Is This Thing On? The Role of Broadcast Meteorologists as Risk Communicators of Severe Weather Preparedness: 10 Years after Hurricane Katrina

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Sunday, 4 January 2015
Tyra L. Brown, NOAA/NWS, Silver Spring, MD

Handout (9.8 MB)

Ten years ago the role of the television broadcast meteorologist changed forever. As a weather media event, Hurricane Katrina forced the evolution of weather forecasting from a function of dissemination and translation of scientific information to a critical construct within the risk communication process. The convergence of meteorology and media creates a complex landscape from which the weather story must be told with accuracy and reliability within the constraints of an editorial environment while using language and visual aids to address competing priorities and audience needs in a balanced manner. Despite the growing, vase expanse of weather information available to the public, television news remains the number one source for severe weather information for most of the U.S. population. Hence, what one learns about weather disasters and how to plan or prepare for them comes from the media. The broadcast meteorologist then becomes one of the most effective risk communicators to inform public education of emergency preparedness.

Although weather forecasting accuracy has improved and information about potentially hazardous weather can be found across multiple media communication channels, overall individual preparedness in America remains largely unchanged since 2007. The popular notion that accurate weather forecasting will lead to improved individual preparedness and more resilient communities is inaccurate, especially in cases of high-impact events such as hurricanes. In contrast, this research posits that individuals' perceptions and attitudes toward weather emergencies may be most influenced by the media coverage of the event. On-air television meteorologists are the most trusted source of continuous weather information for the public and have the unique ability to communicate weather warnings as well as the recommended protective actions to mitigate associated hazards. Adequate preparation for high impact weather emergencies requires an on-going planning process that involves understanding the threat, having knowledge of vulnerabilities toward the hazard, and access to resources to minimize the risks. Broadcast meteorologists are optimally positioned for the social amplification of preparedness messaging.

This poster presentation examines how the complex sequencing of television weather forecasting coverage within a risk communication framework over the six-day formation of Hurricane Katrina from a tropical depression to landfall influences protective actions.

Research Stage: dissertation proposal

Research Theme: Weather, Society, Disaster Preparedness