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Jeffrey K. Lazo

HIV/AIDS, radon, nuclear power accidents, drug side effects, climate change. What do these issues have in common? They have all been the focus of meaningful risk communication research. For a range of hazards like these, diverse agencies and researchers have invested time, money, and brain power to understand how people understand, perceive, and respond to the risks as well as to information about these hazards. This research has been used to improve communication about the risks and to change behavior in the public interest.

How are these issues different from communication about the weather? First, with the U.S. public getting

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Jeffrey K. Lazo

I would like to talk about some of the challenges (and opportunities) we face in a highly interdisciplinary journal such as Weather, Climate, and Society (WCAS). A recent discussion with a colleague here at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) helped crystallize some of my thoughts about what we are trying to do with WCAS.

This colleague stopped by to ask my advice on a manuscript concept he was considering submitting to Weather, Climate, and Society. He is an outstanding research meteorologist who has been working with a team on models

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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, 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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Betty H. Morrow, Jeffrey K. Lazo, Jamie Rhome, and Jesse Feyen

Abstract

Storm surge associated with tropical and extratropical cyclones has a long history of causing death and destruction along our coastlines. With more than 123 million people living in coastal shoreline areas and much of the densely populated Atlantic and Gulf coastal areas less than 10 ft (∼3 m) above mean sea level, the threat has never been greater. In this article, we summarize and integrate the most intensive series of studies completed to date on communication of storm surge risk. These were primarily geographically focused stakeholder surveys for evaluating the storm surge communication perceptions and preferences of forecasters, broadcast meteorologists, public officials, and members of the public—each a primary user group for storm surge forecasts. According to findings from seven surveys, each group strongly supports the National Weather Service (NWS) issuing watches and warnings for storm surge, whether associated with tropical cyclones (TC) or extratropical (ET) cyclones. We discuss results on public understanding of storm surge vulnerability, respondents’ preferences for separate storm surge information products, and initial assessments of potential storm surge warning text and graphics. Findings from the research reported here are being used to support relevant NWS decisions, including a storm surge watch and warning product that has been approved for use on an experimental basis in 2015 and the National Hurricane Center (NHC) issuance of local surge inundations maps on an experimental basis in 2014.

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

Abstract

Weather forecasts are inherently uncertain, and meteorologists have information about weather forecast uncertainty that is not readily available to most forecast users. Yet effectively communicating forecast uncertainty to nonmeteorologists remains challenging. Improving forecast uncertainty communication requires research-based knowledge that can inform decisions on what uncertainty information to communicate, when, and how to do so. To help build such knowledge, this article explores the public’s perspectives on everyday weather forecast uncertainty and uncertainty information using results from a nationwide survey. By contributing to the fundamental understanding of laypeople’s views on forecast uncertainty, the findings can inform both uncertainty communication and related research.

The article uses empirical data from a nationwide survey of the U.S. public to investigate beliefs commonly held among meteorologists and to explore new topics. The results show that when given a deterministic temperature forecast, most respondents expected the temperature to fall within a range around the predicted value. In other words, most people inferred uncertainty into the deterministic forecast. People’s preferences for deterministic versus nondeterministic forecasts were examined in two situations; in both, a significant majority of respondents liked weather forecasts that expressed uncertainty, and many preferred such forecasts to single-valued forecasts. The article also discusses people’s confidence in different types of forecasts, their interpretations of the probability of precipitation forecasts, and their preferences for how forecast uncertainty is conveyed. Further empirical research is needed to study the article’s findings in other contexts and to continue exploring perception, interpretation, communication, and use of weather forecast uncertainty.

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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, Heather R. Hosterman, Jennifer M. Sprague-Hilderbrand, and Jeffery E. Adkins

Abstract

As part of its strategic plan for Building a Weather-Ready Nation, the U.S. National Weather Service (NWS) has increased their efforts to provide decision support services connecting forecasts and warnings to decision-making for core partners responsible for public safety. In 2011, the NWS formalized their approach to provide impact-based decision support services (IDSS) to help core partners better understand and utilize NWS forecasts and warnings in the face of upcoming extreme events. IDSS encourages weather forecasters to better consider societal impacts from weather events. This shift in emphasis toward impacts ensures NWS information and services are more relevant to decision-makers, which will allow those decision-makers to use NWS information and services to take proactive mitigating actions to protect life and property. This study posits that formal IDSS provides core partners with better information and supports decisions that reduce socioeconomic impacts during extreme winter storms. We compare two storms in the New York City area with similar characteristics but differing in their implementation of IDSS: the December 2010 storm occurred before the implementation of formal IDSS, whereas the January 2016 storm occurred after the implementation of formal IDSS. The comparison of the storm events indicates that IDSS and mitigating actions reduce flight cancellations, improve recovery time in the ground transportation sector, and reduce the duration and number of customers affected by power outages. We recommend that future studies of the value of IDSS consider using case studies for a range of weather events as well as other methodological approaches to assessing benefits.

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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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