Sunday, 10 August 2003: 9:00 AM
The Role of Expert Warning Forecasters: Results of a Cognitive Task Analysis of the Warning Forecaster Task
It has been suggested that the act of issuing a severe weather warning is a social act, and not just a scientific decision. Because of this, the process of composing and issuing severe weather warnings in the context of an operational National Weather Service Forecast Office requires assimilating and weighing input from numerous sources. These sources include radar data, spotter reports, environmental data analysis, storm history, feature location, time of day, and public response. This information is then given meaning and value when coupled with the forecasterís prior experience and level of expertise. The process by which the expert warning forecaster elicits the most relevant and valuable information at the time of decision is critical to the understanding of how best to provide assistance for this task in the future. To begin looking at this process, a Cognitive Task Analysis (CTA) was conducted with the goal of capturing the cognitive aspects of expert NWS warning forecasters. The benefits of having a CTA for any domain are many. A CTA captures how experts think and what they know, how they organize and structure information, and what they seek to understand better. CTA methods describe the cognitive processes that underlie performance of tasks and the cognitive skills needed to respond adeptly to complex situations. The project was conducted over a six month period using interviews with recognized experts in the field of operational warnings. The paper will present findings of this study which revealed several areas of discussion. These include: 1)relationship with the public, 2) team aspects, 3) use of technology, 4) unusual cases and oneís experience base, 5) general approach to the weather, 6) mental model of severe storm development, and 7) expert decisions. Future research recommendations suggested by the study will also be presented. For those who are intimately familiar with warning operations, the processes captured here will seem already familiar. For those who are not, the findings may allow a clearer picture of what is going on with expert warning forecasters during severe weather events. Other applications of a CTA include using the results as a basis for input into software and hardware design and development, as well as a means to help guide research and training efforts.