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The Effect of Proximity to Hurricanes Katrina and Rita on Subsequent Hurricane Outlook and Optimistic Bias


Craig Trumbo, Department of Journalism and Technical Communication, Colorado State University, C-229 Clark Building, Fort Collins, CO 80523-1785, USA;


This study evaluated how individuals living on the Gulf Coast perceived hurricane risk after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. It was hypothesized that hurricane outlook and optimistic bias for hurricane risk would be associated positively with distance from the Katrina-Rita landfall (more optimism at greater distance), controlling for historically based hurricane risk and county population density, demographics, individual hurricane experience, and dispositional optimism. Data were collected in January 2006 through a mail survey sent to 1,375 households in 41 counties on the coast (n = 824, 60% response). The analysis used hierarchal regression to test hypotheses. Hurricane history and population density had no effect on outlook; individuals who were male, older, and with higher household incomes were associated with lower risk perception; individual hurricane experience and personal impacts from Katrina and Rita predicted greater risk perception; greater dispositional optimism predicted more optimistic outlook; distance had a small effect but predicted less optimistic outlook at greater distance (model R2= 0.21). The model for optimistic bias had fewer effects: age and community tenure were significant; dispositional optimism had a positive effect on optimistic bias; distance variables were not significant (model R2= 0.05). The study shows that an existing measure of hurricane outlook has utility, hurricane outlook appears to be a unique concept from hurricane optimistic bias, and proximity has at most small effects. Future extension of this research will include improved conceptualization and measurement of hurricane risk perception and will bring to focus several concepts involving risk communication.