Introduction & Literature Review:
Naming hurricanes and tropical systems is a practice which has been successfully utilized for more than half a century, with the National Hurricane Center (today in conjunction with the World Meteorological Organization) employing six unique lists of alphabetical names for the Atlantic hurricane season (Tropical Cyclone Names, n.d.). Initially, storms were named for ease in spoken communication with ships and other coastal entities that required the information, rather than providing latitude and longitude information. More recently, social media and new technology advances have created a process for which naming storms allows for a streamlined access to information, such as using a hashtag on Twitter. After a 2011 Halloween storm impacted the East coast and was dubbed “Snowtober,” the Weather Channel (TWC) began reviewing the public safety impact and awareness of storm naming, in addition to naming storms starting in 2012 (Palmer, 2013).
To examine public perception of naming storms and the credibility of TWC as a weather information source, this study drew from the constructs of The Health Belief Model (HBM) and source credibility. HBM is a framework that has been utilized in a variety of health, risk, and environmental communication contexts (Becker, 1974), including recycling (Lindsay & Strathman, 1997) and climate change (Semenza et al., 2011; Rainear & Christensen, under review). The two HBM constructs used for this study are perceived susceptibility and perceived severity. Perceived susceptibility is the appraisal of one’s vulnerability to a specific risk; perceived severity is the one’s appraisal of the seriousness of a specific risk (Janz & Becker, 1984). Similarly, source credibility is the image or attitude which an individual holds toward another individual or organization (McCroskey & Teven, 1999).
As prior research examining storm names from a social science perspective is scarce, the following hypotheses were proposed based on the theoretical concepts forwarded above. Specifically, we hypothesized that participants who are exposed to Zelus storm message will report lower perceived TWC source credibility than those who are exposed to the control message or the Bill storm message (H1). In addition, we also hypothesize that those who view the Bill storm message will report higher perceived severity of winter storms and greater perceived susceptibility toward being impacted by winter storms (H2).
Participants (N=407) were recruited in April 2015. All participants were undergraduate students enrolled at a large public university in the Northeastern United States with a mean age of 19.2 (SD=1.15). Students consented to participation after reading an IRB-approved information sheet prior to answering questions. First, participants reported their general media usage and how often they checked the weather forecast, before being randomly assigned to one of three experimental conditions. The three conditions included a control condition with no storm name, a condition with a common European name (Bill; drawn from a National Hurricane Center list), and a condition using a winter storm name from a recent TWC name list (Zelus; TWC 2014-2015 winter storm name list). Participants in the control condition were exposed to a mock Tweet posted by TWC, which read: “Up to 1 FOOT of #SNOW for parts of New England as the Winter Storm tracks NE this weekend. Expect travel delays.” Participants in the two named conditions saw a mock Tweet posted by TWC which read: “Up to 1 FOOT of #SNOW for parts of New England as Winter Storm [“#Bill” or “#Zelus”] tracks NE this weekend. Expect travel delays.”
After exposure to one of the conditions, participants then indicated their thoughts of the storm name by responding to the statement “I think the name [Bill/Zelus] presents something that is…” using seven paired adjectives (e.g. ridiculous vs. reasonable, unrealistic vs. realistic) anchored on a 7-point semantic differential scale. Additionally, to assess the source credibility, evaluated 18 adjective pairs on a 7-point semantic differential scale, which measured three dimensions of source credibility – trustworthiness, goodwill, and competence – adapted from McCroskey and Teven (1999). Specifically, participants were asked to respond to the statement, “Please indicate your impression of TWC by circling the appropriate number between the pairs of adjectives below,” to assess the three source credibility dimensions. In addition, two constructs of the HBM were measured in context of winter storms. Participants indicated how much they disagree or agree on a 7-point Likert scale with two separate sets of four winter-storm related, which were respectively merged and then averaged to create “perceived severity” and “perceived susceptibility” variables. Participants also answered a set of demographic questions before being thanked for their participation.
Preliminary Results & Conclusions:
To examine the two proposed hypotheses, analysis of variance tests (ANOVA) were conducted across the three experimental conditions. While the two hypotheses were not supported, interesting results did emerge from this exploratory study. There were no significant differences in any of the three source credibility factors across conditions. Though not statistically significant, those who were in the control condition (M=2.99, SD=1.12) seemed to manifest greater trustworthiness toward TWC [F (2,407) = 1.74, n.s.], compared to the Bill (M=2.83, SD=1.06) and Zelus condition (M=2.93, SD=1.18). Similar non-statistically significant results emerged for goodwill [F (2, 407) = 1.85, n.s.], with the control condition appeared to have the highest goodwill toward TWC (M=3.66, SD=.86) compared to the Bill message (M=3.50, SD=.97) and Zelus message (M=3.55, SD=.96). Finally, the control condition (M=2.75, SD=1.10), without statistical significance, also reported greater perceived competence in TWC [F (2,407) = 1.01, n.s.], compared to the Bill (M=2.66, SD=1.07) and the Zelus condition (M=2.63, SD=1.11).
Those who were in the control condition reported, without statistical significance, the lowest perceived severity (M=4.66, SD=.98) of winter storms [F (2,405) = .36, n.s.], compared to those who were in the Bill (M=4.73, SD=1.08) and the Zelus condition (M=4.70, SD=1.12). The susceptibility variable provided different results [F (2,405) = 2.04, n.s.], with those in the Bill condition (M=4.94, SD=1.09) reporting, without statistical significance, the strongest perceived susceptibility toward winter storms, compared to those in the control (M=4.85, SD=1.09) and the Zelus condition (M=4.77, SD=1.18). In addition, implications for naming winter storms will be discussed.