Tornado Climatology and Risk Perception in Central Oklahoma

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  • 1 Department of Geography and Environmental Sustainability, The University of Oklahoma, Norman, Oklahoma
  • | 2 Cooperative Institute for Mesoscale Meteorological Studies, The University of Oklahoma, and NOAA/National Severe Storms Laboratory, Norman, Oklahoma
  • | 3 Cooperative Institute for Mesoscale Meteorological Studies, and Department of Geography and Environmental Sustainability, The University of Oklahoma, Norman, Oklahoma
  • | 4 Christopher C. Gibbs College of Architecture, and Department of Geography and Environmental Sustainability, The University of Oklahoma, Norman, Oklahoma
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Abstract

Residents of the Oklahoma City metropolitan area are frequently threatened by tornadoes. Previous research indicates that perceptions of tornado threat affect behavioral choices when severe weather threatens, and as such are important to study. In this paper, we examine the potential influence of tornado climatology on risk perception. Residents across central Oklahoma were surveyed about their perceptions of tornado proneness for their home location, and this was compared to the local tornado climatology. Mapping and programming tools were then used to identify relationships between respondents’ perceptions and actual tornado events. Research found that some dimensions of the climatology, such as tornado frequency, nearness, and intensity have complex effects on risk perception. In particular, tornadoes that were intense, close, and recent had the strongest positive influence on risk perception, but weaker tornadoes appeared to produce an “inoculating” effect. Additional factors were influential, including sharp spatial discontinuities between neighboring places that were not tied to any obvious physical feature or the tornado climatology. Respondents holding lower perceptions of risk also reported lower rates of intention to prepare during tornado watches. By studying place-based perceptions, this research aims to provide a scientific basis for improved communication efforts before and during tornado events, and for identifying vulnerable populations.

Corresponding email: johnsonvictoria@ou.edu

Abstract

Residents of the Oklahoma City metropolitan area are frequently threatened by tornadoes. Previous research indicates that perceptions of tornado threat affect behavioral choices when severe weather threatens, and as such are important to study. In this paper, we examine the potential influence of tornado climatology on risk perception. Residents across central Oklahoma were surveyed about their perceptions of tornado proneness for their home location, and this was compared to the local tornado climatology. Mapping and programming tools were then used to identify relationships between respondents’ perceptions and actual tornado events. Research found that some dimensions of the climatology, such as tornado frequency, nearness, and intensity have complex effects on risk perception. In particular, tornadoes that were intense, close, and recent had the strongest positive influence on risk perception, but weaker tornadoes appeared to produce an “inoculating” effect. Additional factors were influential, including sharp spatial discontinuities between neighboring places that were not tied to any obvious physical feature or the tornado climatology. Respondents holding lower perceptions of risk also reported lower rates of intention to prepare during tornado watches. By studying place-based perceptions, this research aims to provide a scientific basis for improved communication efforts before and during tornado events, and for identifying vulnerable populations.

Corresponding email: johnsonvictoria@ou.edu
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