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

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

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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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Weather Forecast Uncertainty Information

An Exploratory Study with Broadcast Meteorologists

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

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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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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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Rebecca E. Morss, Julie L. Demuth, Jeffrey K. Lazo, Katherine Dickinson, Heather Lazrus, and Betty H. Morrow

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This study uses data from a survey of coastal Miami-Dade County, Florida, residents to explore how different types of forecast and warning messages influence evacuation decisions, in conjunction with other factors. The survey presented different members of the public with different test messages about the same hypothetical hurricane approaching Miami. Participants’ responses to the information were evaluated using questions about their likelihood of evacuating and their perceptions of the information and the information source. Recipients of the test message about storm surge height and the message about extreme impacts from storm surge had higher evacuation intentions, compared to nonrecipients. However, recipients of the extreme-impacts message also rated the information as more overblown and the information source as less reliable. The probabilistic message about landfall location interacted with the other textual messages in unexpected ways, reducing the other messages’ effects on evacuation intentions. These results illustrate the importance of considering trade-offs, unintended effects, and information interactions when deciding how to convey weather information. Recipients of the test message that described the effectiveness of evacuation had lower perceptions that the information was overblown, suggesting the potential value of efficacy messaging. In addition, respondents with stronger individualist worldviews rated the information as significantly more overblown and had significantly lower evacuation intentions. This illustrates the importance of understanding how and why responses to weather messages vary across subpopulations. Overall, the analysis demonstrates the potential value of systematically investigating how different people respond to different types of weather risk messages.

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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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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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