NNC’s Role in Communicating Risk for Weather Hazards

Does the way we display information about weather hazards affect someone’s likelihood to prepare?  Could communities have better outcomes during flood events if weather forecasts were improved to be more understandable?  Does understanding the true wide range of possible weather outcomes during an imminent flood event help people to make better preparedness decisions?

These are the sorts of questions we explore at Nurture Nature Center.

Since 2012, our research team has partnered with offices within the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and National Weather Service (NWS) on three separate social science studies of NWS’ suite of flood forecast products.  NWS’ mission could not be more clear or compelling:  “to provide weather, water, and climate data, forecasts and warnings for the protection of life and property and enhancement of the national economy.”  Simply put, they provide the information we need to keep our households and our belongings and our communities safe.

Our job through these social science studies has been to help NWS ensure that the information they provide is not only technically accurate (NWS has made tremendous research gains in that area and every day has better forecasts) but that it is also clear, usable and actionable by a wide range of users.  We have hosted focus groups, interviews and surveys with floodplain residents, emergency managers, and water resource professionals in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Maryland to get their perspective on how they use these flood forecast products in their daily lives and professional work.

The outcomes are meaningful.  NWS has taken the results of our work and used the recommendations to improve its products and processes, adding value to every forecast they issue.  A few weeks ago, NNC and its research partner, East Carolina University, issued a new study on the use of probabilistic hydrologic forecasts, which show a range of potential river level outcomes over longer time frames (15-day and 90-day).

It’s a new capability for the NWS, and it is still to be determined how public and professional audiences will best use this longer-term, probabilistic information.  That NNC’s research team’s work is recognized nationally for its impact on these products is a source of pride for us here.   We’ll be updating our Focusonfloods.org website soon to publish the full report – keep tuned.