We are using field surveys of resource management professionals to (1) examine the extent to which individuals differ in their interpretive frameworks and abilities with regard to seasonal climate forecasts; and (2) identify specific product elements that consistently improve (or confound) forecast communication, which can then be applied to (or eliminated from) a broad range of forecast products. The field surveys are administered at professional meetings using consistent protocols. The overall protocol consists of a random sampling of meeting attendees, who are assigned to one of several subgroups. Each subgroup is surveyed independently using a different set of formats and elements, to prevent ‘learning' as they are exposed to different formats. One subgroup is interviewed while completing identical surveys, to provide a deeper understanding of interpretation issues. The field surveys include a variety of official seasonal climate outlooks issued by operational agencies, experimental products, and selected modifications.
Extant forecasts foster confusion in several ways, often leading resource managers to think that the products are intended for applications other than their own. Users need help to structure their experience with products containing several kinds of information, with the current Probability of Exceedance climate outlook issued by the US National Weather Service being nearly impenetrable. Especially problematic is language that has one meaning in a formal statistical context but another in common usage, or that has both vague and specific meanings. The terms “normal”, “above/below normal”, and “climatology” should be avoided.