In the Eye
of the Storm
When you’re in the news you never want to be the news.
As broadcasters we try to fly under the radar as much as possible.  Prior to this summer, I spent the last 18 years living out my lifelong dream as a broadcast meteorologist. My stops included Rochester, New York; Albany, New York (twice); Saginaw Michigan; Milwaukee, Wisconsin; Boston, Massachusetts and Des Moines, Iowa. If you are familiar with the news industry, it might seem counterintuitive to move from a city like Boston to Des Moines. Typically, a newscaster climbs the ladder over his or her career moving up in market size and pay. I had the opportunity to become chief meteorologist and with that a responsibility of raising public awareness by connecting the dots between extreme weather and climate change in a part of the country where scientific awareness is suspect.

During my time in Boston, I had the opportunity to cover some of the biggest, strongest, and most destructive hurricanes to make landfall in the United States between 2016 and 2021. These storms rapidly intensified before making landfall at an almost unprecedented rate, and once the storms made landfall, they dropped historic amounts of rain. For every degree Celsius the atmosphere warms, it holds seven percent more moisture. That manifests in the form of heavy, flooding rains, which happen on a more frequent basis. After witnessing these catastrophic impacts of climate change, I saw the urgency for covering the crisis regularly during the evening newscasts. Station management in Boston were supportive of the idea, and we launched the country’s first weekly series on climate change.

Chris Gloninger in front of an iceberg
Chris Gloninger in Alaska in June, 2022. Courtesy Chris Gloninger.
It was this coverage that made me a standout for the open chief meteorologist position in central Iowa. Management saw the void and wanted someone to talk about the changing climate in a part of the country where agriculture makes up a large portion of the economy. Farmers are at the mercy of mother nature. My wife and I had no connection to Iowa, but we decided to take a leap of faith and to try this new opportunity. We did our best to support and integrate into our new community – buying a house, supporting local businesses, and visiting all corners of the state. After I started, historic wildfires began to burn across Canada, and so I had found a natural way to connect the dots between these expansive wildfires, climate change and the resulting veil of smoke which covered the state for the better part of the summer. There was an immediate pushback. From what I could tell, viewers believed that climate change was political, not science. I kept going. I kept educating.

Last summer, the snarky, nasty, and often vulgar e-mails hit a new level. There was one e-mail that made us question our move to Iowa and ultimately initiated the beginning of the end. One day after a haircut, I read a message that left me rattled. “What is your home address? Us conservative Iowans want to give you a welcome you’ll always remember, kind of what the libtards tried to do to Justice Kavanaugh.” The e-mail was followed up by a chain of equally threatening, harassing messages sent from the same person. Police took the situation seriously and eventually arrested a man for harassment.

The man pled guilty, paid a small fine and the situation made the local papers for a day. However, what concerned me most was the fact that the man said he talked about it with his friends, and they told him I was still talking about climate change. At what point, does a person feel strongly enough to take a stand on an issue they think is important? What hill are they willing to die on? How much do they have to lose? These were questions which left us feeling unsettled. After soul searching and weekly therapy, we decided it was best to move on.

Chris Gloninger at a desk in studio
In studio. Courtesy Chris Gloninger.
It is critical that meteorologists connect the dots between extreme weather and climate change. I am sharing my story not to discourage others from making those connections, but because I want to shine a light on the war on science, facts and journalism which has been raging since 2016. When I told my audience why I was leaving, I became the news. Being in the news for nearly two decades I understood the importance of sharing my story. I did interviews on TV, radio, podcasts and in newspapers, journals, and blogs locally, nationally, and internationally. On our trip back east, we pulled off at Niagara Falls to accommodate an interview on MSNBC.

I got my start at Plymouth State University. My passion for weather began in second grade when Hurricane Bob hit my hometown. It was Plymouth State that helped me achieve my lifelong goal. My professors prepared me for every aspect of my professional life. The friends, I made there, helped me get through some of my toughest times, like my life changing experience in Iowa. The educational foundation I received during my time at Plymouth State also had prepared me for my career change.

It is not easy changing careers at almost 40 years old. I am a senior climate scientist at Woods Hole Group, which, as a CLS company, contributes to monitoring and Earth surveillance solutions around the globe. I help communities build climate resilience. With my communications skillset, I help improve climate literacy, which is critical in our efforts to curb the worst impacts of climate change. My new role is rewarding, and I enjoy devoting my energy to helping solve the existential crisis of our lifetime. ■ Chris Gloninger ’06