Hazard Simplification Project set to change communication of weather warnings

GREENVILLE, N.C. (WNCT) – The National Weather Service is using social science to improve how you receive weather advisories, watches, and warnings. Social science studies suggest that people may not be getting the message under the current format. Burrell Montz, professor and chair of ECU’s Department of Geography, Planning, and Environment, studies how people interpret and react to weather information.

“There’s all kinds of work going on in the National Weather Service, to their credit, to make sure that what they’re putting out is sensitive to the public’s needs and that they’ll actually respond to it,” says Montz.

The Hazards Simplification Project is an effort to simply the current watch warning system so people will respond. It’s been in development for several years but we may now be getting our first taste of what’s to come. Recent risk communication research suggests that a 3 or 5 color system may be more effective than the current system at communicating risk. A relatively new automated warning graphic now depicts all warnings with red polygons, not just tornado warnings like in the past. Some are concerned this may cause even more confusion, but the social science suggests otherwise.

“Perhaps during peak tornado season, people are gonna see that as a tornado warning but in winter I doubt so much that they will,” says Montz.

A final prototype that will be tested against the current system is expected sometime next year.

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