The Weather Channel Gives a Forecast in the Year 2050: The Outlook? Apocalyptic

That time the UN and the Weather Channel teamed up to produce science fiction.

Sep 10 2014, 8:55pm

That the  Weather Channel and the UN would team up to produce a sci-fi short may seem an unlikely prospect, but that's what we're watching: Speculative fiction in the form of a TV weather forecast delivered in 2050, not too far into our climate-changed future. 

Three of the station's best-known personalities—Sam Champion, Jim Cantore and Stephanie Abrams—each contribute to a segment that imagines a nation besieged by the kind of extreme weather scientists expect to see a lot more of by midcentury. Rampant is the flooding, the drought, and  the heat wave

Miami is underwater, Cantore reports, standing up to his shins in CGI'd floodwaters, even though the storm is hundreds of miles offshore—thanks to climate change-driven sea level rise. Meanwhile, it's early fall and Chicago is in the midst of a five-day, triple-digit temp heat wave, the Southwest is mired in megadrought, and the Arctic economy is booming. The news is delivered, of course, with the requisite Minority Report-style interfacing and holographic visual effects.

It all may skew a bit hokey, though I will give it this: It is as slick as a sci-fi short produced by the Weather Channel that features a PSA from UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon can possibly be. It's still an effective, internet-friendly educational tool, and viewers of the cable channel will get a kick out of seeing the familiar faces gamely deliver the gloomy future forecast.

"This Weather Channel video of a weather forecast in 2050 may be the most compelling climate advocacy vid I've seen," climate reporter Andrew Freedman  tweeted. He also noted that it "represents an aggressive, almost advocacy-oriented, move on the part of The Weather Channel, which began covering climate change more routinely during the past two years after virtually ignoring it entirely for several years."

The video is part of a project with the World Meteorological Organization, which is working with the UN to drum up interest in the forthcoming Climate Week in New York City. The first installment showed a collection of fictional weather forecasts from around the world, and garnered a couple hundred thousand views on YouTube. 

The events dramatized in both pieces are entirely in keeping with what climate scientists expect to see as human-spewed carbon continues to saturate the atmosphere—hell, the southwest may be in the midst of a megadrought right now, and Chicago is taking measures to prepare for the increasingly debilitating heat waves already prone to sweep through during its summer months. 

Florida's coastline is not underwater yet, but scientists worry it's only a matter of time. 

And that's the benefit of near-future, celebrity-studded speculative fiction like this; it helps contextualize calamity in a way that's more visceral than an IPCC report or a temperature chart or another blog post with a picture of a melting glacier. There's been a general shift in climate communications to focus on the near-term impacts—Obama's big climate report focused nearly exclusively on the local—and this production reflects that trend. 

That's why there's nothing that should seem far-fetched here, at least to anyone familiar with the latest climate science—serious, but slightly less deadly variants of these extreme events are unfolding as we speak, and climate change is egging them on.