HOW NORTHEAST INDIANA AND NORTHWEST OHIO RESIDENTS INTERPRET METEOROLOGICAL TERMINOLOGY AND SERVICES THROUGH NOAA WEATHER RADIO

 

 

Jonathan P. Racy(1)
National Weather Service Office
LaCrosse, Wisconsin

 

 

 I. INTRODUCTION

The National Weather Service (NWS) in Fort Wayne, IN (FWA) conducted two NOAA Weather Radio (NWR) surveys during the autumn of 1994 via stations WXJ-58 and WXM-98. These stations cover Northeast Indiana and Northwest Ohio. The first survey conducted in October 1994 yielded more than 250 responses. During November, a second and more detailed written survey was mailed to a number of people who participated in the first survey.

The detailed survey was formed to examine how the public interprets some commonly used meteorological terms used on NWR. The NWS uses NWR to relay weather information to a variety of users. Therefore, it is important to maintain a quality NWR program by making use of terminology understood by every listener. The purpose of this study is to discuss the November 1994 survey and the compiled results.

 II. METHODOLOGY

A short verbal survey was broadcasted over NWR during the early morning and late evening hours for a two-week period in October 1994 (Figure 1). It was assumed that these were the peak listening hours for most of our listeners. Five questions were presented with a request that their answers be written down on a postcard and sent to the FWA NWS office. Also, listeners were also asked to indicate if they would like to participate in a longer written survey.

During November 1994, a written 28-question survey was mailed to 150 people. This survey consisted of questions about NWS terminology and space for additional comments.

 III. RESULTS

There were 250 responses to the survey broadcasted over NWR in October 1994. The consensus showed a high degree of satisfaction with the programming. There were 150 listeners that requested the written survey.

Eighty-two surveys were returned out of the 150 written surveys mailed. A map depicting the Fort Wayne NWS county warning area can be found in Figure 2 with the number of responses per county indicated in the lower right-hand corner of the respective county. For this study, only 70 surveys out of the 82 received were used as the remaining 12 surveys contained incomplete answers. However, they did have some useful comments regarding our NWR program.

Questions on the survey were modeled closely after the Krenz and Evans 1993 study conducted in Sheridan, Wyoming. In our study, the questions were divided up into one of nine categories with each category representing terminology found in NWS products. The following discussion will break down each group of questions and highlight the results. For a thorough review, survey questions and the results are in the Appendix. Terminology and numerical definitions were taken from the Weather Service Operations Manual, Part C, Chapter 11 (WSOM C-11).

The first couple of questions addressed terminology used to describe the state of the sky (Figure 3). The least liked descriptive term was, "variable clouds." Some listeners noted that they had a difficult time planning for expected sunshine with that particular term. The term "increasing cloud" was popular. The terminology of high and low clouds was satisfactory, perhaps due to some aviators participating in the survey. Due to the great variability regarding sky coverage responses (Figure 4), it was concluded that the term "partly sunny" and "partly cloudy" gave some listeners trouble.


 

NOAA WEATHER RADIO SURVEY

 

To provide you with the best service, the National Weather Service at Fort Wayne is conducting a survey about our weather radio programming. In a moment, I will ask five questions that require a short answer.

This survey will be played on the air until October 20. So, if you miss all the questions this time, they will be repeated in the next cycle.

Please send your answers and comments to:

National Weather Service
Room 201
Fort Wayne International Airport
Fort Wayne, IN 46809

Here are the questions:

I appreciate your time and help with this survey. Also, a longer written survey is being put together. If you would like to participate in this survey, please enclose your mailing address. You will be sent one when it is completed.

Thanks again.

 

Figure 1. The broadcasted NWR survey conducted in October 1994. More than 250 people responded to this survey. A high degree of satisfaction was noted from the comments received


 

The next series of questions (questions 3-6) were formed to get an idea of how temperature ranges are interpreted by the public (Figure 5). Nearly 76 percent of the listeners preferred a five-degree temperature range. Krenz and Evans 1993 found similar results.

Questions 7-11 emphasized precipitation terminology. Most people (59%) preferred both a percentage term and a descriptive term in the NWS forecast (Figure 6). The remainder of the group preferred a percentage term only. When looking at how people viewed the percentage chances versus descriptive terms, some interesting results can be derived (Figure 7). The term with the most drastic difference between public interpretation and the intended meaning was, "periods of showers." Seventy-six percent of the listeners agreed that this implied a 50 percent, or less, chance of rain. Other contrasting variability was found with the terms "occasional showers" and "showers." Most people believed that their location would see rain when the forecast called for a 30-50 percent chance (Figure 8). In question 10, 83 percent of the people agreed that when "showers likely" is highlighted in a forecast, rain is going to fall at their locale as opposed to terms like "a few showers" or "some showers."

Figure 2 . Map depicting the listening areas of NWR WXJ-58 and WXM-98. The number in the lower right-hand corner of each county is the number of responses received. The shaded area is the County Warning area for the FWA NWS.

Figure 3 . Percentage of responses versus NWS sky cover terms.

Figure 4 . NWS sky coverage terms versus response of actual fractal cloud cover.

Figure 5 . NWS temperature categories versus given temperature ranges.

Figure 6 . Responses for given question stated above respective pie chart.

Figure 7 . Percentage of response - NWS precipitation terminology versus probability of precipitation.

Figure 8 . Thresholds (in % chance of precipitation) needed for the survey respondents to believe precipitation will occur.

When it came to precipitation amounts, more than 75 percent of listeners indicated that flurries or sprinkles yield no more than a trace of water. Snowfall questions were much more interesting. Eighty-one percent of the listeners stated that 3-6 inches of snow was significant. By comparing the location of each participant to the answer they provided in Question 12, some intriguing conclusions were gathered. Residents that circled a higher snow amount for significant accumulations lived north of FWA in favored lake effect snow areas. By contrast, people living in the southern tier of the listening area circled a lesser amount. Annual snowfall ranges from 15 to 20 inches south of FWA to nearly 40 inches along the Michigan border (Baldwin, 1973).

In the FWA area, there are many hot air balloon and agricultural pilots that request wind data. Questions 13 and 14 were asked to learn what numerical wind values were considered as "windy" and "breezy." The answers showed that the public interprets wind values differently than the NWS (Figure 9). For instance, when the term "breezy" is used in a forecast, the WSOM guidelines state that the wind velocity must be in the 15-25 mph range. The vast majority of our listeners picked wind speeds in the 5 to 15 mph or 10 to 20 mph range as breezy. Likewise, most of the respondents considered the term "windy" as 15-25 mph. The NWS considers 20-30 mph as windy. Similar results were seen in the Sheriden, Wyoming study by Krenz and Evans 1993.

Figure 9 . Responses for perceived wind speeds versus "breezy" and "windy."

The next set of questions were developed to discover if the public could make a distinction between weather phenomena influenced by the wind. Firstly, most of the listeners believed there is a difference between blowing and drifting snow (Figure 10). Question 16 was probably the most interesting question out of this set. The intent of the question was to make a distinction between "brisk" and "breezy," knowing that the latter generally is reserved for warm season situations by NWS forecasters. Seventy-six percent stated that "mostly cloudy with brisk winds" and "mostly cloudy and breezy" are different (Figure 11). Many believed that the wind speed played a part while only 23 percent thought these terms were different because of temperature (Figure 11).

Figure 10 . Responses for a perceived difference between blowing and drifting snow.

Figure 11a . Responses for a perceived difference between brisk and breezy.

Figure 11b . Element that was perceived different between brisk and breezy.

Seasonal terms such as wind chill and heat index were very popular with the public in Northeast Indiana and Northwest Ohio. Only two people disliked the mention of wind chill in a forecast. The majority of the participants liked the idea of having a heat index in the summertime forecast (Figure 12).

Figure 12 . Preference for heat index or wind chill inclusion into the forecast.

Question 19 was developed to find out what forecast elements rank highest and lowest seasonally (Figure 13). During both seasons (winter and summer), temperature and precipitation ranked the most important. Cloud cover and wind direction were least important to our listeners.

Figure 13 . Sensible weather elements versus importance to survey participants for summer and winter seasons. "1" indicates most preferred element while "5" is least important element (not shown.)

A difficult issue to convey to the public is reference times. To illustrate, questions 20-25 asked for the listener's interpretations of "morning," "afternoon," and "evening." The term "morning" was the most varied of all time references. The top answer was in the 12:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. period. The next most popular choice was 5:00 a.m. to Noon was with 4:00 a.m. to Noon next in line. About 80 percent believe this term to be the same year round. The term "afternoon" for most is from Noon to 5:00 p.m. This term is the same for all seasons to 83 percent of the participants. The term "evening" was most popular in the 5:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. period. Eighty percent of the people agreed this term is the same for all seasons.

 IV. CONCLUSIONS

Based on the survey of NWR, it appears that listeners generally do interpret many NWS terms the way they are intended. The most disturbing differences lie within the descriptive terms such as "periods of rain," "breezy," and "windy." Time references also are of concern. Otherwise, most other terms used in NWS products seem to be fairly straightforward and consistent to the public understanding. Many of these same results were found in Krenz and Evans 1993 and it would be interesting to see if similar results are found in other areas.

As the NWS continues to expand technologically during modernization and restructuring, it will be increasingly important to be sensitive to the end user of both NWR broadcasts and NWS products, namely the public. Surveys, like this one, need to be conducted periodically. Through these surveys, it can be determined which terms are either helpful or confusing to the users of NWS products.

 V. ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

The author would like to thank Paul G. Witsaman, meteorologist at the NWS in Paducah, Kentucky for starting this entire project. Mr. Witsaman was the NWR focal point at the NWS in FWA prior to leaving for the Paducah position. The original ideas and the development of the surveys were his work. Thanks to Erik Pytlak of WFO Johnston, Iowa and Steve Goss formally of the NWSO Nashville, Tennessee for supplying ideas. Thanks to the entire staff of the NWS FWA for helping collect the surveys as they were delivered via mail to the office. Finally, many thanks to Dan Baumgardt, SOO NWSO La Crosse, WI for his help in refining the paper.

 VI. REFERENCES

Baldwin, J.L., 1973: Climates of the United States. U.S. Government Printing Office, pp 75.

DOC. NOAA, NWS: Weather Service Operations Manual, Part C, Chapter C.-11.

Krentz, S.H., J.S. Evans, 1993: Weather Terms Used in National Weather Service Forecasts - Does the Public Understand These Terms? A User's Survey. Central Region Highlights. DOC, NOAA, NWS Central Region Headquarters, Kansas City, MO.


APPENDIX

 

 

NOAA WEATHER RADIO SURVEY
National Weather Service Fort Wayne, IN
Conducted during the Winter of 1994

 

 

  1. Do you like descriptive terms such as ...?
     Increasing clouds  YES (70)  NO ( 0)
     Decreasing clouds  YES (66)  NO ( 4)
    Variable clouds  YES (39)  NO (31)
     Fair skies YES (63)   NO ( 7)
     High clouds  YES (58)  NO (12)
     Low clouds  YES (56)  NO (14)
  2. How much of the sky do you expect to be hidden by clouds when the following terms are used in forecast? (Circle one letter per item)

A - less than 1/10 of the sky has clouds
B - between 1/10 and 3/10 of the sky hidden by clouds
C - between 4/10 and 6/10 of the sky hidden by clouds
D - between 7/10 and 9/10 of the sky hidden by clouds
E - more than 9/10 of the sky hidden by clouds

Partly cloudy a (5) b (37) c (28) d (0) e (0)
Mostly cloudy a (0) b (1) c (7) d (50) e (12)
Partly sunny a (3) b (27) c (28) d (12) e (0)
Cloudy a (3) b (0) c (8) d (15) e (44)
Sunny a (67) b (2) c (1) d (0) e (0)
Mostly sunny a (10) b (59) c (0) d (1) e (0) 
Clear a (67) b (2) c (1) d (0) e (0)
Mostly clear a (17) b (52) c (1) d (0) e (0)
Fair a (23) b (23) c (20) d (2) e (2)
Lots of clouds a (3) b (3) c (9) d (41) e (17)
A mix of sun and clouds a (0) b (3) c (55) d (8) e (4)
Plenty of clouds a (0) b (1)  c (11) d (54) e (4)
A mix of clouds and sun a (0) b (3) c (55) d (8) e (4)
A few clouds a (13) b (57) c (0) d (0)  e (0)
Plenty of sunshine a (57) b (12) c (0) d (1) e (0)

What temperature range does the "lower 50s" cover?

 51 to 55 (6)  51 to 54 (19)  
 50 to 54 (45)  48 to 52 (0)  52 to 56 (0)

What range does "around 50" cover?

46 to 50 (5) 48 to 52 (59)
50 to 54 (2) 45 to 55 (4)

What range does the "upper 50s" cover?

56 to 59 (48) 55 to 60 (8)
55 to 59 (12) 54 to 59 (2)

How wide a temperature range would you like to see in your forecast?

 1 degree (12)  5 degrees (53)  5 to 10 degrees (5)

What percentage chance of precipitation would you equate with the following descriptive terms?

<10%

10%

20%

30%

40%

50%

60%

70%

80%

90%

100%

 Isolated showers

(15)

(23)

(16)

(10)

(2)

(3)

(0)

(0)

(0)

(0)

(0)

 Scattered showers

(2)

(8)

(21)

(21)

(7)

(4)

(4)

(1)

(0)

(0)

(2)

 A few showers

 (4)

 (11)

 (22)

 (20)

 (8)

 (4)

 (0)

 (0)

 (0)

(0) 

 (1)

 Widely scattered showers

 (8)

 (14)

 (19)

 (10)

 (7)

 (4)

 (1)

 (2)

 (4)

 (0)

 (1)

 Periods of showers

(2)

(2)

(7)

(9)

(5)

(24)

(6)

(7)

(6)

(0)

(2)

 Occasional showers

(1)

(4)

(6)

(11)

(13)

(15)

(8)

(5)

(4)

(1)

(2)

 Showers

(0)

(2)

(2)

(3)

(4)

(10)

(4)

(5)

(6)

(15)

(19)

In your forecast, do you prefer descriptive terms like "scattered, isolated, occasional," or a percentage chance like "100%, 80%?"

 Descriptive terms (4)  Percentage chance (24)  Both (41)

Listening to the forecast for Northeast Indiana and Extreme Northwest Ohio, at what percentage chance would you begin to expect rain or snow at your home?

<10%

10%

20%

30%

40%

50%

60%

70%

80%

90%

100%

(1)

(0)

(1)

(13)

(6)

(21)

(16)

(9)

(2)

(0)

(1)

With what term would you begin to expect rain or snow at your home?

 Some showers (6)  Showers likely (58)
 A few showers (3)  Occasional showers (7)

Would you expect measurable precipitation (0.01 inches or more) with these terms? (You may circle more than one item.)

 Light snow (52)  Flurries (10)  Sprinkles (9)  Light rain (63)

What is a significant 24 hours snowfall in your mind? (When you would first think - "WOW that was a lot of snow".)

1 in (1)  2 in (1)  3 in (9)  4 in (18)  5 in (13)
6 in (17)  7 in (3)  8 in (5) 9 in (0)  10 in (0)
 11 in (0)  12 in (3)      

Which wind speed range to you think of when you hear the term "breezy?"

5 to 15 mph (28) 10 to 20 mph (33)
15 to 25 mph (8) 25 mph or more (1)

At what forecasted wind speed do you think the term "windy" should be used?

10 to 20 mph (3) 15 to 25 mph (35)
20 to 30 mph (28) 30 mph or more (4)

Is there a difference between "blowing snow & drifting snow?"

YES - there is a difference (46)
NO - they are the same (24)

Do the phrases "mostly cloudy with brisk winds" and "mostly cloudy with breezy winds" paint the same picture of expected weather?

 YES (17)  NO (53)

* If you answered NO to the above question, then what is the difference to you?

A - Wind speed different (37)
B - Wind speed the same with different temperatures (9)
C - Both wind speed and temperatures different (7)

Would you like to hear a wind chill mentioned in your forecast?

 YES (63)  NO (2)  Does not matter (5)

Would you like to hear a heat index mentioned in your summertime forecast?

 YES (54)  NO (6)  Does not matter (10)

Rank the following forecast weather items with the most important item as #1 to the least important as #5.

 

 WINTER

 

1

 

2

 

3

 

4

 

5
Precipitation

 

 33

 

 28

 

 3

 

 5

 

 1
Cloud coverage  

 

1

 

 5

 

 19

 

 19

 

 26
 Temperature

 

 48

 

 16

 

 2

 

 

 4
 Wind speed

 

 11

 

 10

 

 36

 

 8

 

 5
 Wind direction

 

 10

 

 3

 

 10

 

 31

 

 16

 

 SUMMER

 

1

 

2

 

3

 

4

 

5
 Precipitation

 

 29

 

31 

 

 7

 

 0

 

 3
 Cloud coverage

 

 7

 

 

 24

 

 21

 

 13
 Temperature

 

45 

 

 18

 

 6

 

 0

 

 1
 Wind speed

 

 9

 

 4

 

 32

 

 17

 

 8
 Wind direction

 

7

 

6

 

13

 

18

 

26

At what time during the day do you feel the term "afternoon" applies?

 Noon to 300 P.M. (2)   100 P.M. to 400 P.M. (6)
 Noon to 400 P.M. (10)   100 P.M. to 500 P.M. (7)
 Noon to 500 P.M. (24)   100 P.M. to 530 P.M. (0)
 Noon to 600 P.M. (13)   100 P.M. to 600 P.M. (0)
 Noon to 700 P.M. (0)   200 P.M. to 600 P.M. (0)
 Noon to one hour before sunset (1)   Noon to sunset (3)

Is the "afternoon" time frame the same for all seasons?

 YES (58)  NO (12)

When is it "evening?"

500 P.M. to 700 P.M. (10) 600 P.M. to 800 P.M. (0)
500 P.M. to 800 P.M. (16) 600 P.M. to 900 P.M. (9)
500 P.M. to 1000 P.M. (12) 600 P.M. to 1000 P.M. (4)
600 P.M. to 1100 P.M. (4) 600 P.M. to midnight (8)
700 P.M. to 1100 P.M. (1) 700 P.M. to midnight (0)
Sunset to 1000 P.M. (2) sunset to midnight (0)
 One hour before sunset to 1000 P.M. (4)
 One hour before sunset to midnight (0)

Is "evening" the same for all seasons?

 YES (56)  NO (14)

When is it "morning?"

Midnight to Noon (13) 100 A.M. to Noon (0)
100 A.M. to 1100 A.M. (4) 600 A.M. to Noon (8)
400 A.M. to Noon (10) 600 A.M. to 1100 A.M. (5)
500 A.M. to 1100 A.M. (5) 700 A.M. to 1100 A.M. (2)
500 A.M. to Noon (12) sunrise to 1100 A.M. (0)
One hour before sunrise to Noon (5)
sunrise to noon (6)

Is "morning" the same for all seasons?

 YES (55)  NO (15)

The National Weather Service is in the middle of a modernization and reorganization plan. Please rank your awareness of the plan.

 

Highly aware

 

10

 

9

 

8

 

7

 

6

 

5

 

4

 

3

 

2

 

1

 

0

 

Unaware
 

 

(14)

 

(4)

 

(7)

 

(5)

 

(4)

 

(11)

 

(2)

 

(6)

 

(4)

 

(2)

 

(11)
 

From all that you have read and heard, what is your overall opinion of the modernization plan?

Favorable

 

10

 

9

 

8

 

7

 

6

 

5

 

4

 

3

 

2

 

1

 

0
Unfavorable
 

 

(10)

 

(1)

 

(3)

 

(3)

 

(2)

 

(18)

 

(4)

 

(2)

 

(2)

 

(4)

 

(6)
 

From all that you have read and hear, do you think you will be better served under the modernization plain?

Better service

 

10

 

9

 

8

 

7

 

6

 

5

 

4

 

3

 

2

 

1

 

0

 

Less service
 

 

(10)

 

(3)

 

(5)

 

(1)

 

(3)

 

(10)

 

(1)

 

(9)

 

(0)

 

(3)

 

(9)
 

 


1. Current affiliation: Storm Prediction Center Norman, Oklahoma.

 


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