Posts mislead about German weather map colors and climate change

Copyright AFP 2017-2022. All rights reserved.

Social media posts compare weather maps from a German TV program from 2017 and 2022 to claim it now uses brighter colors to exaggerate the heat and the effects of climate change. It is misleading; the channel said it has adopted a more accessible format that uses colors, not just numbers, to reflect daily temperatures.

“In case you don’t believe you’re trapped in a global psychological warfare game, then watch this,” says a Facebook post published on July 22, 2022 by Jovan Hutton Pulitzer, an inventor who has previously promoted misinformation about the US elections.

The post, shared more than 2,000 times, includes two images of maps from German weather reports.

The first map, colored green, is dated June 21, 2017, and shows temperatures between 20 and 37 degrees Celsius (68 and 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit). The second, colored red, is labeled June 21, 2022 with temperatures between 19 and 32C (66.2 and 89.6F).

Screenshot of a Facebook post taken on August 2, 2022

Similar messages circulated widely in other languages, including Spanish, Portuguese, Romanian, Croatian, Finnish and Slovak, during the heat wave of June and July 2022 in Europe.

The cards are authentic

Using the logo on the images, AFP traced the weather maps back to Tagesthemen daily news magazine produced by ARDa joint organization of German regional public service broadcasters.

The green card is from a June 21, 2017 weather report presented by Claudia Kleinert.

Kleinert reported temperatures between 20 and 28C in northern Germany and 33 and 38C in the west and southwest.

This screenshot taken on August 2, 2022 shows a June 21, 2017 weather report from Tagesthemen posted on YouTube

The yellow and red card is also from Tagesthemen and has been presented by Kleinert on June 20, 2022 – one day earlier than the date shown in the image shared on social media.

In the video, Kleinert reports temperatures ranging from 20-25C in the north and 26-32C further south. Temperatures are lower than indicated on the 2017 green map.

This screenshot taken on August 2, 2022 shows a June 20, 2022 weather report from Tagesthemen posted on YouTube

The report later includes green maps, but they focus on general forecasts and precipitation, not temperatures.

Different teams

The preparation of the Tagesthemen’s weather forecasts has changed in recent years.

In early 2020, ARD launched a joint weather center for network broadcasts and programs, including Tagesthemen. The functioning of this centre, called ARD-Wetterkompetenzzentrum (ARD Weather Competence Center), was entrusted to the regional broadcaster HR (Hessischer Rundfunk).

HR spokesperson Sabine Renken stated in an email dated July 27, 2022 that until the end of 2019 the weather forecast for Tagesthemen was prepared externally.

She told AFP: “The temperature maps provided during the Tagesthemen session showed the temperature exclusively in numbers”, with a green background regardless of the temperature.

Renken said another ARD news program called Tagesschau also uses colors to show temperatures

In 2019, Tagesschau responded to the accusations that he had manipulated his weather map to exaggerate the effects of climate change, arguing that “the coloring allows one to guess how high the temperatures will be, even where there are no numbers”.

“No question of alarmism”

HR told AFP on July 26 that when ARD’s Weather Competence Center took over the forecast in January 2020, the design and presentation was standardized for the Tagesschau and Tagesthemen programs.

Maps from the Tagesschau had shown the temperature with colors in addition to numbers for more than 30 years, HR said on July 27.

“It’s not about fearmongering, but about making the graphics as clear as possible so they can be grasped quickly,” the broadcaster said.

The Tagesschau, which has also been the subject of misleading claims online, has two map formats for displaying the weather: one that uses shades of red and focuses only on temperature, and another that uses green and is a general forecast.

This YouTube screenshot shows a broadcast from July 15, 2010 at the Tagesschau

A broadcast of June 1999 shows a red card with temperatures between 25 and 30C. A aired in 2010 also shows the use of different cards.

Tagesthemen adopted a similar format in 2020, as evidenced by broadcasts from June at August. The program also used red time Maps in the summer of 2021 emissions.

These screenshots taken on July 27, 2022 show Tagesthemen’s weather maps posted on YouTube in June (left), July (center) and August (right) 2020

Summers are getting hotter

Even though specific extreme weather events cannot be attributed to climate change, experts and scientists say that a systematic change in climate has been observed.

In fact, a comparison of temperature differences over the past decades shows that European summers are getting hotter.

Summer temperature differences (June-August) in Europe from 1950 to 2021 compared to the 1991-2020 average (AFP/Sophie RAMIS, Sylvie HUSSON)

The meteorological institutes of Germany, Austria and Switzerland have confirmed this.

In a joint assessment of the 2020 summer climate, the state institutes said that “summer has become massively hotter in Switzerland, Germany and Austria since the 1990s” and that “what was once an extremely hot summer is now an average summer.”

Experts say heat waves like those that hit large parts of Europe in the summer of 2022, as well as the record-breaking heat wave in India and Pakistan in March 2022, are signs of climate change.

Global Weather Allocationa project involving scientists from several different countries, published studies which show that climate change makes heat waves more likely to occur.

AFP has verified other misleading climate claims here.

Dale D. Schrum