AMS Forum: Environmental Risk and Impacts on Society: Successes and Challenges


Assessing the human experience of weather and climate: A further examination of weather salience

Alan E. Stewart, Univ. of Georgia, Athens, GA

This project describes the further development and validation of a psychological measurement tool, the Weather Salience Questionnaire (WxSQ) that assesses the extent to which people find the weather and climate to be salient to their lives. The author designed the WxSQ as a tool for use in research concerning the effects of weather and climate on individuals and societies.

The author presented his initial research on the WxSQ at the 2005 meeting of the American Meteorological Society (Stewart, 2005). The current project builds upon the initial research in several ways: 1. administration of the instrument to a different and larger sample of respondents, 2. further investigation and development of the instrument's items, and 3. correlation of the WxSQ total and sub scale scores with other existing measures to evaluate its validity.

In developing the WxSQ, the author created 53 statements that were intended to broadly assess peoples' weather/climate information-seeking behaviors, their use of information they directly observed from the atmosphere, the extent to which weather/climate affect their moods, their attachment and preference for particular weather conditions, their perceptions of weather changes and variability in weather, and the effects of weather changes on their activities of daily life. Each item was evaluated using a five-point rating scale that indicated the frequency of a weather-related behavior or degree of agreement with the statement. Five hundred and fifteen undergraduate students (126 men, 389 women) from the University of Georgia responded to the WxSQ, which was administered via the Internet.

As in Stewart (2005), 40 of the original 53 items were retained and used to create seven subscales. The factor analytic results obtained in present project were consistent with the factor structure of the WxSQ exhibited in the first study (i. e., Stewart, 2005). The subscales of the WxSQ and their values are:

1. Seeking weather/climate information from multiple media and electronic sources (10 items, α = .84) 2. Observing and noting atmospheric conditions directly (i. e., in person) (9 items, α = .78) 3. Effects of weather (and changes in the weather) on mood state (5 items, = .86) 4. Psychological attachment to particular weather/climate conditions (3 items, α = .83) 5. Need to observe or experience changes/variety in weather and climate (4 items, α = .64) 6. Seeking weather information during the possibility of a weather-related holiday (3 items, α = .74) 7. Effects of weather (and weather changes) on activities of daily life (e. g., work, travel) (4 items, α = .65)

These subscales can be summed to give an overall indication of the extent to which weather/climate are salient to people. Women (M = 138.27) obtained significantly higher total weather salience scores than men (M = 129.01), t (513) = 5.07, p < .0001. Women also reported significantly greater information seeking and weather/mood effects than did men (all p's < .0001).

To investigate the validity of the WxSQ, total scores on the measure were examined in the context of people's use of consumer weather instruments. The participants were asked to indicate whether they had a thermometer at their home, apartment, or dorm room that they used to check the temperature. It was expected that if the WxSQ was measuring information of practical importance or significance then people with instruments would report a greater degree of weather salience. As expected, the 71 people who owned thermometers (M = 143.87) reported significantly greater WxSQ total scores than people who did not, M = 134.54, F (1, 511) = 19.56, p < .0001 after controlling for the effects of gender.

Weather and climate salience also may have implications for activities such as driving or riding in a motor vehicle. In this regard, total weather salience scores were significantly associated with the frequency with which people consulted the media or internet to make a decision about whether or not to make a drive, r = .37, p < .0001. Respondents also were asked to indicate whether they had experienced a motor vehicle crash that they attributed to in whole or part to the prevailing weather conditions. In examining the effects of such crashes jointly with the effects of gender, women who experienced a weather-related motor vehicle crash reported significantly greater total weather salience (M =143.93) than women who did not have such a crash (M =138.02), F (1, 511) = 4.62, p = .03; male crash respondents did not exhibit such a difference in weather salience.

Finally, the respondents also completed the Environmental Identity Scale (EIS), which measures peoples' sense of connection with the natural, non-human environment (Clayton, 2003). The WxSQ total score (r = .28, p < .0001) and the WxSQ sub scale pertaining to sensing weather conditions directly and observing them (r = .34, p < .0001) were significantly associated with the EIS measure. The respondents completed Thompson and Barton's (1994) Environmental Attitudes Scale (EAS) that assesses ecocentricism (valuing the environment for its own sake), anthropocentricism (valuing the environment exclusively for its utility to humans), and apathy towards the environment and its issues. The WxSQ total score (r = .25, p < .0001) and the WxSQ sub scale pertaining to sensing weather conditions directly and observing them (r = .33, p < .0001) were significantly associated with the EAS-ecocentricism measure. No relationships were observed between the WxSQ and the other EAS scales.

The data of the present project replicated and extended the findings of Stewart (2005). The WxSQ exhibits promise for use in research that examines the human experience of weather and climate conditions and how these experiences may affect attitudes and behaviors on issues such as climate-change. It is also anticipated that the WxSQ may be useful to meteorologists, climatologists, environmental psychologists, and to decision/policy-makers who have an interest in investigating the nature and extent of peoples' use of weather and climate information. In summary, this project is particularly important because it suggests that people will seek and use weather and climate-related information to the extent that this aspect of the environment is salient to them.

extended abstract  Extended Abstract (140K)

wrf recording  Recorded presentation

Session 1, Hazards and disasters: Socioeconomic Impacts & the Decision making process: Part 1
Monday, 30 January 2006, 4:00 PM-5:15 PM, A311

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