An Exploratory Content Analysis of Two Local Television Stations’ Tornado Warning Broadcasts

Kathleen Sherman-Morris aMississippi State University, Mississippi State, Mississippi

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S. M. Asger Ali aMississippi State University, Mississippi State, Mississippi
bIndiana University–Purdue University at Indianapolis, Indianapolis, Indiana

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Abstract

In-depth analysis of the content of broadcast tornado warning coverage is limited. Such analysis is important due to local television’s role as a key source for tornado warning information. This study attempts to fill gaps in our knowledge regarding broadcast coverage of tornado warnings by demonstrating how local television news stations’ coverage of tornadic events can be systematically analyzed to better understand this element of warning communication. We reviewed both visual and verbal content for information such as the prominence of specific radar products, the geographic scale of warning communication, and common themes in verbal communication. A combination of deductive and inductive coding approaches was used to summarize the verbal content of the broadcasts. We found that the stations heavily used radar products with reflectivity and velocity surpassing correlation coefficient. The geographic scale of mapped products (street, city/county, and state level) appeared to be related to the rural or urban nature of the area warned, which may have implications for how readily rural residents would be able to personalize tornado threats. Verbal content was very similar between the two stations. The theme of monitoring and updating conditions, which included processes such as zooming in and out, making adjustments, reinforcing conditions, and providing damage reports was the most frequent communication type, likely because weathercasters use these processes to both communicate the warning and also to help themselves understand the situation. The results can inform future studies examining the influence of specific elements of broadcast warning coverage on risk perception and protective actions.

Significance Statement

Television is a key source for receiving or confirming tornado warnings, but few studies have examined the content of broadcast warnings in depth. This study examined the visual and verbal content of broadcast tornado warnings on two local television stations. Radar products were used heavily, and street-level coverage was more common when a tornado affected a metropolitan area. Coverage was most common at the city/county level. Verbal content included many elements of effective warning communication but at times included jargon that may not be understood by viewers. The results can serve as a springboard for future research on the impacts of these elements on risk perception and response. It can also serve future research by distinguishing what viewers of severe weather broadcasts are exposed to that nonviewers are not.

© 2024 American Meteorological Society. This published article is licensed under the terms of the default AMS reuse license. For information regarding reuse of this content and general copyright information, consult the AMS Copyright Policy (www.ametsoc.org/PUBSReuseLicenses).

Corresponding author: Kathleen Sherman-Morris, kms5@msstate.edu

Abstract

In-depth analysis of the content of broadcast tornado warning coverage is limited. Such analysis is important due to local television’s role as a key source for tornado warning information. This study attempts to fill gaps in our knowledge regarding broadcast coverage of tornado warnings by demonstrating how local television news stations’ coverage of tornadic events can be systematically analyzed to better understand this element of warning communication. We reviewed both visual and verbal content for information such as the prominence of specific radar products, the geographic scale of warning communication, and common themes in verbal communication. A combination of deductive and inductive coding approaches was used to summarize the verbal content of the broadcasts. We found that the stations heavily used radar products with reflectivity and velocity surpassing correlation coefficient. The geographic scale of mapped products (street, city/county, and state level) appeared to be related to the rural or urban nature of the area warned, which may have implications for how readily rural residents would be able to personalize tornado threats. Verbal content was very similar between the two stations. The theme of monitoring and updating conditions, which included processes such as zooming in and out, making adjustments, reinforcing conditions, and providing damage reports was the most frequent communication type, likely because weathercasters use these processes to both communicate the warning and also to help themselves understand the situation. The results can inform future studies examining the influence of specific elements of broadcast warning coverage on risk perception and protective actions.

Significance Statement

Television is a key source for receiving or confirming tornado warnings, but few studies have examined the content of broadcast warnings in depth. This study examined the visual and verbal content of broadcast tornado warnings on two local television stations. Radar products were used heavily, and street-level coverage was more common when a tornado affected a metropolitan area. Coverage was most common at the city/county level. Verbal content included many elements of effective warning communication but at times included jargon that may not be understood by viewers. The results can serve as a springboard for future research on the impacts of these elements on risk perception and response. It can also serve future research by distinguishing what viewers of severe weather broadcasts are exposed to that nonviewers are not.

© 2024 American Meteorological Society. This published article is licensed under the terms of the default AMS reuse license. For information regarding reuse of this content and general copyright information, consult the AMS Copyright Policy (www.ametsoc.org/PUBSReuseLicenses).

Corresponding author: Kathleen Sherman-Morris, kms5@msstate.edu
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