Moving beyond “Have you experienced a tornado?”: Validly measuring people's past tornado experiences and risk perceptions

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Tuesday, 6 January 2015: 8:30 AM
226AB (Phoenix Convention Center - West and North Buildings)
Julie L. Demuth, NCAR, Boulder, CO

People's perceptions of and responses to severe weather, including tornadoes, is influenced by many factors other than the weather forecast and warning information they receive. One key factor that has not been systematically investigated is the influence of individuals' past tornado experiences. Severe weather is common enough that it offers people opportunities to build reservoirs of experiences about the forecasts, conditions, and impacts of the event. Such experiences can be acquired directly by one's personal participation in an event or indirectly by learning about others' experiences. Although past experience has been examined in many studies of weather hazards, researchers have measured it in inconsistent and simplistic ways. Thus, key dimensions of past hazard experiences are not known. A related research gap is that people's risk perceptions of tornadoes is not well understood, despite the wealth of risk perception theory that can be brought to bear in this context. As a result of both research gaps, it is not validly known how one's experiences relate to their perceptions of future risks.

This presentation will discuss an effort to (a) develop a scale to validly measure past experience in the context of tornado risks, (b) apply and evaluate a set of dual process—i.e., cognitive and affective—risk perception measures to the tornado context, and (c) explore the relationship between people's tornado experiences and risk perceptions. Initial items were developed to measure past tornado experience, and they were evaluated through a mixed-mode survey of the public who live throughout the tornado-prone central United States. Open-ended survey questions also were included to elicit aspects of people's past tornado experiences in their own words. This presentation will discuss the exploratory factor analysis of the close-ended items and the qualitative data analysis of the open-ended questions. Combined, these analyses help begin to understand the nature and dimensions of people's past experiences. Then, the relationship between people's past experiences and their tornado risk perceptions will be discussed. Findings from this research have the potential to inform tornado warning risk communication, which could enhance people's future decision-making and protective responses.