6.4 Communicating a No Impact Forecast — When the "Why" Becomes Important

Tuesday, 9 January 2018: 12:00 AM
Ballroom D (ACC) (Austin, Texas)
Danielle Manning, NWS New Orleans/Baton Rouge, Slidell, LA; and K. Graham

Hurricane Irma proved to be challenging from a messaging perspective for many National Weather Service offices and broadcast meteorologists – including those along the central Gulf Coast where little to no impact was expected. Despite consistent, repetitive messages from both the National Weather Service and local broadcasters, comparisons to previous storms persisted, specifically those that had moved farther west than originally forecast. This resulted in a complex messaging problem for such a low risk situation in southeast Louisiana and coastal Mississippi.

Briefings and impacts messaging typically focus on answering the questions “what”, “when”, “where”, and “how much”. The answers to these questions are the foundation of most weather-related decisions. The science of “why” is usually thought to cloud messaging by adding unimportant details which contribute little or not at all to the decision making process.

However, when trying to maintain calm or diffuse unnecessary fears of “what if”, explaining why something won’t happen can be just as important as communicating the forecast itself. In the case of Irma’s lack of expected impacts across the central Gulf coast, the National Weather Service New Orleans/Baton Rouge Forecast Office made a conscious decision to add some science and “why” to the weather message in an effort to curb storm anxiety.

In the days following the introduction of the forecast reasoning behind Irma’s turn and thus the lack of expected impacts across the local area, the number of requested briefings and public phone calls noticeably decreased. In the end, adding the “why” helped clarify forecast confidence and ultimately aided in alleviating the concerns of many decision makers and citizens.

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