Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Pardon Us, For Crying "Wolf"

It might be frustrating for many of us meteorologist, but a new study finds more people are taking severe weather warnings less seriously.

Part of this, I think, lies in perception and part of it in how it's communicated. When we forecast the possibility of severe weather, we're, in essence, telling people that indeed it's a possibility, not a certainty. We should convey the seriousness according to our confidence. While advances in technology have made us more accurate, it's still difficult to make precise predictions on the micro-scale. There are just too many variables than cannot be precisely measured from afar. That's why I used to joke that sometimes, I'm more of a "weather-handicapper" than a weather forecaster at times. Many viewers, on the other hand, demand perfection at all times, in all communities. That's tough to do, even though studies have shown our accuracy in forecasting continues to get better. Try this, so see who has the more accurate forecast in your area!

On the other hand, there is intense demand for viewers among broadcast outlets. This can be accomplished in several ways.

1. Establish a reputation for accuracy and integrity over a number of years and explain the forecast in a way the average viewer can understand. Simply tell viewers the truth.

2. Create a sense of urgency or danger, so viewers, fearful for their lives, will tune in.

3. Hype, over and over, the times you were right and leave out the times you were wrong.

It's a fine line to toe! I've heard from viewers who told me they avoid TV meteorologists who constantly predict "worst case scenarios" and avoid stations who over-hype severe weather, but let's face it, if it didn't work, they wouldn't do it!

I always presented the weather with a simple credo: Work hard at the nuts and bolts forecasting, tell the truth, be honest and own up to a blown forecast, although TELL them WHY I was wrong.........on those rare occasions :o).

And on days when there is NO severe weather in the forecast? Make an accurate forecast and make 'em smile. Life's tough enough!

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