2.2 How clear communication of uncertainty brings CCM and client closer together

Wednesday, 26 January 2011: 10:45 AM
309 (Washington State Convention Center)
Christopher D. Bedford CCM, Sailing Weather Service, LLC, Watertown, MA

For those of us involved in operational weather forecasting, there is little doubt that a significant motivation when we entered the field was to learn how to “out-smart” and - in some way - gain command over the chaos of weather by learning how to predict its behavior. But with experience, we all learn the folly of this wish. Sometimes, those lessons come easily, when nothing significant is on the line or, in private sector speak, the user (our client) isn't personally or financially damaged by an incorrect weather forecast. However, the harshest lessons come when a client banks on a definitive weather call and that call ends up being the wrong one. Those “bad” calls – coming at a “bad” time for the client – can shake even the most loyal of customers. As the saying goes, “You are only as good as your last forecast.”

The typical weather forecast user desires (or requires) a black or white answer. The truth, however, lies in the infinite shades of gray between forecast (expectation) and verification (reality). This difference is magnified by the sensitivity of the user's decisions and actions based on the forecast. The challenge for the operational meteorologist is often as much in communicating the message to the client in order to achieve the best outcome, as much as it is getting the forecast correct. Setting the expectations of the user – how reliable is the weather forecast AND the resulting scale of the potential impact on the client – can add considerable value to the decision making process faced by the client.

Previous studies have focused on forecast value and uncertainty in such areas as energy, commodities, and transportation. These types of analyses can be extended across a multitude of industries with varying degrees of quantification possible. In most formal studies related to increased communication of uncertainty, the practical experience of the field forecaster(s) direct interaction with the user in transitioning to the new paradigm is missing.

This presentation will provide some field experiences in communicating forecast uncertainty with a unique marine client. A description of how nearly losing a customer led to a reassessment of the forecast product(s), quantification and delivery of uncertainty information, and customer decision making process. The result was retention of the client and a significantly improved customer relationship.

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