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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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