Weather-Ready Nation Program
The accessibility of information during severe weather is crucial for ensuring the safety of all individuals. In response to the fatalities caused by tornadoes in 2011, the Weather-Ready Nation (WRN) program was established by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The WRN program aims to enhance the coordination and communication of severe weather information to the government, emergency management, media, and partners. The goal is to bridge the gap between the conveyed message and the decisions made by governmental bodies, emergency response teams, media organizations, and associated stakeholders.
To achieve this, the National Weather Service (NWS) implemented the WRN Model to generate Impact-Based Decision Support Services (IDSS) for extreme weather events. IDSS offers valuable insight before, during, and after such events, enhancing the NWS’s forecasts and warnings. Historical context is used to establish relevance, along with real-time decision-making support to governmental entities and affiliated partners.
In 2017, Congress passed the Weather Act to direct NOAA to assess the impacts of social and behavioral science on the message communicated to the public, core partners, and vulnerable populations. The question posed was whether the public understands the risks being communicated and respond appropriately to dangerous weather and water events.
Demographics of Severe Weather Communication
How do different racial and socioeconomic groups in the United States receive, understand, and respond to severe weather information? The unequal distribution of life-saving information can have adverse effects for those who are especially vulnerable to extreme weather and water-related events, including historically marginalized and underserved communities.
According to a new study that was authored by three NOAA scientists and a member of the Coast Guard, (Smith, Ten Hoeve, Lauer, and Brown, 2023) in Weather, Climate and Society, there are “statistically significant differences across racial and socioeconomic groups for a wide range of outcomes.” The study looked at data from the University of Oklahoma’s annual online Severe Weather and Society Survey and the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) annual National Household Survey.
Measuring the Success of the WRN model
Three intermediate indicators were used to measure the success of the WRN model: how well the public is informed, how prepared they are before an event, and whether they took appropriate action once an event occurred. From these indicators, the study was able to identify gaps in severe weather understanding, reception, and response related to different racial and socioeconomic groups.
The study found that across the University of Oklahoma and FEMA datasets, “low-income, minority, and other vulnerable populations report more perceived exposure to weather-related hazards. They report less trust in the NWS and are less likely to seek information about hazardous weather from government sources. Many of these subgroups also had lower subjective and objective comprehension of severe weather warnings.”
Severe Weather Risk and Trust
With the perceived exposure to risks, Black respondents felt more at risk for extreme heatwaves, extreme rainstorms, floods, tornadoes, and hurricanes than White respondents. Asians reported a lower perceived risk for extreme heatwaves and rainstorms, but a higher risk for droughts. Hispanics report significantly higher levels of perceived risk than non-Hispanics for every severe weather category except tornadoes.
There are significantly lower levels of trust in the NWS with Black, Asian, and Hispanic respondents compared to White respondents though they ranked their risk for severe weather higher. There is also higher trust in friends and family for Black and Hispanic respondents than in White and non-Hispanic respondents.
Informing the Public
How do different groups receive weather information? Black respondents rely more on information from local TV, cell phone, and national TV and are less likely to use non-government websites than White respondents. Asians are less likely to seek information from national TV, friends, and family than White respondents. Hispanics are more likely to use weather information from every source than non-Hispanics.
A vital component of the NWS WRN is a well-informed public so that everyone can assess their risk of severe weather appropriately and prepare to respond. Examining this component can inform future targeted interventions by NOAA and the broader weather enterprise to strengthen each link in the chain between an accurate forecast and beneficial societal outcomes.
By addressing racial and socioeconomic differences in severe weather understanding, reception, and response, we can create a Weather-Ready Nation for everyone. A society that protects lives and property while growing more resilient and equitable.
The NWS is cultivating relationships with communities and community organizations to increase the local availability of products and services. For example, it has a network of Spanish-speaking volunteers who provide information on preparedness and forecasts in Spanish. Through its Warning Coordination Meteorologists, NWS has also established strong connections with Pacific Island nations and urban homeless residents.
Establishing trust between historically marginalized and underserved communities and the NWS requires a cultural shift that prioritizes community engagement. Effective communication requires a thorough understanding of the characteristics, perspectives, and unique needs of each community, thereby improving the reception and response to risk messages and amplifying the societal benefits of NWS investments.