Weather and Society Watch
The Future is Now! Making the Most Out of Current Activities and Planned Initiatives to Accelerate the Integration of Social Science Information into Weather Forecasts and Warnings
Integration of Weather and Society: How Participants Each View the "Elephant in the Room"
In the early 1970's, the NWS Southern Region also integrated the work of Dr. B. F. McLuckie (Delaware University) and required all of its meteorologists to complete a course entitled, "Warning A Call To Action." The course (see http://www.srh.noaa.gov/ssd/techmemo/sr215.htm), taken via workbook at local offices, focused on improving the effectiveness of weather warnings. Simply put, it was no longer sufficient to tell people a tornado was coming. Instead, NWS forecasters had to provide actionable messages to gain the safety response they were eliciting.
People such as Neil Frank and Allen Pearson (directors of the National Hurricane Center and the now Storm Prediction Center, respectively) were among the many proponents of this approach. In fact, Neil Frank would often don the hat of an unsuspecting individual to assess societal perspectives concerning the warning and preparedness system. He used these in his many public talks about hurricane safety.
Many NWS forecasters and TV meteorologists also developed similar repertoires for their local area that keyed on societal and social impacts involved in warnings. Some "discoveries" included how people reconfirmed a weather emergency (going outside to look, calling a friend or family member) and even where people lived. It was at this time that "mobile homes" were recognized as a unique safety hazard; so, too, was the rule to "outrun a tornado by driving at right angles to this path." The Wichita Falls tornado of April 10, 1979, demonstrated the folly of the latter rule.
Then, later in the 1970's, while replying to Congressional correspondence, Mike Mogil (who was working at the NWS headquarters in Silver Spring) had an epiphany. Instead of simply replying to what was becoming a common request at the time, "Our community needs its own warning radar," Mogil decided to educate the congressional office and the local community on the integrated warnings approach that was evolving. Crafting a two-page reply that did not focus solely on overlapping radar coverage circles, he described the myriad of efforts underway to protect the community. At the time, these included, but were not limited to, a network of weather offices, Skywarn spotter training programs and spotter groups, satellite and radar observation systems, interactions with local officials and the media, NOAA Weather radio, awareness programs, safety literature and more. In fact, the staff member of the congressional office was quick to comment on how valuable the letter was in describing a complete NWS program.
The letter was not easy to craft because it involved talking with local and regional NWS officials, various program offices and others. But once it was developed, it easily became a framework for explaining the NWS' integrated warning system to others in Congress, the media and elsewhere.
The NWS wasn't alone in its efforts. TV meteorologists, a few social scientists and others laid the groundwork what would eventually become a march toward a fully multi-disciplinary approach to hazard mitigation. But, what was missing from these early efforts was a strong national support system. Efforts were more opportunistic and keyed on the efforts of a few individuals. It also involved transforming a mindset focused on meteorology or hydrology alone into one that recognized the importance of a multi-disciplinary approach to the warning problem.
Recent Efforts/Successes to Connect the Weather and Climate Enterprise with Society
Jennifer Lee, meteorologist, at the NOAA/NWS Huntsville, Ala. weather forecast office, presented an evaluation of the overall warning system based on two tornadic events near Huntsville. Her paper focused on decisions made by the NWS, the emergency management community, and other first responders during these two events, including the response to these decisions by the general public. While the decision support services provided by NWS Huntsville were important, the resulting action taken by the public was just as crucial. So, Lee further investigated these public actions along with other societal impacts pertaining to the two tornado events. Her findings included the need for improved situational awareness, better use of observing systems (e.g., Dual-Pol ARMOR radar located at the Huntsville International Airport), training for 911 operators on what exactly to ask a caller who has a storm report, and continued Integrated Warning Team (IWT) meetings to keep the lines of communication constantly open between the NWS, media, and emergency managers. If adopted, these actions will enhance future NWS decision support services, leading to improved public awareness and reaction to such life threatening weather events, not only in the Huntsville area, but nationwide.
In his presentation, "Estimating Potential Severe Weather Societal Impacts using Probabilistic Forecasts Issued by the NWS Storm Prediction Center (SPC)", SPC Director Russell Schneider, examined SPC severe weather forecasts from 2000 to present and the potential for estimating likely societal impacts when combined with high resolution population data derived from the 2000 U. S. census. One facet of the study was to examine the combination of severe hazard probability and population density as an integral measure of the likely societal impact on a given day. In addition, Russell contended that identification of key population density thresholds for more populated urban, urban and rural areas will allow additional quantification of the potential threat.
Specifically, the potential for catastrophic impacts due to a tornado in a population-rich urban area can be estimated through the combination of information on the threshold areal coverage and the forecast probability for tornadoes and strong tornadoes. Damage, injury and fatality data for historic severe weather events can be used to examine the statistical effectiveness of the societal impact estimates. His conclusion is that these efforts can be used to quantify the likelihood of major societal effects and can and should be used to translate SPC meteorological forecasts into parallel impact-based products.Although not a real-time operational product, the Northeast Snowfall Index Scale (NESIS) developed by Paul Kocin and Louis Uccellini (http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/snow-and-ice/nesis.php) integrates a similar approach to the impact of a major snowfall on northeast U.S. metropolitan areas.
Taking the Next Steps – Leveraging Recent Recommendations/Best Practices
The National Science Foundation (NSF) has plans to create a strategy to support the social sciences over the next decade. Myron Gutmann, assistant director for NSF's Directorate for Social, Behavioral and Economic Sciences, told those gathered for the a recent annual meeting of the American Sociological Association that this is an "unparalleled time" in terms of interest across the sciences in working with social scientists on some of the top issues of the day. While the NSF is best known for its support of work in the physical and computational sciences, it has long been a significant player in the social sciences, too, with close ties to academia. The agency funds tens of millions of dollars of research a year and supports everything from basic research by senior scholars to dissertation fellowships.
Where Do We Go from Here?
*Kenneth Carey (email@example.com) is a senior principal systems engineer for the Noblis Center for Sustainability.
**H. Michael "Mike" Mogil is a certified consulting meteorologist, certified broadcast meteorologist and founder of How the Weatherworks.
McLuckie, B.F., 1974: Warning-A Call to Action: Warning and Disaster Response- A Sociological Background. NWS Southern Region Headquarters, 85 pp.