J14.3 The essentials of a weather warning message: what, where, when, and intensity

Wednesday, 26 January 2011: 11:00 AM
618-620 (Washington State Convention Center)
Joel C. Curtis, NOAA/NWS, Juneau, AK

Warning messages are the most urgent form of human communication. Weather warnings require success in clarity and meaning to the receiver in order to stimulate protective action. An analysis of the essential information that must be communicated by weather warning messages reveals that the critical information can be encapsulated in four distinct facets: What, Where, When, and Intensity.

Each of these parts of the message will be examined in the context of social science research and journalism. One goal of this presentation will be to demonstrate that brevity in the statements of these four essentials will help to ensure that the weather warning message will be clearly received and understood, especially when the communication medium is using modern technology such as instant text messages.

Clearly, a weather warning message shares many similar characteristics with news stories. A review of journalism texts and articles reveals that there is a widely accepted formula for news stories: an Inverted Pyramid where the most important facts are stated first, with details in order of importance trailing off to the end of the story. Another widely accepted journalistic concept is that of a Lead which lists the facts of “who, what, when, where, and why”. The breaking news of a weather warning message can eliminate the “who” as the receiver of the message. The “why” of an urgent weather story is complex and is not essential information in order for the receiver to take protective action.

Intensity as an essential part of a weather warning message is added to provide to a broad spectrum of receivers of the warning message a decision aid by which to gauge the protective action to be taken. The sociological importance of the Intensity in a weather warning message will be related to recently established goals set by the National Weather Service.

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