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Tornado Warning Trade-Offs: Evaluating Choices for Visually Communicating Risk

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  • 1 Hazards and Vulnerability Research Institute, Department of Geography, University of South Carolina, Columbia, South Carolina
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Abstract

Recent improvements in weather observation and monitoring have increased the precision of tornado warnings. The National Weather Service currently issues storm-based tornado warnings, and even more geographically specific warnings that include probability information are under development. At the same time, the widespread proliferation of smartphone and mobile computing technology supports the rapid dissemination of graphical weather warning information. Some broadcasters and private companies have already begun using probabilistic-style tornado warning graphics. However, the development of these new types of warnings has occurred with limited research on how users interpret probabilistic visualizations.

This study begins filling this void by examining responses to color scheme and relative position using probabilistic tornado warning designs. A survey of university students is used to measure the level of perceived fear and likelihood of protective action for a series of hypothetical warning scenarios. Central research questions investigate 1) differences in responses across warning designs, 2) clustering of extreme responses in each design, 3) trends in responses with respect to probability levels, 4) differences in responses inside versus outside the warnings, and 5) differences in responses near the edges of the warning designs. Results suggest a variety of trade-offs in viewer responses to tornado warnings based on visual design choices. These findings underscore the need for more comprehensive research on visualizations in weather hazard communication that can aid meteorologists in effectively warning the public and spur appropriate tornado protection behaviors in a timely manner.

Corresponding author address: Kevin D. Ash, Hazards and Vulnerability Research Institute, Department of Geography, University of South Carolina, 709 Bull St., Columbia, SC 29208. E-mail: ashkd@email.sc.edu

This article is included in the Tornado Warning, Preparedness, and Impacts Special Collection.

Abstract

Recent improvements in weather observation and monitoring have increased the precision of tornado warnings. The National Weather Service currently issues storm-based tornado warnings, and even more geographically specific warnings that include probability information are under development. At the same time, the widespread proliferation of smartphone and mobile computing technology supports the rapid dissemination of graphical weather warning information. Some broadcasters and private companies have already begun using probabilistic-style tornado warning graphics. However, the development of these new types of warnings has occurred with limited research on how users interpret probabilistic visualizations.

This study begins filling this void by examining responses to color scheme and relative position using probabilistic tornado warning designs. A survey of university students is used to measure the level of perceived fear and likelihood of protective action for a series of hypothetical warning scenarios. Central research questions investigate 1) differences in responses across warning designs, 2) clustering of extreme responses in each design, 3) trends in responses with respect to probability levels, 4) differences in responses inside versus outside the warnings, and 5) differences in responses near the edges of the warning designs. Results suggest a variety of trade-offs in viewer responses to tornado warnings based on visual design choices. These findings underscore the need for more comprehensive research on visualizations in weather hazard communication that can aid meteorologists in effectively warning the public and spur appropriate tornado protection behaviors in a timely manner.

Corresponding author address: Kevin D. Ash, Hazards and Vulnerability Research Institute, Department of Geography, University of South Carolina, 709 Bull St., Columbia, SC 29208. E-mail: ashkd@email.sc.edu

This article is included in the Tornado Warning, Preparedness, and Impacts Special Collection.

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