733 A Conceptual Model of Tornado Risk Communication

Tuesday, 9 January 2018
Exhibit Hall 3 (ACC) (Austin, Texas)
Samuel J. Childs, Colorado State Univ., Fort Collins, CO; and R. S. Schumacher

Tornadoes are one of the most intriguing weather phenomena for professionals and the public alike, yet they are also one of the most challenging to predict and forecast. Arguably an even greater challenge is the communication of tornado warnings and risk. A recent case study analysis of cold-season tornadoes by the author developed a survey instrument for assessing factors that present barriers to communication as well as gauging the professional perception of local public vulnerabilities. This survey was deployed to National Weather Service meteorologists, broadcast meteorologists, and emergency managers in four cases of major tornado events during winter 2016-2017, and a content analysis of responses received arrived at the creation of a conceptual model for tornado risk communication. This conceptual model can be applied to tornadoes as a whole, as well as potentially other severe weather hazards. In fact, many of the aspects of risk communication found are consistent with other analyses, but here the risk factors have been organized into a model which can be used by decision-makers. Specifically, four main factors are identified which relate to the two major themes of barriers to communication and public vulnerability. The first factor of public receptivity is fleshed out in how the public attains and responds to tornado risk and warning information. Education and availability of technology affect one’s receptivity, while a “me-centered” attitude that desires to know exactly when and where a tornado will strike hampers effective communication. A second factor is technology. With so many different media outlets in today’s world, a professional must gauge the most effective methods for getting the tornado risk across, while the public in turn must be knowledgeable of and have access to these forms of technology for effective communication. There are also many unreliable sources of weather information which the unsuspecting or apathetic person may be prone to believe, thereby making that person more vulnerable. Thirdly, and closely related to technology, is the consistency of the tornado risk message being emitted. There is a desire throughout the meteorological and emergency management communities to make warning messages, graphics and color schemes, and rating scales more uniform across offices and regions. When the public is inundated with conflicting tornado information, there is a risk for apathy and increased vulnerability. Finally, a fourth factor is that of uncertainty. Tornadoes are hard to predict, both before they form and after they are on the ground. Uncertainties in the meteorology hamper communication of specific risks, since discrete supercellular tornadoes are known to be of greater risk than tornadoes spawned from linear systems. Another uncertainty lies in the timing of the tornado event. In particular, when a tornado occurs in the overnight hours, the public is more vulnerable and must rely on aural alerts to make them aware of the risk. Actual quotes from professionals who participated in the survey instrument will be presented to affirm these four factors. The conceptual model has potential to be of great value to communicators as they engage in sending tornado risk messages to the public and ultimately arrive at the goal of saving more lives.
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