April 24, 2023 7:00am

Most Power Poll Little Rock respondents say state's weather is changing

State efforts to regulate kids' social media usage draw mixed response

Photo of Benjamin Hardy
Little Rock, AR Correspondent
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Almost half (44%) of Power Poll Little Rock participants said Arkansas weather patterns have changed "a lot" over their lifetimes, based on personal experience and observation, with another 36% reporting at least some change. Ten percent said they hadn't observed any major change, and another 10% said they weren't sure.

Respondents' observations of how exactly the weather has changed were varied, however, and occasionally at odds with one another. Many said things have grown wetter in Arkansas; a few said drier. Most said summers were hotter and winters milder; a few said just the opposite.

The clearest common thread was that the region's weather seems more prone to dramatic shifts and extreme events than it once did. Most also said that things are generally warming up.

"Seasons used to be more predictable. Yes, I believe global climate change is the reason," one respondent said. "Rain is more severe – we get more severe flash flooding," according to another. "More tornadoes. Hotter days," said a third.

This comment nicely summed up the most commonly expressed view, I think: "Arkansas weather has usually been erratic, but storms seem to be more intense and frequent (rain dumps/more snowfall/big swings in temperatures from both highs and lows) in recent memory."

On the whole, most of those who gave an answer to the open response question said they did attribute the shift to human-driven climate change, or thought it was likely. (A handful disagreed. Climate change theories are "nothing more than propaganda," one said.)

But are those subjective observations correct? Has Arkansas's weather changed in recent years, and if so, how? Those may seem like simple questions, but reporting I've done previously suggests to me it's frustratingly hard to nail down answers.

Part of the problem is that there are so many variables to measure. Drastic daily fluctuations in temperature might not be captured in average measurements, for example. Heavy rain events and prolonged dry spells might even out mean precipitation figures.

And it's hard to quantify an increase in "extreme" events. I recall a story I edited a couple years back about research suggesting tornadoes are on the rise in the South – or actually, storms with potential "tornadic activity," because it's hard to accurately count tornadoes themselves. Sometimes, tornadoes that form in sparsely populated areas go unreported (which creates a reporting bias that scales with population: the more people living in an area, the more we'd expect tornadoes to be reported). Also, if you think about it, counting by tornado alone seems a bit odd – would we say that a year with three small EF-1 tornadoes that touched down only briefly was a worse tornado year than one in which a catastrophic EF-4 tornado flattened a neighborhood?

On a global level, the scientific evidence points overwhelmingly to a gradually warming climate driven mostly (we think!) by human activity. On a smaller scale, it's much harder to say whether weather patterns in a given place in a given year or decade—let alone a single storm—can be traced to climate change. It's also unclear how much to trust our lived experience, given that humans are notoriously bad at drawing accurate conclusions based on observations over time.

Still: it feels like something is changing around here, even if it's hard to pin down the specifics.


Almost two-thirds of Power Poll Little Rock participants approve of the response to the March 31 tornado that hit Little Rock:

Smaller percentages said the response has been OK but with "significant holes" (19%) or said they didn't have enough knowledge of the response efforts to have an informed opinion (14%). Only a sliver (3%) said they were disappointed with or alarmed by the response.

Of those who responded to the free response question (a minority of those polled overall), many praised the city and the efforts of individual volunteers. But others pointed out problems. A sampling:

  • "The City of Little Rock did an amazing job responding to the tornado and providing on time information. It was also great to see state and local leaders collaborating on a response. Non-profits and the entire community came together."
  • "The official response by the appropriate agencies was admirable. But what was most notable were the hundreds of ordinary citizens who went neighborhood to neighborhood offering help with chainsaws, rakes, etc. It was heartwarming."
  • "I've heard mixed reviews I've heard that many people were trying to help so many that they interfere with actual helpful services"
  • "I was extremely impressed at how our communities, city, and state jumped in to assist those affected by the tornado. However, we're a couple weeks out now and I'm learning that there are almost no resources for victims. FEMA tells them to go to the Red Cross. The Red Cross tells them to go to churches. Churches have wait lines that can take hours to get through and once you get up there, there are very little items left except for lots of bottled water. This is for food, resources, hotel vouchers, anything. No one can give you any timeline, so people are just out here, being expected to work, take care of their families, and stay alive. This is awful."


Finally, while a fairly small minority of Power Poll participants (17%) fully support the idea of banning kids from using social media, almost half said there is a role for the state to play in requiring greater safety standards. Almost 30% said bills like the one recently signed by the governor are an "assault on free speech."

It's unclear just how much the new law will do, since it seems to exempt services such as Snapchat and TikTok. It also exempts businesses that make less than 25% of their revenue from operating a social media platform, which may exclude YouTube (owned by Google). And, depending on how it's enforced, the law may be quite easy for kids (especially teens) to circumvent. The ample exemptions suggest Governor Sanders may be more interested in the symbolism of this measure than truly drawing a hard line in the sand, but we'll see.

There's more to be said here about the potentially pernicious effects of social media, the influence of big tech, and the complex politics of (red) state efforts to go after well-heeled social media platforms, or at least appear that they're doing so. But this is too long already, so perhaps we'll explore this topic more another day.

About Power Poll: Power Poll asks questions of the most powerful, influential people in U.S. cities. It is not a scientific survey. But because the people responding to the surveys comprise the leadership structure of their cities, the results afford a fascinating glimpse into the thoughts, opinions, and beliefs of those in a position to make change. Power Poll is distinctly nonpartisan.

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