1.5 Watching Weather: The Role of Weathercasts in Communicating Hurricane Preparedness

Wednesday, 10 June 2015: 2:30 PM
304 (Raleigh Convention Center)
Tyra L. Brown, NOAA/NWS, Silver Spring, MD

Television weathercasting is central to news media today. Weather coverage is often identified as a key reason viewers watch their local news channel. Based upon viewers' interest, local news programming will assign greater prominence to weather news than to other news stories (Davie, et. All, 2006). The general public relies on weathercasts not only for information on current and future weather conditions but also to understand how these conditions may impact them personally. In cases of severe weather events, like hurricanes, television remains the primary source for weather information as individuals seek to understanding the event as it is occurring and how to protect themselves from the potential risks associated with the hazardous conditions. However, according to FEMA (2013), self-efficacy is the second largest perceived barrier to individual protective action for weather emergencies. In many cases viewers who watch televised weathercasts believe and perceived hurricane risks, but still feel unable to perform the recommended protective actions.

Communication research has shown mass media effects to have a profound impact on sociocognitive processes. From a social context, weathercasting creates a symbolic environment of observational learning that naturally occurs through the reciprocal nature of communication and education inherent within the weathercast. The information-seeking behaviors of viewers create a connection to broadcast meteorologists in a way that is different and distinct from other news media journalists. Broadcast meteorologists are often viewed as a trusted source of weather information which strengthens the perceived credibility of weathercasts. Research on communication and persuasion suggests that the “trustworthiness” of a source will have a positive impact on message acceptance and significant influence on changes in opinion (Hovland & Weiss, 1951). This suggests that weathercasts may have the potential to carry highly influential messages that could motivate cognitive and behavioral response toward increased protective action. Mediated messages carry information that affect and shape social practices. These messages are interpreted through four major subfunctions of social modeling. Social cognitive theory posits that observational learning is most effective when modeling shows the process by which a desired behavior is accomplished. This increases self-efficacy and the likelihood of the behavior being adopted. This study examines the use of visual presentations of preparedness behaviors in weathercasts and their potential to reduce efficacy barriers.

Using a news framing approach, a content analysis of local and national weathercasts of Hurricane Katrina airing between August 23 - 29, 2005 was performed. This presentation will discuss preliminary data obtained through qualitative coding of audiovisual frames representing a range of preparedness behaviors.

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