State of the Planet

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Katie Tutrone: From Yesterday’s Weather to Today’s Climate Stories

Katie Tutrone’s interest in the natural world started with her love for the weather—both the phenomena and the daily ritual of tuning into forecasts.

“I thought it was really funny that every day, people just woke up and watched the weather, and that it was also such a mundane part of so many conversations we had,” Tutrone said. She also found the whole spectacle of weather reporting—the green screens and dramatic predictions—amusing.

Woman with blond hair performing a science experiment, holds bottle full of clouded substance
Katie Tutrone creates a cloud in a bottle for “Mission Unstoppable” on CBS. Photo: Katie Tutrone

Tutrone saw the humor in weather reporting as one way to engage more people in an important topic that is often taken for granted.

“I thought it was also funny that everyone constantly blamed their local meteorologist for cursing them by getting the weather wrong,” she said. So Tutrone decided to create her own Instagram account where she would report on something she could never get wrong—yesterday’s weather (aptly named @cirruslyyesterday).

The former VICE News producer and recent graduate of Columbia Climate School’s M.A. in Climate and Society program has channeled her background in comedy into her work as a video creator, journalist, and climate educator. For her next venture, Tutrone will be working at The Weather Channel.

In the Q&A below, Tutrone discusses what has fueled her boundless curiosity about weather and climate reporting, as well as how she uses comedy to invite new audiences into difficult conversations.

What sparked your interest in climate science?

The sky is our cinema, which means everyone has access to it. But I wanted to find a way to bring weather to younger audiences, and one way was talking about climate change. I noticed people were scared to connect natural disasters and events to climate change on air, which I found very fascinating. So my first piece at VICE was looking into why some local meteorologists avoid talking about climate change.

From there, I spent about five years trying to pitch multiple versions of weather shows at VICE and just looking at different blind spots in the narratives. One of those shows was looking at failed disaster recoveries in cities or towns, as well as looking at disasters years after the events. I piloted a show called “Weathered,” where I looked at different disaster hotspots around the world. For example, in Puna, in Hawaii, where the Kīlauea eruption took place, I looked at the failed disaster recovery efforts. It’s a story that gets kind of brushed over once the media has left. When a disaster happens, for two weeks, people are obsessed with these images of destruction. Then years after that, that’s the real story—the real disaster is sometimes the recovery.

It sounds like while you started from a place of comedy, you were using it to talk about some very serious issues.

Yeah, and it’s hard to use comedy with such sensitive issues. Not all stories can have these elements, but the place where you can use comedy and satire is by pointing out who is accountable. I focused a lot on failed government action, oil companies, and different greenwashing tactics.

Alongside that, I was still doing my weather Instagram and making my own satirical videos. My bosses recognized the value of me having a separate career as a science creator. I started a TikTok account and had a lot of videos go viral. I now have a following of around 840,000 people, so I feel a responsibility to keep up with it and use my platform to inform people on different issues, not just related to the climate but also quirky science facts.

My goal was to inspire curiosity and share the ‘wow’ factor I was getting from my classes at the Climate School—the things I learned that made my jaw drop. That’s how I connected my work at Climate School with my TikTok.

Woman in blue Columbia graduation robe points up at a weather machine
Climate and Society alumna Katie Tutrone poses with her “weather machine.” Photo: Katie Tutrone

When and why did you decide to go back to school for the Climate and Society program?

I was at VICE for two years and I kept deferring, partly because of the pandemic, but also because I wanted to generate more savings so I would not have debt. I enrolled at the Climate School full time from 2021 to 2022, and I kept working at VICE part time.

It was awesome because I got to integrate what I was learning at Climate School into my storytelling. It made me more comfortable with the science of climate change and it gave me a little more credibility. But I would like to say that the most important thing that I gained from being there was getting to know my cohort and surrounding myself with people who knew so much more than me about all these topics. They taught me how to talk across disciplines and see the interconnectedness of so many different issues, from food systems to racial justice, to conservation genetics, and so many other things.

It’s been so enlightening to be able to take the conversations I have with my classmates and be a soundboard for them to my colleagues in the newsroom. Every day I’m learning. I think the most critical thing we can do right now is to better educate each other and realize the value in togetherness and collective action, and that can’t come without communication.

Can you talk a little about your new role with The Weather Channel?

In all my storytelling, the thing I prioritize most is character-driven storytelling. So finding the most compelling people and voices on the front lines, but also looking at weather as its own character, and how those two interact. That is what I hope to bring to The Weather Channel.

As much as my bosses were very supportive of the weather and climate stories I pitched at VICE, I was ready to move on somewhere that was equally as excited about those topics as an organization. So it was kind of serendipitous that I got laid off in May, which is also just a sad signal for the state of journalism and news right now. But it was a moment of forced and necessary change for me.

At The Weather Channel, I’ll be wearing many different hats as a severe weather producer, but also working on their climate coverage for a daily show called “Pattrn,” as well as additional writing, producing, and hosting.

My contribution is bringing my social savvy and knowledge of younger audiences to their platform and doing that through climate coverage. I’m really excited to get to work alongside some of my childhood heroes like Jim Cantore. I have a very vivid memory of him standing outside during a storm and listening to thunder snow. I’m also excited to work alongside Marshall Shepherd, who’s an incredible meteorologist and climate communicator. It all seems a little too good to be true, and my 17-year-old self would be pinching myself right now.

Do you have any advice for people who are coming into the field or words of wisdom you’ve found helpful along your path?

My advice to anyone is just to talk to as many people as possible and don’t be afraid to ask the foolish question. During my time off working, I reached out to so many people—sliding into DMs [direct messages] is a very powerful action.

I used my time to learn about waste management, about different groups and organizations that promote local climate solutions like Billion Oyster Project, the National Audubon Society, and beekeepers. I would offer something like using my video skills to document their work as an exchange for allowing me to be there. So, if you’re interested in something—a person, a project, an organization—reach out and don’t be afraid to convey your interests. Another thing I learned after being laid off is not to be completely tied to one job or company; you should always have your own interests or ideally a passion project going.

Columbia campus skyline with text Columbia Climate School Class Day 2024 - Congratulations Graduates

Congratulations to our Columbia Climate School MA in Climate & Society Class of 2024! Learn about our May 10 Class Day celebration. #ColumbiaClimate2024

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Brian Vecellio
Brian Vecellio
5 months ago

I just her for the first time , her energy is invigorating