Weather information is everywhere. Technological advances are not only improving severe weather forecasts, they're also improving the way we receive it. So how much faith do people have in forecasts?
We asked a few Chicago residents what they thought about weather forecasting and whether they find it reliable.
Rich Kohng: "With the advent of the internet we give it a little more trust just because we're able to check it, even just hourly."
Casey Pennel: "I would say in the last 30 years they've gotten better."
Katie Blochowiak: "I think it's just a prediction, it's not exact, (laughs) so I use it for guidance but I don't rely on it."
Louis Uccellini from Fermilab: "I think cynicism isn't all that bad. We just have to be able to reach out to those people who are cynical about our abilities to forecast because their life could depend on it."
Dr. Uccellini doesn't see cynicism as criticism, but believes forecasters may not always be meeting people's needs.
Social scientists at the National Weather Center in Norman are working on that part of the equation.
"We really need to understand how people make sense of weather information," said Heather Lazrus of SSWIM, Social Science Woven into Meteorology. "Whether they trust it whether it's legitimate, how it ranks in the other things that are important in their life at the time. Then we can better tailor the information to help them make the correct decision to take appropriate action in the case of warnings and hazards specifically."
Major severe weather systems can now be forecast with accuracy a week or more in advance and the tornado warning lead time is approaching 15 minutes. The next breakthrough may come from an area of research called "Warn on Forecasts."
Dr. Harold Brooks is a research meteorologist at NOAA: "Our real hope is to improve the quality of the warning, both in terms of frequency with which a warning is issued and something actually happens, and also improve the lead time to give people more confidence and time to respond."
Dr. Jeff Kimpel, the Director of NSSL: "We think there's a limit to warn on detection, 20-30 minutes. To get to 45 minutes or an hour, it's going to be observations coupled with numerical weather prediction models at the storm cloud scale that are gonna get us there and we think that's worth trying to do."
Who delivers the message may also be key. Some people trust their local meteorologist more than experts they don't know and economics may become a barrier to people taking appropriate action. For instance, someone may not understand the risk of driving through floodwaters, but if their job is on the other side of the flooded road, they do understand that not showing up could get them fired.
Previous experience with storms also plays a role in how people react to severe weather. If a person has survived a devasting hurricane before, he may be less inclined to leave. On the other hand, recent brushes with severe weather make people more vigilant.
Gino Izzi: "I really hope people remember that tornado preparedness really relies upon them. we can put out good warnings we can put out warnings with lots of lead time that are accurate, but a warning means nothing if you don't respond and have a preparedness plan in place."