Flood Risk and Uncertainty: Assessing the NWS' Flood Forecast and Warning Tools

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Monday, 3 February 2014: 2:00 PM
Georgia Ballroom 2 (The Georgia World Congress Center )
Rachel Hogan Carr, Nurture Nature Center, Easton, PA; and B. E. Montz

A significant body of social science research has examined ways to motivate people to prepare for natural hazards, as well as the various ways in which people respond to warning messages. In partnership with the National Weather Service, Nurture Nature Center, a non-profit organization with a focus on flood education, is undertaking a study of NWS' flood watch and warning tools to apply some of this understanding in a practical context. Specifically, this project has two primary research questions: 1) How do people living in the Delaware River Basin understand and use NWS products and services in understanding their flood risk? 2) What strategies are important for NWS to consider in preparing/revising its flood forecast and warning products to better motivate flood preparedness and warning response among rural and urban public audiences in the Delaware River Basin?

The interdisciplinary research team is working with NWS partners including the Middle Atlantic River Forecast Center (MARFC) and the weather forecast offices from Philadelphia/Mt. Holly, NJ and Binghamton, NY. The team has created a hypothetical storm scenario akin to the flood of record in the Delaware River Basin, and through a series of focus groups is testing how public audiences in the urban city of Easton, Pennsylvania and the more rural community of Lambertville, NJ respond to and understand the flood forecast and warning products associated with such an event. These include: the Advanced Hydrologic Prediction Service, including its hydrograph and flood inundation mapping tools; flood outlooks, watches and warnings; and the MARFC's new MMEFS ensemble forecast system.

The first focus groups were held in June, 2013 and centered on identifying how people gather information about flood events and how they interpret the various graphical and tabular products the NWS issues during impending flood events. Among other findings, the results indicate a preference for hydrographs and for location-specific information. Based on participant feedback, as well as understandings from previous social science research, the project team will create a second scenario with revised tools and products, and will re-test these on a second round of participants in Easton, PA and Lambertville, NJ, late in 2013. A website for the project, http://socialscience.focusonfloods.org,will include the final videos, reports and educational materials.