Eric Sorensen was a television weatherman for 22 years in his hometown of Rockford, Illinois, when Democratic Illinois District 17 Congresswoman Cheri Bustos announced her retirement after 10 years in office. voters it twice chose Donald Trump for president, making it a classic example of a swing neighborhood.
Sorensen then Eric Sorensen, a retired TV weatherman, now a candidate for Congress from Illinois, who talks about his campaign’s focus on tackling the climate crisis. science communicator. A week before the June 28 primary, when we interviewed, Sorensen was 7 points ahead of his closest Democratic challenger in a field of 6 candidates.
Meanwhile, Flag Officer of Army Judge Advocate and Trump supporter Charlie Helmick, Esther Joy King, is up for the district’s Republican nomination. Between the lines, Melinda Tuhus spoke with Sorensen about his decision to run for Congress and how he’s addressing the issue of climate change in his campaign.
(The following interview transcript may not reflect the audio recording, which has been edited for broadcast time constraints.)
ERIC SORENSEN: I took this risk, 15 years ago now, to talk about climate change on TV when no one else was. And I did it because, to be completely honest, there wasn’t a lot of climate in the atmospheric science degree program. But, here’s the thing: I learned about it. It was up to me as a meteorologist to learn and as I learned I was forced to tell the story to the viewers because we were getting the tornadoes in January. The 500-year floods happened year after year.
And so, I was just connecting people with what they were seeing out their window to this big thing about climate change that people thought was just the polar bear. And I was linking it to local events and to be able to say, especially in an agricultural area, that your livelihood depends on how we react to that.
And I got feedback from conservatives and progressives who both said the same thing, ‘Thank you, Eric, for talking about this, for hiding your opinion and the politics, but you’re focusing on the science , and we trust you for the science.” And that is the key.
And so after all this time working for 20 years in this district, when my congresswoman said she was retiring, I thought, ‘We’re here, hopefully, at the end of a pandemic , in a world where we need more science and better science communication, this has to happen right here at home. And that’s why I’m running for Congress.
MELINDA TUHUS: I heard, and I don’t even know who is behind it, that there are efforts to try to get meteorologists to talk about the climate. It’s like something organized. Do you know anything about this?
ERIC SORENSEN: Yes. I was one of the very first meteorologists to be part of the program. It was called Climate Matters in the Newsroom; now it’s Climate Central. And I believe there are now 700 meteorologists in the country who focus on – and whether it’s in broadcast or online – it’s localized to people’s geographic areas. And that’s one of the things that in the beginning we meteorologists said that the way we were going to connect people to the weather was going to be through what people saw through their windows, which I’ve been doing since the beginning. So it’s very successful. Yale has been a big influence in making sure we have the communication and the capacity to make this program successful. But now Climate Central has just announced that they are partnering with the Weather Channel to produce more stories about climate change and sustainability.
MELINDA TUHUS: How much does your pitch lift with voters? How much do you talk about the climate or is it one of the many things you think people will be concerned about that you talk about?
ERIC SORENSEN: Well, certainly, inflation is at the heart of our concerns today. That’s the elephant in the room and we need to make sure our government is working to address these issues, and it’s kind of like climate change – there’s no quick fix.
But when I talk to people here in this district, we can and do have some really good conversations about the climate, you know, especially in the farming community. When I was getting my petitions signed to even be on the ballot, I was in one of the smallest towns in western Illinois – Kewaunee – a gentleman and his wife would come up to me, and I said: “Hi, I’m Eric Sorensen, the Channel 8 weatherman. I’m running for Congress. Would you like to sign my petition?
And the guy said, “Hi Eric, of course, of course.” And the pen went down on the paper and he said, “You’re running as a Democrat.” I’m a Republican, I don’t know if I can do that. And I said, “It’s okay.” I said, “So what do you do for a living?” He said, “I am a farmer. We have about 500 acres near Profitstown. I said, “That’s great.” He is a third generation farmer.
And I said, “Well, you have to see how the weather changes where you are, where we get four or five inches of rain in an hour in a storm in the summer, but then it doesn’t rain for 20 days, and it affects your livelihood, as you have to juggle drought and flash flooding.
And he said, “Yeah, absolutely, you can’t deny it anymore, but Eric, I just don’t know what we’re supposed to do about it.”
And that’s when I said, “Well, that should be my job. My job will be to get to Congress, be the first meteorologist in nearly 50 years, and find some of the solutions. I believe that instead of a magic bullet for climate change, there is only silver buckshot. There are so many decisions to make. I want to be able to help you make that decision and I want to be able to come back to your farm and talk to my Republican friend about the solutions.
So, as he was signing my petition, I looked up at his wife, and she gave me this smile. She didn’t even have to say anything, but she gave me this smile that said, “Congratulations on breaking my husband’s outer shell.”
And that’s how we’re going to win talking about climate in Central America, and that’s how we’re going to win that seat in Congress.
MELINDA TUHUS: If Republicans control, say, even just the House, how do you think you could be effective with a climate message when they are still in denial?
ERIC SORENSEN: My role will be to be the communicator and marketer that we have needed for a long time in terms of climate.
For more information, visit Eric Sorensen’s campaign page on EricforIllinois.com and Climate central to ClimateCentral.org.