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Shannon M. McNeeley and Heather Lazrus
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Shannon M. McNeeley and Heather Lazrus

Abstract

The way in which people perceive climate change risk is informed by their social interactions and cultural worldviews comprising fundamental beliefs about society and nature. Therefore, perceptions of climate change risk and vulnerability along with people’s “myths of nature”—that is, how groups of people conceptualize the way nature functions—influence the feasibility and acceptability of climate adaptation planning, policy making, and implementation. This study presents analyses of cultural worldviews that broaden the current treatments of culture and climate change mitigation and adaptation decision making in communities. The authors use insights from community-based climate research and engage the Cultural Theory of Risk conceptual framework to situate community understandings of, and responses to, climate impacts. This study looks at how the issue of climate change manifests socially in four cases in the United States and Tuvalu and how ideas about climate change are produced by the institutional cultural contexts across scales from the local to the global. This approach helps us identify local and regional priorities and support the development of new relationships for adaptation research and planning by helping to diagnose barriers to climate change adaptation, assist improved communication through framing/reframing climate issues based on shared understandings and collective learning, and help move from conflict to cooperation through better negotiation of diverse worldviews.

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Heather Lazrus, Betty H. Morrow, Rebecca E. Morss, and Jeffrey K. Lazo

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Risk communication may accentuate or alleviate the vulnerability of people who have particular difficulties responding to the threat of hazards such as hurricanes. The process of risk communication involves how hazard information is received, understood, and responded to by individuals and groups. Thus, risk communication and vulnerability interact through peoples' knowledge, attitudes, and practices. This study explores risk communication with several groups that may be at particular risk of hurricane impacts: older adults, newer residents, and persons with disabilities. Focus groups conducted in Miami, Florida, examined how members of these groups express their own vulnerability or agency in terms of receiving, interpreting, and responding to hurricane risk information. Findings indicate that people's interactions with risk information are deeply contextual and are facilitated by their individual agency to cope with their vulnerabilities.

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Ann Bostrom, Rebecca E. Morss, Jeffrey K. Lazo, Julie L. Demuth, Heather Lazrus, and Rebecca Hudson

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The study reported here explores how to enhance the public value of hurricane forecast and warning information by examining the entire warning process. A mental models research approach is applied to address three risk management tasks critical to warnings for extreme weather events: 1) understanding the risk decision and action context for hurricane warnings, 2) understanding the commonalities and conflicts in interpretations of that context and associated risks, and 3) exploring the practical implications of these insights for hurricane risk communication and management. To understand the risk decision and action context, the study develops a decision-focused model of the hurricane forecast and warning system on the basis of results from individual mental models interviews with forecasters from the National Hurricane Center (n = 4) and the Miami–South Florida Weather Forecast Office (n = 4), media broadcasters (n = 5), and public officials (n = 6), as well as a group decision-modeling session with a subset of the forecasters. Comparisons across professionals reveal numerous shared perceptions, as well as some critical differences. Implications for improving extreme weather event forecast and warning systems and risk communication are threefold: 1) promote thinking about forecast and warning decisions as a system, with informal as well as formal elements; 2) evaluate, coordinate, and consider controlling the proliferation of forecast and warning information products; and 3) further examine the interpretation and representation of uncertainty within the hurricane forecast and warning system as well as for users.

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Rebecca E. Morss, Jamie Vickery, Heather Lazrus, Julie Demuth, and Ann Bostrom

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.

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Julie L. Demuth, Rebecca E. Morss, Leysia Palen, Kenneth M. Anderson, Jennings Anderson, Marina Kogan, Kevin Stowe, Melissa Bica, Heather Lazrus, Olga Wilhelmi, and Jen Henderson

Abstract

This article investigates the dynamic ways that people communicate, assess, and respond as a weather threat evolves. It uses social media data, which offer unique records of what people convey about their real-world risk contexts. Twitter narratives from 53 people who were in a mandatory evacuation zone in a New York City neighborhood during Hurricane Sandy in 2012 were qualitatively analyzed. The study provides rich insight into the complex, dynamic information behaviors and risk assessments of people at risk, and it illustrates how social media data can be collected, sampled, and analyzed to help provide this understanding. Results show that this sample of people at significant risk attended to forecast information and evacuation orders as well as multiple types of social and environmental cues. Although many tweeted explicitly about the mandatory evacuation order, forecast information was usually referenced only implicitly. Social and environmental cues grew more important as the threat approached and often triggered heightened risk perceptions or protective actions. The results also reveal the importance of different aspects of people’s cognitive and affective risk perceptions as well as specific emotions (e.g., fear, anger) for understanding risk assessments. People discussed a variety of preparatory and protective behavioral responses and exhibited multiple types of coping responses (e.g., humor) as the threat evolved. People’s risk assessments and responses were closely intertwined, and their risk perceptions were not continuously elevated as the hurricane approached; they exhibited different ways of interpreting, coping, and responding as they accessed and processed evolving information about the threat.

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