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Rebecca E. Morss and Mary H. Hayden

Abstract

Hurricane Ike made landfall near Galveston, Texas, on 13 September 2008 as a large category 2 storm that generated significant storm surge and flooding. This article presents findings from an empirical case study of Texas coastal residents’ perceptions of hurricane risk, protective decision making, and opinions of hurricane forecasts related to Hurricane Ike. The results are based on data from interviews with 49 residents affected by Hurricane Ike, conducted approximately five weeks after landfall. While most interviewees were aware that Ike was potentially dangerous, many were surprised by how much coastal flooding the hurricane caused and the resulting damage. For many—even long-time residents—Ike was a learning experience. As the hurricane approached, interviewees and their households made complex, evolving preparation and evacuation decisions. Although evacuation orders were an important consideration for some interviewees, many obtained information about Ike frequently from multiple sources to evaluate their own risk and make protective decisions. Given the storm surge and damage Ike caused, a number of interviewees believed that Ike’s classification on the Saffir–Simpson scale did not adequately communicate the risk Ike posed. The “certain death” statement issued by the National Weather Service helped convince several interviewees to evacuate. However, others had strong negative opinions of the statement that may negatively influence their interpretation of and response to future warnings. As these findings indicate, empirical studies of how intended audiences obtain, interpret, and use hurricane forecasts and warnings provide valuable knowledge that can help design more effective ways to convey hurricane risk.

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

Abstract

Past research has shown that individuals vary in their attitudes and behaviors regarding weather forecast information. To deepen knowledge about these variations, this article explores 1) patterns in people’s sources, uses, and perceptions of everyday weather forecasts; and 2) relationships among people’s sources, uses, and perceptions of forecasts, their personal characteristics, and their experiences with weather and weather forecasts. It does so by performing factor and regression analysis on data from a nationwide survey of the U.S. public, combined with other data. Forecast uses factored into planning for leisure activities and for work/school-related activities, while knowing what the weather will be like and planning how to dress remained separate. Forecast parameters factored into importance of precipitation parameters and of temperature-related parameters, suggesting that these represent conceptually different constructs. Regression analysis showed that the primary drivers for how often people obtain forecasts are what they use forecasts for and their perceived importance of and confidence in forecast information. People’s forecast uses are explained in large part by their frequency of obtaining forecasts and their perceived importance of temperature-related and precipitation forecast information. This suggests that that individuals’ frequency of obtaining forecasts, forecast use, and importance of forecast parameters are closely interrelated. Sociodemographic characteristics and, to a lesser extent, weather-related experience also influence some aspects of people’s forecast sources, uses, and perceptions. These findings continue to build understanding of variations among weather forecast users, which can help weather information providers improve communication of forecasts to better meet users’ needs.

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

Abstract

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

Abstract

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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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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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, 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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