7.4A Factors Influencing the Usefulness of the NWS Website Radar Display

Wednesday, 10 January 2018: 9:15 AM
Ballroom F (ACC) (Austin, Texas)
Kevin D. Ash, NCAR, Boulder, CO; and M. E. Saunders, J. Collins, and C. H. Paxton

Weather radar is now widely viewed by the general public in the United States (US) via television, computers, tablets, and smartphones. Any individual with access to the internet can consult near real-time maps and animations of weather radar data when weather conditions are a factor. However, the value of weather radar data for each user depends on a complex interaction of factors. Thus far, there have been few studies providing conceptual arguments and empirical data to better understand what the most important factors are, and to comprehend prominent patterns of public weather radar use in the daily lives of US residents. The purpose of this research is twofold; the first goal is to provide a basic conceptual framework for research investigating the value of weather radar displays as both a general source of weather information and a decision aid widely available to a range of publics and professionals. The second goal is to uncover several factors that are of significant national and regional importance for the perceived usefulness of the US National Weather Service (NWS) website’s weather radar displays.

The conceptual framework for this research is a recursive process incorporating concepts from geography, meteorology, sociology, psychology, risk analysis, risk communication, and human factors and ergonomics. A user of weather radar must first be motivated to seek such information, have access to the desired information, comprehend the information as presented via the display, and finally reach a conclusion about the value of the information in relation to situational factors that initially motivated the information seeking process. Thus, the perceived usefulness of a display will theoretically increase when a user is motivated to seek out radar data, has access to the data, comprehends the geographic and meteorological patterns in the display, and applies information to accomplish her/his goals.

The analysis portion of this research uses the above conceptual framework to contextualize the findings. We analyze the 2014 NWS Customer Satisfaction Survey to reveal significant individual, geographic, and climatological factors which influence the perceived usefulness of the NWS website interactive radar display. Geographically, higher usefulness ratings of the NWS weather radar display are clustered in the lower Mississippi River valley and in portions of Oklahoma and Kansas. Lower usefulness ratings are concentrated mainly in the western US from northern California to Washington and eastward into Idaho and Montana. Nationally, the most significant factors explaining radar display usefulness ratings are related to individuals’ comprehension of meteorological and geographic information through familiarity with the NWS mission and its hazardous weather products, as well as its credibility in providing actionable information. Interestingly, women rated the radar display more useful than did men, which is likely related to a greater propensity to seek and heed risk information.

Geographic and climatological factors related to information seeking motivation and access were likewise significant predictors of radar display usefulness. Respondents from locations within range of more NWS radars, as well as those who live closer to the nearest NWS radar, rated radar displays as more useful. Additionally, survey participants living in places with higher average annual lightning flash rates rated the NWS radar display as more useful, whereas those living where annual precipitation is higher found the radar display to be less useful. These findings explain the relatively lower usefulness of radar in the northwestern US where the radar network is sparser and where non-convective precipitation is common.

The conceptual framework and modeling results of this research represent an important first step for understanding the value of weather radar data not just for professional applications, but for any individual seeking and interpreting weather radar.

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