3A.5 No Safe Place: Forecaster Challenges and Public Vulnerability During a Series of Tornadic Storms in the Southeastern United States

Monday, 8 January 2018: 3:15 PM
Ballroom F (ACC) (Austin, Texas)
Jen Henderson, CIRES, Boulder, CO; and J. L. Demuth, H. Lazrus, R. E. Morss, and J. Vickery

Tornado threats are dynamic. Whether tornadoes will occur, where, when, and of what intensity are all factors that evolve over the days and hours before they form. Moreover, improved meteorological knowledge and forecast skill coupled with new information technologies, including social media, has resulted in an increasingly large volume of risk information available when tornadoes threaten. Because tornado threats and risk communication about them are dynamic, so too are people’s tornado-related vulnerabilities, risk perceptions, and responses. These issues are particularly salient in the southeastern U.S., where factors, such as tornadoes that occur at night and “off season” in fall and winter and the limited predictive skill, can make effectively communicating the risks more challenging. These forecast and communication challenges can exacerbate the risks faced by populations in the region, especially those with physical and social vulnerabilities to tornadoes. Based on results from a project in the social sciences for VORTEX Southeast, this presentation highlights National Weather Service communications and strategies developed around few small communities in Georgia that were devastated by a series of cool season tornadoes in January 2017. Based on interviews with NWS forecasters and broadcast meteorologists, and an analysis of Facebook feeds from both groups, this presentation will examine expert strategies for communicating spatiotemporal information in a highly uncertain, multiple day weather event. It will also preview preliminary findings from parallel work based on interviews with and Twitter analysis of people affected by these same storms to reveal how responses evolve dynamically with a tornado threat and how these interact with evolving risk information and vulnerabilities.
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