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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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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
,
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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Michelle E. Saunders
,
Kevin D. Ash
,
Jennifer M. Collins
, and
Rebecca E. Morss

Abstract

A radar display is a tool that depicts meteorological data over space and time; therefore, an individual must think spatially and temporally in addition to drawing on their own meteorological knowledge and past weather experiences. We aimed to understand how the construal of situational risks and outcomes influences the perceived usefulness of a radar display and to explore how radar users interpret distance, time, and meteorological attributes using hypothetical scenarios in the Tampa Bay area (Florida). Ultimately, we wanted to understand how and why individuals use weather radar and to discover what makes it a useful tool. To do this, construal level theory and geospatial thinking guided the mixed methods used in this study to investigate four research objectives. Our findings show that radar is used most often by our participants to anticipate what will happen in the near future in their area. Participants described in their own words what they were viewing while using a radar display and reported what hazards they expected at the study location. Many participants associated the occurrence of lightning or strong winds with “red” and “orange” reflectivity values on a radar display. Participants provided valuable insight into what was and was not found useful about certain radar displays. We also found that most participants overestimated the amount of time they would have before precipitation would begin at their location. Overall, weather radar was found to be a very useful tool; however, judging spatial and temporal proximity became difficult when storm motion/direction was not easily identifiable.

Significance Statement

The purpose of this study is to understand how and why individuals use weather radar and to discover what makes radar a useful tool. We were particularly interested to explore how distance and time are thought about when using radar. We found that radar is generally a useful tool for decision-making except when a storm event was stationary. Participants use their personal experiences and knowledge of past weather events when they use a radar display. We also discovered that deciding how much time is available before rain occurs is often overestimated. These findings are helpful to understand how individuals use weather radar to make decisions that may help us to better understand protective action behavior.

Open access
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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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.

Free access
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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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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