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Alan E. Stewart
,
Jeffrey K. Lazo
,
Rebecca E. Morss
, and
Julie L. Demuth

Abstract

The authors used data from a sample of 1465 adults living in the United States to perform a confirmatory factor analysis on the Weather Salience Questionnaire (WxSQ), a 29-item instrument designed to measure the ways in which weather is psychologically significant for people. The original measurement model of the WxSQ was confirmed in the present sample. Additional work also was performed to create a WxSQ short form consisting of seven items. The authors then examined the relationship of weather salience with the respondents’ climate zones of residence and several other weather-related attitudes and behaviors that were assessed in the national sample. People residing in continental and temperate climates expressed significantly more weather salience than those living in dry climates. Further, weather salience was significantly and positively related to the following: 1) the frequency with which people sought weather information and forecasts, 2) the frequency of seeking weather information during the day, 3) the frequency of using forecasts to plan daily activities, 4) seeking weather information for wider geographic areas, and 5) the use of precipitation and temperature forecasts. Weather salience also was significantly and positively related to the confidence people expressed about National Weather Service forecasts and to the perceived importance of these forecasts. The results imply that peoples’ level of weather salience, at least in part, affects their uses of weather information and their confidence in it. These results support the validity of the WxSQ and also reveal some of the psychological bases of people’s perceptions and uses of weather information.

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Julie L. Demuth
,
Eve Gruntfest
,
Rebecca E. Morss
,
Sheldon Drobot
, and
Jeffrey K. Lazo

Weather and Society*Integrated Studies (WAS*IS) is a grassroots movement to change the weather enterprise by comprehensively and sustainably integrating social science into meteorological research and practice. WAS*IS is accomplishing this by establishing a framework for a) building an interdisciplinary community of practitioners, researchers, and stakeholders who are dedicated to the integration of meteorology and social science, and b) providing this community with a means to learn and further examine ideas, methods, and examples related to integrated weather-society work.

In its first year, WAS*IS focused on achieving its mission primarily through several workshops. Between July 2005 and August2006, there were three WAS*IS workshops with a total of 86 selected participants. The workshops focused on the following: laying the groundwork for conducting interdisciplinary work, teaching basic tools and concepts relevant to integrated weather-society efforts, using real-world examples to learn about effective integrated work, and developing opportunities and relationships for doing WAS*IS-type work. By emphasizing the importance of developing a lifelong cohort, as well as helping participants learn and apply social science tools and concepts, WAS*IS can address societal impacts of weather in powerful and sustained ways.

This article discusses the need and motivation for creating WAS*IS; the development, scope, and implementation of WAS*IS through summer of 2006; and WAS*IS-related outcomes thus far, as well as future prospects of the WAS*IS movement.

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Rebecca E. Morss
,
Olga V. Wilhelmi
,
Mary W. Downton
, and
Eve Gruntfest

The magnitude of flood damage in the United States, combined with the uncertainty in current estimates of flood risk, suggest that society could benefit from improved scientific information about flood risk. To help address this perceived need, a group of researchers initiated an interdisciplinary study of climate variability, scientific uncertainty, and hydrometeorological information for flood-risk decision making, focused on Colorado's Rocky Mountain Front Range urban corridor. We began by investigating scientific research directions that were likely to benefit flood-risk estimation and management, through consultation with climatologists, hydrologists, engineers, and planners. In doing so, we identified several challenges involved in generating new scientific information to aid flood management in the presence of significant scientific and societal uncertainty. This essay presents lessons learned from this study, along with our observations on the complex interactions among scientific information, uncertainty, and societal decision making. It closes by proposing a modification to the “end to end” approach to conducting societally relevant scientific research. Although we illustrate points using examples from flood management, the concepts may be applicable to other arenas, such as global climate change.

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Cara L. Cuite
,
Rebecca E. Morss
,
Julie L. Demuth
, and
William K. Hallman

Abstract

Both hurricanes and nor’easters can be destructive and deadly. The current study investigates whether, when all other features of a storm warning message are held constant, people perceive the risks posed by nor’easters and hurricanes differently and whether these differences affect their attitudes and decisions about taking protective action. We conducted an online experiment involving 1,700 Americans residing in northeastern coastal ZIP codes to test the effects of storm type (hurricane vs nor’easter). Participants were told that their area was under an evacuation order due to either a predicted hurricane or nor’easter. Reported message comprehension and perceived relevance were similar across storm type; however, storm type had small but significant effects on other dependent measures. Those in the hurricane condition were more likely to believe the storm would be severe (p = 0.007). They were also more likely to say that it is important to evacuate, that they would evacuate their homes, and that they would recommend to their neighbors that they evacuate (p < 0.001). Additional analysis demonstrated that the effect of storm type on evacuation likelihood is mediated, at least in part, by perceived severity. These findings provide evidence that people perceive hurricanes as more severe and more likely to require taking protective action than nor’easters, even when other attributes of the storms remain the same. Forecasters, broadcast meteorologists, and emergency management professionals should consider these small but important differences in perceptions when communicating about these types of storms.

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Julie L. Demuth
,
Rebecca E. Morss
,
Betty Hearn Morrow
, and
Jeffrey K. Lazo

Reducing loss of life and harm when a hurricane threatens depends on people receiving hurricane risk information that they can interpret and use in protective decisions. To understand and improve hurricane risk communication, this article examines how National Weather Service (NWS) forecasters at the National Hurricane Center and local weather forecast offices, local emergency managers, and local television and radio media create and convey hurricane risk information. Data from in-depth interviews and observational sessions with members of these groups from Greater Miami were analyzed to examine their roles, goals, and interactions, and to identify strengths and challenges in how they communicate with each other and with the public. Together, these groups succeed in partnering with each other to make information about approaching hurricane threats widely available. Yet NWS forecasters sometimes find that the information they provide is not used as they intended; media personnel want streamlined information from NWS and emergency managers that emphasizes the timing of hazards and the recommended response and protective actions; and emergency managers need forecast uncertainty information that can help them plan for different scenarios. Thus, we recommend that warning system partners 1) build understanding of each other's needs and constraints; 2) ensure formalized, yet flexible mechanisms exist for exchanging critical information; 3) improve hurricane risk communication by integrating social science knowledge to design and test messages with intended audiences; and 4) evaluate, test, and improve the NWS hurricane-related product suite in collaboration with social scientists.

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Julie L. Demuth
,
Jamie Vickery
,
Heather Lazrus
,
Jen Henderson
,
Rebecca E. Morss
, and
Kevin D. Ash

Abstract

The weather community has a keen interest in whether or not people comply with tornado warnings by taking shelter when a tornado threatens. When people do not seek shelter, a commonly attributed reason is that they are complacent due to overwarning, false alarms, routine exposure and experience with tornadoes and warnings, or time between damaging events. Yet, there is a lack of research that focuses on whether people are actually complacent, i.e., whether they ignore or are unwilling to prepare for the threat. We explore whether people exhibit these indicators of complacency by examining how people assessed their risk and responded during real-world tornado threats and how vulnerability influenced these processes. Our analysis is based on in-person interviews with 23 survivors of two deadly EF3 tornadoes that occurred approximately 50 miles apart and within 12 h of each other. Contrary to a threat-disbelieving, threat-ignoring, nonpreparing, and thus complacent public, we instead found that people actively managed their risk from the tornadoes, meaning they actively attended to, evaluated, and responded to the tornado risk as it evolved in space and time. We further found, however, that many people felt limited or lack of efficacy to respond due to static and situational factors that resulted in them having no safe place to seek protection from the threat. Based on this rich, nuanced analysis, we provide recommendations about important ways that the weather community and its partners can mitigate the risks people face from tornadoes, now and in the long term.

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Kathryn R. Fossell
,
David Ahijevych
,
Rebecca E. Morss
,
Chris Snyder
, and
Chris Davis

Abstract

The potential for storm surge to cause extensive property damage and loss of life has increased urgency to more accurately predict coastal flooding associated with landfalling tropical cyclones. This work investigates the sensitivity of coastal inundation from storm tide (surge + tide) to four hurricane parameters—track, intensity, size, and translation speed—and the sensitivity of inundation forecasts to errors in forecasts of those parameters. An ensemble of storm tide simulations is generated for three storms in the Gulf of Mexico, by driving a storm surge model with best track data and systematically generated perturbations of storm parameters from the best track. The spread of the storm perturbations is compared to average errors in recent operational hurricane forecasts, allowing sensitivity results to be interpreted in terms of practical predictability of coastal inundation at different lead times. Two types of inundation metrics are evaluated: point-based statistics and spatially integrated volumes. The practical predictability of surge inundation is found to be limited foremost by current errors in hurricane track forecasts, followed by intensity errors, then speed errors. Errors in storm size can also play an important role in limiting surge predictability at short lead times, due to observational uncertainty. Results show that given current mean errors in hurricane forecasts, location-specific surge inundation is predictable for as little as 12–24 h prior to landfall, less for small-sized storms. The results also indicate potential for increased surge predictability beyond 24 h for large storms by considering a storm-following, volume-integrated metric of inundation.

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Stephen B. Broomell
,
Gabrielle Wong-Parodi
,
Rebecca E. Morss
, and
Julie L. Demuth

Abstract

Reducing fatalities from tornadoes in the southeastern United States requires considering multiple societal factors, including the risk perceptions that influence how people interpret tornado forecasts and warnings and make protective decisions. This study investigates perceptions of tornado risk in the southeastern United States, operationalized as judgments of tornado likelihood. While it is possible that residents of the Southeast could learn about tornado likelihood in their region from observing the local environment, cognitive-ecological theory from psychology suggests that such judgments of likelihood can be inaccurate, even if other aspects of local knowledge are accurate. This study analyzes data from a survey that elicited different groups’ judgments of tornado likelihood associated with different seasons, times of day, and storm system types. Results are presented from a representative sample of Southeastern residents and are compared with a sample of tornado experts (who have extensive knowledge about the likelihood of Southeastern tornadoes) and a representative sample of Great Plains residents. Overall, the analysis finds that many members of the Southeastern public deviate from the expert sample on tornado likelihood, especially for winter and overnight tornadoes. These deviations from expert opinion mimic the judgments of the Great Plains public. This study demonstrates how psychological theory and a decision science approach can be used to identify potential gaps in public knowledge about hazardous weather risks, and it reveals several such potential gaps. Further research is needed to understand the reasons for deviations between public and expert judgments, evaluate their effects on protective decision-making, and develop strategies to address them.

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Julie L. Demuth
,
Rebecca E. Morss
,
Jeffrey K. Lazo
, and
Craig Trumbo

Abstract

Individuals’ past experiences with a hazard can encompass many different aspects, which can influence how they judge and respond to a future hurricane risk. This study, which utilizes survey data from coastal residents who are at risk from hurricanes, adds to understanding of past hazard experience in two ways. First, it examines six different aspects of people’s past hurricane experiences and the relationships among them. Then, it draws on risk theories of behavioral responses to explore how these different experiences influence people’s evacuation intentions for a hypothetical hurricane as mediated through multiple dimensions of risk perception (cognitive, negative affective) and efficacy beliefs (self efficacy, response efficacy). The results suggest that people can experience emotional or otherwise severe impacts from a hurricane even if they do not have experiences with evacuation, property damage, or financial loss. The results also reveal that different past hurricane experiences operated through different combinations of mediating variables to influence evacuation intentions. Some of these processes enhanced intentions; for instance, experience with evacuation, financial loss, or emotional impacts heightened negative affective risk perceptions, which increased evacuation intentions. Other processes dampened evacuation intentions; for instance, people with past hurricane-related emotional impacts had lower self efficacy, which decreased evacuation intentions. In some cases, these enhancing and dampening processes competed. Exploring people’s different past weather experiences and the mechanisms by which they can influence future behaviors is important for more deeply understanding populations at risk and how they respond to weather threats.

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Cara L. Cuite
,
Rachael L. Shwom
,
William K. Hallman
,
Rebecca E. Morss
, and
Julie L. Demuth

Abstract

Evacuation before severe coastal storms is a critical tool for keeping coastal residents safe. Effective messaging of evacuations could help save lives, but there is little evidence-based guidance on the advantages or disadvantages of specific messaging. Ideally, evacuation messages would convince those most at risk to evacuate and those who do not need to evacuate to stay in their homes. Using an online survey of 1716 coastal residents in Connecticut, New Jersey, and New York, this study randomly assigned respondents to message conditions in each of two hypothetical storm scenarios. Results from the first scenario indicate that those who saw mandatory evacuation messages had higher evacuation intentions than those who saw advisory messages, and both of those messages resulted in slightly higher evacuation intentions than voluntary evacuation messages. However, voluntary messages resulted in lower evacuation intentions for those that did not live in evacuation zones compared to those who did live in evacuation zones, which may help reduce shadow evacuation. In the second scenario, identifying an evacuation area by the municipality name or the individual’s street name resulted in similar evacuation intentions across all participants. Messages identifying an evacuation area by “flood zone” or “flood-prone area” resulted in equally high evacuation intentions for those who believe they live in a flood zone, but these messages suppressed evacuation intentions for those who do not believe they live in a flood zone. This indicates that such messages could also be an effective approach for reducing shadow evacuation. Implications for risk communicators and emergency managers are discussed.

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