5.1 Major Risks, Uncertain Outcomes: Making Ensemble Forecasts Work for Multiple Audiences

Tuesday, 9 January 2018: 1:30 PM
Ballroom E (ACC) (Austin, Texas)
Burrell E. Montz, East Carolina Univ., Greenville, NC; and R. H. Carr, K. Semmens, K. Maxfield, P. R. Ahnert, R. Shedd, and J. C. Elliott

When extreme river levels are possible in a community, effective communication of weather and hydrologic forecasts is critical to protect life and property. Residents, emergency personnel, and water resource managers need to make timely decisions about how and when to prepare. Uncertainty in forecasting is a critical component of this decision-making, but often poses a confounding factor for public and professional understanding of forecast products.

In 2016 and 2017, building on previous research about the use of uncertainty forecast products, and with funding from NOAA’s CSTAR program, East Carolina University and Nurture Nature Center (a non-profit organization with a focus on flooding issues, based in Easton, Pennsylvania) conducted a research project to understand how various audiences use and interpret ensemble forecasts showing a range of hydrologic forecast possibilities. These audiences include community residents, emergency managers and water resource managers.

The research team held focus groups in Jefferson County, WV and Frederick County, MD, to test a new suite of products from the National Weather Service’s Hydrologic Ensemble Forecast System (HEFS). HEFS is an ensemble system that provides short and long-range forecasts, ranging from 6 hours to 1 year, showing uncertainty in hydrologic forecasts. The goal of the study was to assess the utility of the HEFS products, identify the barriers to proper understanding of the products, and suggest modifications to product design that could improve the understandability and accessibility for residential, emergency managers, and water resource managers.

The research team worked with the Sterling, VA Weather Forecast Office (WFO) and the Middle Atlantic River Forecast center to develop a weather scenario as the basis of the focus group discussions, which also included pre and post session surveys. This presentation will share the findings from those focus group discussions and the participant surveys, including recommendations for revisions to HEFS products to improve accessibility of the forecast tools for various audiences. The presentation will provide a broad perspective on the range of graphic design considerations that affected how participants responded to products and will provide an overview of lessons learned about how product design can influence decision-making by users.

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