3.5 Using Stakeholder Feedback and Communications Strategies in the Implementation of NWS Storm Surge Watches and Warnings for Tropical Cyclones

Thursday, 11 June 2015: 11:30 AM
303 (Raleigh Convention Center)
Robbie Berg, National Hurricane Center, Miami, FL; and J. Rhome

Hurricanes such as Katrina, Ike, and more recently Isaac and Sandy, have shown that communicating the storm surge hazard remains a challenge. Some people continue to put an unbalanced emphasis on the wind hazard and therefore are not sufficiently equipped to make sound decisions regarding preparation and evacuation ahead of an approaching storm. The National Weather Service (NWS) issues hurricane wind warnings, rain-induced flood warnings, and tornado warnings to cover the other three main hazards associated with tropical cyclones, but the agency has no such explicit tool in its arsenal to effectively communicate the risk of a life-threatening storm surge, the one hazard that has the potential to take more life and cause more damage in any one event.

Social science studies have shown that the hesitation to prepare and evacuate from storm surge stems from a lack of understanding of what storm surge is and what it can do, the inability of people to personalize the hazard and accept that a devastating storm surge could occur where they live, and bad practices of comparing individual storms with previous events. The need for improved communication has been highlighted by recent storms such as Sandy and Irene, which affected areas not normally accustomed to hurricane strikes. Even in a more experienced location like southeastern Louisiana, some people were surprised when storm surge from Isaac flooded areas that remained dry during Katrina.

To address these issues, the NWS has been engaged in a decade-long discussion aimed at improving the communication of the storm surge hazard. Working with social science researchers from disciplines such as sociology, communications, and geography, the National Hurricane Center has engaged its users and partners to determine the best path forward. The social science research concluded that the implementation of an explicit storm surge warning, accompanied by high-resolution storm surge inundation graphics, was supported overwhelmingly by the emergency management and broadcast meteorologist communities, and that these tools would have the greatest potential to increase the understanding and awareness of, and response to, the storm surge hazard.

The NWS will be issuing prototype Storm Surge Watch and Warning graphics during the 2015 and 2016 hurricane seasons for the Atlantic and Gulf coasts of the United States to outline areas near the coast that could experience life-threatening inundation from storm surge during a tropical cyclone. During this two-year period, the NWS will collect feedback from users and partners and make adjustments to the prototypes as needed. The Storm Surge Watch and Warning is expected to become fully operational for the 2017 hurricane season.

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