The sun was bright in Anchorage on Friday. The bitter north wind had finally stopped blowing. And the temperature had climbed to 20 degrees. The day felt positively balmy.
But it was far from the “warm winter” of 2017 that a March 16 story in NationalGeographic.com was reporting.
Far to the north of the state’s largest city, the last of the weather-beaten mushers in the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race were closing on Nome possibly wishing the internet arm of the once prestigious magazine was right in its claim that “in Alaska, a warm winter is hurting hunting, transportation – and the Iditarod.”
The reality is that it has not been a warm winter in the 49th state. The previous winter was stupid warm and the one before that.
Some were then beginning to wonder if the global warming apocalypse might be launching a full-fledged attack on Old Man Winter’s northern outpost.
But the hot streak began to break in late November. The hot water “blob” in the North Pacific finally went away. And the state’s climate went back to normal.
Well, not quite normal. December was below normal in Anchorage and January and February. March is now tracking the same way.
As this is written on a Friday evening, the National Weather Service forecast for the night ahead in Anchorage says “Clear. Lows 5 below to 5 above. Light winds.”
“Normal” for this time of year in the state’s largest city, according to the National Weather Service, calls for a high of 34 degrees above and a low of 19. If the city was following the seasonal norms based on the average of decades of data, daytime highs would have started creeping above the freezing mark several days ago.
They haven’t. In fact, Anchorage hasn’t seen a day in March that reached the normal high. But every day has gone below the normal low, sometimes far below.
The story is the same across much of the state. Fairbanks almost hit the normal in early March, but for the most part it’s been cold. Temperatures early in the month there plunged down near 40 degrees below zero.
The problem with the winter this year hasn’t been that its “hurting hunting,” the problem is that people have been freezing to death.
If this were just a story about NatGeo being clueless about Alaska, it wouldn’t be worth writing. A whole lot of national publications are clueless about Alaska.
If you live here and know the state and read what is written elsewhere, you often can’t help but think “what the hell are they talking about.”
But this story goes beyond that. This story goes to the heart of why most people in America don’t trust journalists today, and they sadly don’t trust journalists.
Lump together the believers with “a great deal” or “a fair amount” of trust in the media today, and a Gallup poll from last fall says you get to a whopping total of 32 percent of the population.
The other 68 percent – more than two-thirds, more than two out of every three people reading this – say they have “not very much” trust and confidence in the media or “none at all.” More than a quarter of the population is in the latter category. That is a scary number in a democracy.
If a third of the population has no trust in the media, where are they going for information on how their government behaves or, more importantly, misbehaves? Still one can understand the disbelief.
Here’s how another journalist who first tagged the NatGeo summarized the issue:
“They blame ‘a warm winter’ that’s actually the first cold months in a year and a half. They could have still written the same story without lying. It’s true the climate is changing. That’s what it does.
“It’s true (Iditarod’s Mark) Nordman did basically blame climate change for the reroute, a dubious claim, but a direct quote nonetheless. But it’s not f—– true this has been a warm winter! It’s insane.
“And yet the media constantly rails against Trump being fast and loose with the facts. How can we have any credibility if we can’t be troubled to tell the truth ourselves?”
That about says it all except for one thing.
Left out in that assessment was the agenda. The media has agendas. Publicly reporters and editors will deny them. Privately it is a different story.
Publicly reporters and editors will claim to be free of opinion. Privately they are full of it. There is nothing wrong with this. Opinion, in the best case, is conclusion based on some facts.
That the earth is round was once an opinion that became a hypothesis that was eventually proven to be a fact. The common-sense folk – no offense to former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, the great proselytizer for common sense as the solution to all problems – were confident the earth was flat (aside from the mountains) because, well, if it wasn’t we’d all slide off, right?
Opinions aren’t always bad, and opinions aren’t really the problem of journalism today.
The two-faced nature of the profession is the problem. It promises truth and delivers what NatGeo delivers. It’s hard to trust anyone or anything that does this, especially when, if you read closely, you can deduce from their own writings how two-faced they are.
“The (Iditarod) race can be stressful for its human participants—and the journalists following them,” NatGeo’s Nina Strochlic writes. “(Photographer Katie) Orlinsky got little sleep and fewer showers while flying in and out of checkpoints along the trail, sleeping on school floors, and trailing teams by snowmobile in 40 degrees below Fahrenheit.”
Forty degrees below zero? And yet a caption on an Orlinsky photo with the story says that “due to warmer-than-average weather, the race had to be rerouted from its normal starting point of Willow, Alaska.”
What does NatGeo think the average temperature in Alaska in the winter? Does Strochlic not know how to spell G-O-O-G-L-E. One can actually go to Google or Bing, and type in “what is the average temperature in Fairbanks, AK in the winter?”
The search engines direct you to U.S. climate data which reveals Fairbanks in March is not as cold as you think. The average daily high for March is 25 degrees, the average low, minus 3.
Forty degrees below zero is not anywhere near average. It isn’t even average for the ice-cold month of January when the average low drops to minus-17.
And yet there goes NatGeo running wild on its climate-change agenda.
“This year, a worrisome new tradition for the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race persisted. In 2003, the race route had to be moved from its usual starting point in Willow to Fairbanks because the winter hadn’t provided enough snow for good racing terrain,” the story said. “It was moved again in 2015. This year, a month before the race, officials decided to relocate a third time after determining that snow in three or four sections of the track was not sufficient.”
OK, in the first place, three years in 12 does not a tradition make. In the second place, anyone who’d done a little more reporting would have found out there’s a little more (possibly a lot more) to this story than just thin snow “in three or four sections of the track….” Whatever the hell that means.
Alaska is in a recession. That recession is reflecting on the Iditarod. Some within the organization say it is about 30 percent cheaper, not to mention easier, to supply a race that starts in Fairbanks and runs totally through villages with regular airplane service than to supply the race on its traditional routes which runs through a variety of remote checkpoints that can only be reached with expensive charter flights.
The Iditarod could have followed the traditional route this year. The Iron Dog, the world’s longest, toughest snowmobile race did, and reported plenty of snow. The Iditarod Trail Invitational, a human-powered endurance event made up of mainly fat-bikers and some runners, followed the Iron Dog, and said there was actually too much snow. It slowed them down considerably as they struggled to break through it.
The Iditarod would have followed the Invitational, but it went north for complex reasons. NatGeo obviously could have cared less about those reasons.
Why? Because to someone back on the East Coast this story was obviously about only one thing:
“Now, climate change has hit the classic Alaskan event,” Strochlic wrote. “‘The race is going to have to keep changing in order to survive because it’s getting so warm in Alaska,’ says Orlinsky, who documented the Iditarod for National Geographic. ‘Some people think it might be relocated indefinitely.'”
Well, it was getting warmer in Alaska. It’s now gotten colder. But it is likely to get warmer again. The best evidence indicates it will.
“As the climate continues to warm, average annual temperatures in Alaska are projected to increase an additional 2 to 4°F by the middle of this century,” according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. That would boost average early March temperatures in Willow, AK – sight of the annual Iditarod restart – to highs of between 36 and 39 degrees, and lows between 18 and 21 degrees by 2050.
What that sounds like is fabulous weather for spring skiing. Not the-snow-is-going-to-melt-so-we-need-to-move-the-Iditarod weather. But forget that.
Climate change threatening the Iditarod sounds better, so much more frightening, so much juicier.
To hell with the facts.
About three-quarters of Americans – including U.S. President Donald Trump – today doubt climate change is real despite solid evidence the earth has warmed in the late 20th and early 21st centuries.
Most of the U.S. media believes and has spent about a decade trying to scare people into joining in the belief.
Obviously, reporters and editors never read the story of Chicken Little when they were young. A lot of Americans, unfortunately, learned the fable. It taught them to be wary of people yelling “the sky is falling, the sky is falling.”
It is usually good to be wary. So when sensible people read Idit-a-nonsense like that reported by NatGeo, it is reasonable for them to become skeptical about the whole global warming idea pushed by the sky-is-falling crowd.
Nonsense doesn’t help convince people climate change is a problem with which everyone needs to start to wrestle. Nonsense only convinces people it’s nonsense.
Maybe, as another reporter noted, it would just be good to tell people the truth. Maybe with accurate information they could sensibly make up their own minds.