Covering Tropical Cyclones

Climate change is fueling tropical cyclones, like hurricanes, leading to stronger winds, heavier rain, and higher storm surge. These reporting ideas will help you get the story right.

Welcome to Locally Sourced, a biweekly Covering Climate Now newsletter for journalists working on local angles of the climate story. In each edition, we’ll suggest story ideas, offer reporting tips, and share examples to serve as inspiration. Vea la versión en español de “Fuentes Locales.”  

Share this newsletter with colleagues and journalism students interested in localizing the climate story. 

Story Spark: Tropical Cyclones (Hurricanes & Tropical Storms) 

With Hurricane Beryl bearing down, hurricane season is off to a historic start. The 2024 North Atlantic hurricane season kicked off June 1 and it is predicted to be one of the most active on record, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. NOAA is forecasting 17 to 25 named storms, which includes hurricanes and tropical storms, in the Atlantic basin. Near-record warming Atlantic ocean temperatures and the emergence of La Niña are driving the predictions. In the US, states along the Atlantic Coast and Gulf of Mexico are the most likely to experience hurricanes, while Caribbean islands and parts of Mexico are also vulnerable to these powerful storms. 

Tropical cyclones, the generic term for such storms, form at different times of the year around the world. Further advisories can be found at the World Meteorological Organization. 

Why It Matters

Preparation for tropical cyclones is key. Local journalists play a critical role in helping audiences stay informed and safe before, during, and after a storm. Relatively weak storms can lead to treacherous inland flooding, which caused over half of all tropical cyclone deaths in the US from 2013 to 2022, according to the National Weather Service. Besides providing regular updates, journalists monitor and dispel misinformation, which can be widespread during hurricanes. 

After a storm passes there are plenty of stories for journalists to cover: damage assessment; emergency response and relief efforts; public health and safety; government response and accountability; impacts from the storm and reconstruction; the impact on poor, vulnerable, and minority communities; property insurance; solutions to help prepare for the future; and more.

Reporting Tips 

Carlos Robles, chief meteorologist at Telemundo, shares tips for reporting on tropical cyclones. 

Go beyond the “cone.” Hurricanes are huge weather systems that extend for hundreds of miles. Help audiences understand that hurricanes can impact communities hundreds of miles inland and/or away from where a storm makes landfall. Dangers include heavy rain, flooding, tornadoes, storm surge, coastal flooding, landslides, and wind. 

Flesh out the types of weather alerts. What’s the difference between a tropical storm watch versus a warning, or a hurricane watch versus a warning? These alerts can be confusing for viewers, so it’s always better to clearly explain what they mean. 

Focus on the impacts. If a tropical storm is going to hit your local reporting area, make sure audiences understand the potential impacts. Let them know the best time to prepare, when rain and wind is expected, and what areas could see flooding. Let them know you are keeping them safe and informed.

Explain what’s causing storms to change. What’s causing a storm to strengthen or weaken? For example, sea surface temperatures and heat content in the ocean fuel stronger storms. Wind shear can cause storms to weaken. Make your reporting more complete by using available weather data and provide audiences with information they may not get on social media or apps. 

Make the climate connection. The burning of fossil fuels, the main cause of climate change, is leading to rising global temperatures. The world’s oceans absorb about 90% of the excess heat from global warming, according to NASA. Warmer oceans fuel stronger hurricanes, and since water expands when it warms, it’s also leading to more sea-level rise. This rise in sea level can worsen the impacts of hurricanes and tropical storms, such as flooding and storm surge. 

Have a question for Carlos? Email us at local[at]coveringclimatenow[dot]org. 

Story Examples 

  • In South Florida, NBC6 explains the climate connection to Hurricane Beryl’s rapid intensification.
  • In New Orleans, La., Tristan Baurick writes for Verite News that local leaders are urging residents to prepare themselves as hurricanes become stronger and faster due to climate change.  
  • In North Carolina, Liz McLaughlin reports for WRAL News that climate change and rapid development are causing hurricane dangers to spread to inland communities. 
  • In Atlanta, Ga., Melissa Nord reports for 11Alive WXIA on the critical role the state’s marshes play in protecting against hurricanes and the need for conservation.
  • National climate reporter Chase Cain explains how Hurricane Otis rapidly intensified for Los Angeles, Calif.’s KNBC
  • In Bangladesh, The Daily Star’s editorial board calls on the government to help a fishing community after a tropical cyclone. 

Language for Journalists

“Warming oceans fuel stronger tropical cyclones [which include hurricanes and tropical storms] that bring more heavy rainfall and higher storm surge when they make landfall.” – Climate Central

“Human-caused climate change is warming our ocean globally and in the Atlantic basin, and melting ice on land, leading to sea level rise, which increases the risk of storm surge.” – NOAA

Tropical cyclones, like hurricanes, have become more intense due to climate change, according to a study by NOAA scientists; this leads to heavier rain and higher storm surge. Early research also suggests that warmer oceans are leading hurricanes to intensify more rapidly, which leads to less advanced warning times. – via CCNow 

Reporting Resources

Key facts: NOAA’s “Hurricane season: A media resource guide,” aims to provide reporters with the timely information, graphics, and video for their hurricane coverage. For background facts, see Climate Central’s Extreme Weather Toolkit: Tropical Cyclones

Prevent misinformation. Tips to avoid spreading hurricane misinformation via Poynter.  

Stay safe. Advice on how to prepare for reporting weather disasters from Emily Foxhall, who covered Hurricane Harvey for the Houston Chronicle

Deeper investigations. Gilbert M. Gaul, former Washington Post reporter, advocates in Nieman Reports for more post-disaster investigations

Before We Go…

CNN’s chief climate correspondent Bill Weir recently urged local reporters to lean in to covering climate change, because “there is a bottomless well of story ideas for every local newsroom in North America to help their viewers survive and thrive.”

Covering Climate Now’s program, The Climate Station, helps local US TV newsrooms do just that. We offer free, customized training to help local reporters, producers, and meteorologists strengthen their climate coverage. For inquiries, email Elena González at elena[at]coveringclimatenow[dot]org.

And please send us your local climate stories. We’d love to consider them for Locally Sourced and our media trainings and social platforms. Email local[at]coveringclimatenow[dot]org. 

Know someone who might be interested in this newsletter? Forward Locally Sourced to a colleague!