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Improving Tropical Cyclone Forecast Communication by Understanding NWS Partners’ Decision Timelines and Forecast Information Needs

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  • 1 aNational Center for Atmospheric Research, Boulder, Colorado
  • | 2 bUniversity of Washington, Seattle, Washington
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Abstract

As tropical cyclone threats evolve, broadcast meteorologists and emergency managers rely on timely forecast information to help them communicate risk with the public and protect public safety. This study aims to improve the usability and applicability of National Weather Service (NWS) forecast information in the context of these NWS core partners’ decisions during tropical cyclone threats. The research collected and analyzed data from in-depth interviews with broadcast meteorologists and emergency managers in three coastal U.S. states. These data were used to analyze broadcast meteorologists’ and emergency managers’ tropical cyclone decision and action timelines, their use of tropical cyclone information during different phases of threats, and gaps in forecast information for decision-making. Based on these findings, several opportunities for improving tropical cyclone risk communication were identified. Recommendations to address gaps in the NWS tropical cyclone product suite include designing improved ways to communicate storm-specific storm surge risk at greater than 48 h of lead time, expanding the use of concise highlights that help people quickly extract and understand key information, and improving product understandability and usability by more comprehensively integrating users’ perspectives into product research and development. Broader strategic recommendations include developing new approaches for informing broadcast meteorologists about major forecast updates, presenting forecast information in ways that enable locally relevant interpretation, and supporting human forecasters’ contributions to the effectiveness of NWS products and services. These findings and recommendations can help NOAA prioritize ways to modernize the current NWS tropical cyclone product suite as well as motivate research to enable longer-term high-priority improvements.

Significance Statement

Tropical cyclones pose significant risks to coastal and inland U.S. populations. This project aims to improve creation, communication, and use of tropical cyclone forecast and warning information by studying broadcast meteorologists’ and emergency managers’ information needs for decision-making during different phases of tropical cyclone threats. We identify several priority areas for improvement, including advancing longer-lead-time storm surge forecast communication, enhancing dissemination of forecast updates, and increasing use of concise text highlights. Additional findings include the importance of locally interpretable forecast information, the value of human forecasters in weather risk communication, and the need for iterative, user-informed forecast product development. These findings can help NOAA and the research community improve forecast communication and invest in research that facilitates continued improvements.

© 2022 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: Rebecca E. Morss, morss@ucar.edu

Abstract

As tropical cyclone threats evolve, broadcast meteorologists and emergency managers rely on timely forecast information to help them communicate risk with the public and protect public safety. This study aims to improve the usability and applicability of National Weather Service (NWS) forecast information in the context of these NWS core partners’ decisions during tropical cyclone threats. The research collected and analyzed data from in-depth interviews with broadcast meteorologists and emergency managers in three coastal U.S. states. These data were used to analyze broadcast meteorologists’ and emergency managers’ tropical cyclone decision and action timelines, their use of tropical cyclone information during different phases of threats, and gaps in forecast information for decision-making. Based on these findings, several opportunities for improving tropical cyclone risk communication were identified. Recommendations to address gaps in the NWS tropical cyclone product suite include designing improved ways to communicate storm-specific storm surge risk at greater than 48 h of lead time, expanding the use of concise highlights that help people quickly extract and understand key information, and improving product understandability and usability by more comprehensively integrating users’ perspectives into product research and development. Broader strategic recommendations include developing new approaches for informing broadcast meteorologists about major forecast updates, presenting forecast information in ways that enable locally relevant interpretation, and supporting human forecasters’ contributions to the effectiveness of NWS products and services. These findings and recommendations can help NOAA prioritize ways to modernize the current NWS tropical cyclone product suite as well as motivate research to enable longer-term high-priority improvements.

Significance Statement

Tropical cyclones pose significant risks to coastal and inland U.S. populations. This project aims to improve creation, communication, and use of tropical cyclone forecast and warning information by studying broadcast meteorologists’ and emergency managers’ information needs for decision-making during different phases of tropical cyclone threats. We identify several priority areas for improvement, including advancing longer-lead-time storm surge forecast communication, enhancing dissemination of forecast updates, and increasing use of concise text highlights. Additional findings include the importance of locally interpretable forecast information, the value of human forecasters in weather risk communication, and the need for iterative, user-informed forecast product development. These findings can help NOAA and the research community improve forecast communication and invest in research that facilitates continued improvements.

© 2022 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: Rebecca E. Morss, morss@ucar.edu

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