Examining the use of weather forecasts in decision scenarios: results from a US survey with implications for uncertainty communication



The hydrometeorological community has limited understanding of how people interpret forecast information and use it in decision making, hampering effective forecast communication. This article addresses these issues in the context of weather prediction, focusing especially on forecast uncertainty. It does so using empirical data from decision scenario questions asked in a nationwide US survey. Respondents were asked their probabilistic threshold for taking action to protect against potential rain or frost. They were then asked to make yes/no protective decisions in a potential reservoir flooding or fruit frost scenario given different forecasts. The results indicate that people have different probabilistic thresholds for taking protective action and that context and presentation influence forecast use. The results also suggest that many people infer uncertainty into deterministic forecasts, and that many respondents were able to interpret probabilistic forecasts of the type presented well enough to use them in the decision questions. Further, the analysis suggests that most respondents did not make decisions according to the simplest form of the cost-loss decision model. The analysis also examines relationships between respondents' information use and other aspects of their perceptions and interpretations of forecast uncertainty, including their interpretations of probability of precipitation. The findings add to fundamental knowledge about people's interpretations and use of weather forecasts, especially forecasts that explicitly convey uncertainty, and provide a starting point for future related work using survey and experimental approaches. Copyright © 2010 Royal Meteorological Society