Nurture Nature Center advances flood research through new project, publications

Research with National Weather Service, National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration to help shape new ensemble forecasts

Nurture Nature Center is advancing its work on flooding through a new grant-funded project and the release of two new peer-reviewed journal articles on social science research studies conducted by the organization.

From 2012-2016, NNC completed two research studies in partnership with East Carolina University (ECU), looking at the use of National Weather Service (NWS) flood forecast and warning products. Now, with ECU, NNC staff are embarking on a third social science research study to provide feedback on a new flood forecast system, called the Hydrologic Ensemble Forecast System, being launched by NWS nationally.

The first two studies examined how residential and emergency management audiences used various riverine and coastal flood forecast products when dealing with extreme flood events. Findings from those studies are being used by NWS to inform the redesign of products to make them more user-friendly and likely to motivate users to take preparedness actions.

The new study, “Major Risks, Uncertain Outcomes: Making Ensemble Forecasts Work for Multiple Audiences,”is a two-year study designed to understand and make suggestions for improvement for a new ensemble forecast system by the NWS, called the Hydrologic Ensemble Forecast System (HEFS). Ensemble forecast systems allow users to see the possible range of outcomes during weather events, and HEFS will show the range of possible outcomes for river flooding. Where current forecasts show a fixed outcome, for instance, that flood levels will reach a specific height by a specific time, ensemble forecasts can provide a more complex look at the possible outcomes that may occur based on various factors influencing the weather. These ensemble forecasts are designed to be helpful to communities in planning for potential flooding events.

Through focus groups and surveys with residential users and water resource managers in urban and rural communities in West Virginia and Maryland, where repeated flooding has challenged communities, the NNC and East Carolina University research team will identify challenges and make recommendations to NWS for improving the use of HEFS. Funding for this project comes through a competitive grant proposal process funded by NOAA’s Collaborative Science, Technology and Applied Research (CSTAR) program to East Carolina. NNC’s Executive Director Rachel Hogan Carr serves as Co-Principal Investigator on the project, along with Dr. Burrell Montz, a hazards researcher at East Carolina University.

“Our previous work on the riverine and coastal flooding products issued by NWS during extreme flood events has yielded important insights about how flood forecasts can be made easier to understand and more likely to motivate people to take action,” Carr said. “NOAA and NWS have taken the lead in making changes to their work in response to those projects, and we are excited to now study a national new system that has the chance to help communities prepare for major flooding.”

Findings from NNC’s two previous studies will be released in two separate peer-reviewed journal articles this fall. The first study, “Flood Risk and Uncertainty: Assessing National Weather Service Flood Forecast and Warning Tools” funded to NNC by NOAA as part of NOAA’s Weather-Ready Nation initiative, was conducted in 2012-2016 in Easton, PA and Lambertville, NJ, and looked at riverine flood forecast products. An article with those findings will be issued in the journal BAMS (Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society). An early online release of the article is available here.

The second study, “They Had the Facts, Why Didn’t They Act?: Understanding and Improving Public Response to NWS Coastal Flood Forecasts” looked at public and emergency management officials in areas in coastal New Jersey affected by flooding from Superstorm Sandy. That study, awarded to NNC by NOAA (NJ Sea Grant Consortium under the Coastal Storm Awareness Program*) looked at coastal flood forecast products and in particular, the use of emergency briefings as a public tool. An article with those findings will be issued in the journal Weather, Climate and Society. An early online release of that article is available (click here).

For more information about Nurture Nature Center’s flood projects, please contact Executive Director Rachel Hogan Carr at 610-253-4432 or Full reports on findings, and more information about the projects, can also be found online at