“Murderers.” “Criminals.” “We are watching you.”
These are just a handful of the threats and abuse sent to meteorologists at AEMET, Spain’s national weather agency, in recent months. They come via social media, its website, letters, phone calls – even in the form of graffiti sprayed across one of its buildings.
Abuse and harassment “have always happened” against the agency’s scientists, Estrella Gutiérrez-Marco, spokesperson for AEMET, told CNN.
The abuse got so bad that in April, AEMET posted a video on Twitter calling for an end to the harassment, and asking for respect. Even the government intervened. Teresa Ribera, Spain’s minister for the ecological transition, posted on Twitter in support of the agency: “Lying, giving wings to conspiracy and fear, insulting … It is time to say enough.”
The harassment of meteorologists by conspiracy theorists and climate deniers is not a phenomenon confined to Spain.
National weather services, meteorologists and climate communicators in countries from the US to Australia say they’re experiencing an increase in threats and abuse, often around accusations they are overstating, lying about or even controlling the weather.
In Spain’s case, much of the trolling revolves around the rehashing of an old conspiracy theory: so-called “chemtrails.”
Under many of the agency’s Twitter posts, especially those that refer to more extreme weather, users have posted images of blue skies, crisscrossed with wispy, white trails. They falsely claim the trails contain a cocktail of chemicals to artificially manipulate the weather – keeping rain away and causing climate change.
It’s a theory roundly rejected by scientists.
Airplanes do release vapor trails called contrails, short for condensation trails, which form when water vapor condenses into ice crystals around the small particles emitted by jet engines.
But scientists have been clear: There is no evidence “chemtrails” exist.
‘One of the hardest experiences’
In April, meteorologist Isabel Moreno wrote a tweet saying “rain skips Spain,” with an image of a band of rain stretching across Europe but missing Spain almost entirely. She was completely unprepared for the response.
“It was one of the hardest experiences in social media in my life,” said Moreno, who appears on the Spanish TV channel RTVE. “I received HUNDREDS of responses to an (apparently) inoffensive tweet,” she told CNN in an email.
Many accused her of covering up weather manipulation.
While there were plenty of supportive messages, too, it was scary, Moreno said. “I have never seen either that amount of responses nor that level of aggression.” It took days for her to be able to go onto Twitter again without feeling anxious or stressed.