1.5 Imperatives for Physical and Social Science Research to Improve Resiliency to Severe Local Weather

Thursday, 10 January 2013: 9:30 AM
Ballroom E (Austin Convention Center)
Steven Koch, NOAA/NSSL, Norman, OK; and H. Brooks, M. K. Lindell, and B. Murray

The 6th in a series of Weather-Ready Nation workshops was held in Birmingham, Alabama on 23-26 Apr 2012 almost exactly one year after the devastating tornado outbreak that ravaged Birmingham and Tuscaloosa. The title of this science workshop was “Imperatives for Severe Weather Research.” Its goal was to identify, prioritize, and set in motion an actionable and fully integrated physical and social science research plan to enhance our nation's readiness for, and responsiveness and resiliency to severe local weather, especially tornadoes, to protect lives and property. Approximately 65 participants attended the workshop embodying strong social and physical science representation from highly respected leaders in the fields of geography, economics, sociology, communications, media research, disabilities and aging, community planning, wind engineering, computer and information systems, emergency management and public health, and meteorology. White Papers were created/reviewed by participants prior to arrival at the workshop. The papers summarized the state of current knowledge in the meteorological and social science communities, gaps, and opportunities. The workshop consisted largely of breakout discussions composed of interdisciplinary groups.

The expected outcome was an agreement on the top research questions that are critical to advancing the principles of a Weather Ready Nation and that fully integrate the social and physical sciences. The expected output was a documented process and schedule for developing executable action plans for the key research questions identified during the workshop leveraging outcomes from the Norman Severe Weather Symposium (held in December 2011) and previously completed service needs assessments. The workshop seemed to be a total success. Discussions were productive. Research topics were identified and prioritized. The executable plan is still being developed, however.

In particular, the workshop developed short and long-term research objectives needed to improve and increase the Nation's weather-readiness. Among some of the noteworthy recommendations was the need for advances in meteorological theory and observational methods that will result in a better understanding of the causes of missed events and a reduction in the number of false alarms. In addition, possible improvements in the physical characterization of threats, such as the intensity of tornadoes, need to be developed in parallel with understanding of the relationship of human behavior to that information. Because forecast characteristics such as timeliness and accuracy have significant behavioral implications, there is a need to better understand the consequences of current and increased levels of forewarning. For example, does more forewarning necessarily reduce storm-related casualties and other social impacts, and how do population segments differ in their ability to make use of increased forewarning? Workshop participants identified a need for a better understanding of the ways in which decision makers and the general public interprets forecasts and warnings. There is also a need to identify the sensory, cognitive, and physical limitations of different population segments and to assess the implications of these limitations for receiving, interpreting, and acting on warnings. Better understanding of fundamental concepts such as community emergency preparedness (“What do communities and households need to do to become ‘weather ready'?”) is desirable, including the roles played by people's beliefs about hazard mitigation and risk perception. Workshop participants identified the need to develop a repository of better data on storm impacts to support the risk/cost/benefit analyses needed to support policy decisions. The workshop also concluded that behavioral research should better understand forecaster judgment and decision processes and how these processes differ across individuals and regions. Research is needed on the relationships among warning technologies in terms of their relative ability to provide consistent and compatible messages, as well as assessments of the economic value of current and alternative warning systems and the most cost-effective ways to disseminate that information. The participants strongly recommended that NOAA and NSF place an increased emphasis on the formation of interdisciplinary teams that address a variety of research needs. These and other recommendations arising from this very important workshop will be discussed at the symposium.

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