An Implicit—Not Explicit—Understanding of Hurricane Storms

Daphne E. Whitmer aNaval Air Warfare Center Training Systems Division, Orlando, Florida

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Valerie K. Sims bUniversity of Central Florida, Orlando, Florida

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Abstract

The goal of this research was to examine students’ risk perception of hurricanes and hurricane-related storms to address a critical gap in the literature. Participants were asked to rate their perceptions of a tropical depression, tropical storm, and hurricanes from category 1 to category 5 on five dimensions and define the storms based on wind speed. Last, individual differences in sex and growing up on the coast were examined to determine whether they explain differences in risk perceptions. Findings showed that participants’ perceptions of category-1 through category-5 hurricanes followed a linear pattern, and each pair was perceived to be significantly different. However, participants rated tropical storm and tropical depression as more severe than a category-1 hurricane and were unable to define any of the storms based on wind speed. In fact, coastal natives were less accurate at defining the storms and believed the low-tier storms to be less severe than noncoastal natives. This research is the first to show that people implicitly understand the Saffir–Simpson scale that defines hurricanes into categories 1 through 5 but not the part of the scale that defines the lesser-tiered storms. The present work demonstrates a need for enhanced education of hurricanes, because students do not make important distinctions at the lower end of the hurricane scale.

Significance Statement

We examined perceptions of tropical depressions, tropical storms, and hurricanes and students’ ability to define them based on the Saffir–Simpson scale. Students understood that each hurricane category was different but did not understand these attributes for tropical storms or depressions, because they rated these storms as more severe than category-1 hurricanes. Students were unable to define the storms based on wind speed, especially those who grew up on the coast. Students’ inability to differentiate between low hurricane categories could have grave consequences, because hurricane-level storms could cause significant damage to trees and buildings, injuring individuals, which is not the case for a tropical depression or tropical storm. There is a need for continued and enhanced education behind the hurricane nomenclature.

© 2021 American Meteorological Society. For information regarding reuse of this content and general copyright information, consult the AMS Copyright Policy (www.ametsoc.org/PUBSReuseLicenses).

Corresponding author: Daphne E. Whitmer, daphne.whitmer@gmail.com

Abstract

The goal of this research was to examine students’ risk perception of hurricanes and hurricane-related storms to address a critical gap in the literature. Participants were asked to rate their perceptions of a tropical depression, tropical storm, and hurricanes from category 1 to category 5 on five dimensions and define the storms based on wind speed. Last, individual differences in sex and growing up on the coast were examined to determine whether they explain differences in risk perceptions. Findings showed that participants’ perceptions of category-1 through category-5 hurricanes followed a linear pattern, and each pair was perceived to be significantly different. However, participants rated tropical storm and tropical depression as more severe than a category-1 hurricane and were unable to define any of the storms based on wind speed. In fact, coastal natives were less accurate at defining the storms and believed the low-tier storms to be less severe than noncoastal natives. This research is the first to show that people implicitly understand the Saffir–Simpson scale that defines hurricanes into categories 1 through 5 but not the part of the scale that defines the lesser-tiered storms. The present work demonstrates a need for enhanced education of hurricanes, because students do not make important distinctions at the lower end of the hurricane scale.

Significance Statement

We examined perceptions of tropical depressions, tropical storms, and hurricanes and students’ ability to define them based on the Saffir–Simpson scale. Students understood that each hurricane category was different but did not understand these attributes for tropical storms or depressions, because they rated these storms as more severe than category-1 hurricanes. Students were unable to define the storms based on wind speed, especially those who grew up on the coast. Students’ inability to differentiate between low hurricane categories could have grave consequences, because hurricane-level storms could cause significant damage to trees and buildings, injuring individuals, which is not the case for a tropical depression or tropical storm. There is a need for continued and enhanced education behind the hurricane nomenclature.

© 2021 American Meteorological Society. For information regarding reuse of this content and general copyright information, consult the AMS Copyright Policy (www.ametsoc.org/PUBSReuseLicenses).

Corresponding author: Daphne E. Whitmer, daphne.whitmer@gmail.com
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