns.

But there is hope that the two groups can come to a consensus that elevates the discussion: TV weather forecasters are often members of the American Meteorological Society, which represents a broad range of experts in atmospheric sciences. The group's president-elect, Marshall Shepherd, wants to help educate "the broader community," including TV weathermen, he told me. A former NASA researcher who heads the University of Georgia's atmospheric sciences program, Shepherd said: "We want to forge an environment where all viewpoints are welcome. At the end of the day, though, our position will be based on the science."

That rankles some in the ranks. Earlier this year, when the society issued a strongly worded statement on climate change, Glenn Burns, a popular TV weatherman in Atlanta, responded flippantly: "Our climate has been changing since the beginning of time. Only the civilizations that adapted to it have survived. That should be our goal." And Burns is by no means alone.

Here's hoping Shepherd and his group can persuade TV forecasters to accept the science. If they engage their viewers on the subject, they could help elevate climate change as a political concern. We're running out of time before these balmy December days prove costly.