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Rebecca E. Morss

Atmospheric science information is a component of numerous public policy decisions. Moreover, many resources for atmospheric science are allocated by governments, in other words, through public policy decisions. Thus, all atmospheric scientists—those interested in helping address societal problems, and those interested primarily in advancing science—have a stake in public policy decisions. Yet atmospheric science and public policy are sufficiently different that atmospheric scientists often find it challenging to contribute effectively to public policy. To help reduce this gap, this article examines the area where atmospheric science, public policy research, and public policy decisions intersect. Focusing on how atmospheric science and public policy inform each other, the article discusses and illustrates a key concept in public policy—the importance of problem definition—using an atmospheric science policy issue of current interest: observing-system design for weather prediction. To help the atmospheric science community participate more effectively in societal decision making (on observing-system design and other topics), the article closes with three suggestions for atmospheric scientists considering policy issues.

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Rebecca E. Morss and Fuqing Zhang

After the 2005 hurricane season, several meteorology students at Texas A&M University became interested in understanding Hurricane Rita's forecasts and societal impacts in greater depth. In response to the students' interest, we developed a collaborative student research study at Texas A&M University associated with an undergraduate course in the spring semester of 2006. The study included both a meteorological and an interdisciplinary component, in which students performed an in-person survey of Texas Gulf Coast residents. Students were involved in multiple phases of the research, from the design to implementation to dissemination of results. This collaborative research model engaged and motivated the students, providing substantial educational benefits. The study and class linked the students' classroom knowledge to reality while generating new knowledge about the societal aspects of Hurricane Rita and other hurricanes. This paper reviews key aspects of the study and class, presenting a prototype integrated research-education model for others interested in incorporating active learning, collaborative inquiry, and interdisciplinary study into undergraduate classrooms. The model can be implemented at both colleges and research universities for a variety of topics of interest to students, teachers, the research community, and society.

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Rebecca E. Morss and William H. Hooke

In many respects, the prospects for U.S. meteorological research have never been brighter. Knowledge is advancing rapidly, as are supporting observing and information technologies. The accuracy, timeliness, and information content of forecasts are improving year by year. As a result, new and growing markets eagerly await the products of weather research, and opportunities for commercialization abound. Furthermore, no end to the progress of knowledge is in sight; there is plenty of interesting research left to do.

Other trends, however, give cause for concern. In particular, the growing value of weather services and science is straining long-established public–private and international partnerships, vital to our field. Closer to home, the meteorological community can see nascent signs of some of the same commercialization-related difficulties that now challenge biotechnology.

In fact, the biotechnology community's experience with commercialization of research teaches valuable lessons. Attention to these issues now, and appropriate early action, may help the meteorological community benefit from commercialization while avoiding similar pitfalls. This would not only serve our field well, it would also ensure that society continues to benefit from meteorological research advances in the decades to come.

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300 Billion Served

Sources, Perceptions, Uses, and Values of Weather Forecasts

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

Understanding the public's sources, perceptions, uses, and values of weather forecasts is integral to providing those forecasts in the most societally beneficial manner. To begin developing this knowledge, we conducted a nationwide survey with more than 1,500 respondents to assess 1) where, when, and how often they obtain weather forecasts; 2) how they perceive forecasts; 3) how they use forecasts; and 4) the value they place on current forecast information. Our results indicate that the average U.S. adult obtains forecasts 115 times per month, which totals to more than 300 billion forecasts per year by the U.S. public. Overall, we find that respondents are highly satisfied with forecasts and have decreasing confidence in forecasts as lead time increases. Respondents indicated that they use forecasts across a range of decision-making contexts. Moreover, nearly three-quarters stated that they usually or always use forecasts simply to know what the weather will be like. Using a simplified valuation approach, we estimate the value of current weather forecast information to be approximately $286 per U.S. household per year, or $31.5 billion total per year value to U.S. households. This compares favorably with total U.S. public and private sector meteorology costs of $5.1 billion a year. To better support the provision of societally beneficial weather information, we advocate for well-designed periodic evaluations of the public's sources, perceptions, uses, and values of weather forecasts. These should include investigations of other important topics such as interpretations of hazardous weather warnings and presentation of uncertainty information.

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


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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Rebecca E. Morss, Jeffrey K. Lazo, Barbara G. Brown, Harold E. Brooks, Philip T. Ganderton, and Brian N. Mills

Despite the meteorological community's long-term interest in weather-society interactions, efforts to understand socioeconomic aspects of weather prediction and to incorporate this knowledge into the weather prediction system have yet to reach critical mass. This article aims to reinvigorate interest in societal and economic research and applications (SERA) activities within the meteorological and social science communities by exploring key SERA issues and proposing SERA priorities for the next decade.

The priorities were developed by the authors, building on previous work, with input from a diverse group of social scientists and meteorologists who participated in a SERA workshop in August 2006. The workshop was organized to provide input to the North American regional component of THORPEX: A Global Atmospheric Research Programme, but the priorities identified are broadly applicable to all weather forecast research and applications.

To motivate and frame SERA activities, we first discuss the concept of high-impact weather forecasts and the chain from forecast creation to value realization. Next, we present five interconnected SERA priority themes—use of forecast information in decision making, communication of forecast uncertainty, user-relevant verification, economic value of forecasts, and decision support— and propose research integrated across the themes.

SERA activities can significantly improve understanding of weather-society interactions to the benefit of the meteorological community and society. However, reaching this potential will require dedicated effort to bring together and maintain a sustainable interdisciplinary community.

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Rebecca E. Morss, Julie L. Demuth, Heather Lazrus, Leysia Palen, C. Michael Barton, Christopher A. Davis, Chris Snyder, Olga V. Wilhelmi, Kenneth M. Anderson, David A. Ahijevych, Jennings Anderson, Melissa Bica, Kathryn R. Fossell, Jennifer Henderson, Marina Kogan, Kevin Stowe, and Joshua Watts


During the last few decades, scientific capabilities for understanding and predicting weather and climate risks have advanced rapidly. At the same time, technological advances, such as the Internet, mobile devices, and social media, are transforming how people exchange and interact with information. In this modern information environment, risk communication, interpretation, and decision-making are rapidly evolving processes that intersect across space, time, and society. Instead of a linear or iterative process in which individual members of the public assess and respond to distinct pieces of weather forecast or warning information, this article conceives of weather prediction, communication, and decision-making as an interconnected dynamic system. In this expanded framework, information and uncertainty evolve in conjunction with people’s risk perceptions, vulnerabilities, and decisions as a hazardous weather threat approaches; these processes are intertwined with evolving social interactions in the physical and digital worlds. Along with the framework, the article presents two interdisciplinary research approaches for advancing the understanding of this complex system and the processes within it: analysis of social media streams and computational natural–human system modeling. Examples from ongoing research are used to demonstrate these approaches and illustrate the types of new insights they can reveal. This expanded perspective together with research approaches, such as those introduced, can help researchers and practitioners understand and improve the creation and communication of information in atmospheric science and other fields.

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