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Weather Forecast Uncertainty Information

An Exploratory Study with Broadcast Meteorologists

Julie L. Demuth
,
Betty Hearn Morrow
, and
Jeffrey K. Lazo
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Hugh Gladwin
,
Jeffrey K. Lazo
,
Betty Hearn Morrow
,
Walter Gillis Peacock
, and
Hugh E. Willoughby
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Jeffrey K. Lazo
,
Donald M. Waldman
,
Betty Hearn Morrow
, and
Jennifer A. Thacher

Abstract

Hurricane warnings are the primary sources of information that enable the public to assess the risk and develop responses to threats from hurricanes. These warnings have significantly reduced the number of hurricane-related fatalities in the last several decades. Further investment in the science and implementation of the warning system is a primary mission of the National Weather Service and its partners. It is important that the weather community understand the public’s preferences and values for such investments; yet, there is little empirical information on the use of forecasts in evacuation decision making, the economic value of current forecasts, or the potential use or value for improvements in hurricane forecasts. Such information is needed to evaluate whether improved forecast provision and dissemination offer more benefit to society than alternative public investments.

Fundamental aspects of households’ perceptions of hurricane forecasts and warnings and their potential uses of and values for improved hurricane forecast information are examined. The study was designed in part to examine the viability of survey research methods for exploring evacuation decision making and for eliciting values for improved hurricane forecasts and warnings. First, aspects that affect households’ stated likelihood of evacuation are explored, because informing such decisions is one of the primary purposes of hurricane forecasts and warnings. Then, stated-choice valuation methods are used to analyze choices between potential forecast-improvement programs and the accuracy of existing forecasts. From this, the willingness to pay (WTP) for improved forecasts is derived from survey respondents.

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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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Paul A. Hirschberg
,
Elliot Abrams
,
Andrea Bleistein
,
William Bua
,
Luca Delle Monache
,
Thomas W. Dulong
,
John E. Gaynor
,
Bob Glahn
,
Thomas M. Hamill
,
James A. Hansen
,
Douglas C. Hilderbrand
,
Ross N. Hoffman
,
Betty Hearn Morrow
,
Brenda Philips
,
John Sokich
, and
Neil Stuart

The American Meteorological Society (AMS) Weather and Climate Enterprise Strategic Implementation Plan for Generating and Communicating Forecast Uncertainty (the Plan) is summarized. The Plan (available on the AMS website at www.ametsoc.org/boardpges/cwce/docs/BEC/ACUF/2011-02-20-ACUF-Final-Report.pdf) is based on and intended to provide a foundation for implementing recent recommendations regarding forecast uncertainty by the National Research Council (NRC), AMS, and World Meteorological Organization. It defines a vision, strategic goals, roles and respon- sibilities, and an implementation road map to guide the weather and climate enterprise (the Enterprise) toward routinely providing the nation with comprehensive, skillful, reliable, and useful information about the uncertainty of weather, water, and climate (hydrometeorological) forecasts. Examples are provided describing how hydrometeorological forecast uncertainty information can improve decisions and outcomes in various socioeconomic areas. The implementation road map defines objectives and tasks that the four sectors comprising the Enterprise (i.e., government, industry, academia, and nongovernmental organizations) should work on in partnership to meet four key, interrelated strategic goals: 1) understand social and physical science aspects of forecast uncertainty; 2) communicate forecast uncertainty information effectively and collaborate with users to assist them in their decision making; 3) generate forecast uncertainty data, products, services, and information; and 4) enable research, development, and operations with necessary information technology and other infrastructure. The Plan endorses the NRC recommendation that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and, in particular, the National Weather Service, should take the lead in motivating and organizing Enterprise resources and expertise in order to reach the Plan's vision and goals and shift the nation successfully toward a greater understanding and use of forecast uncertainty in decision making.

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