Risk Communication

How Forecasters Decide to Warn: Insights on Tornado Risk Communication in the Southeast U.S.

Liu, B., A. Seate, I. Iles, and E. Herovic

VORTEX-SE Community Forum archive

To cite this report, please use this format:
Liu, B. F., Atwell Seate, A., Iles, I., & Herovic, E. How Forecasters Decide to Warn: Insight on Tornado Risk Communication in the Southeast U.S. Report to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. College Park, MD: START, 2019.


(The following was extracted from the Executive Summary of the report.)

Our primary objective is to understand how NWS forecasters in the Southeast U.S. make warning decisions, where they need more information, how they share information, and how they build relationships with local partners and community members in light of today’s competitive media environment. We also are interested in differences between NWS forecasters in terms of their risk communication decision-making processes.

To meet our objective, we conducted 13 phone interviews with National Weather Service (NWS) forecasters from three Weather Forecast Offices in the Southeast U.S. We then conducted a multi-sited rapid ethnography in the same three Weather Forecast Offices. In the final research stage, 119 forecasters and members of management operating in NWS offices located in the Southern and Central regions of the U.S. participated in an online survey.

Cold-season Tornado Risk Communication: Case Studies from November 2016 to February 2017

Samuel Childs, Russ Schumacher



Cold-season tornadoes, defined here as those occurring during November–February (NDJF), pose many societal risks. Not only do they occur when tornadoes are least common in the United States, but NDJF tornadoes also tend to be nocturnal and are most prevalent in the Southeast, where complex terrain, limited resources, and a high mobile home density add social vulnerabilities. In the period 1953–2015, within the domain of 25°–42.5°N, 75°–100°W, over 900 people were killed as a result of NDJF tornadoes. Moreover, NDJF tornado frequency is increasing much faster than that of annual tornadoes. Given the enhanced societal risk, particularly in the Southeast, effective communication between professionals and the public is imperative during a cold-season tornado event. This study investigates communication strategies and barriers from the perspective of National Weather Service and broadcast meteorologists, as well as emergency managers, through a postevent survey of four major tornado events from November 2016 to February 2017. Barriers to tornado risk communication identified by the professionals included public “me-centeredness,” inconsistent messages, and timing and meteorological uncertainties, as well as case-specific factors. Meteorologists perceived their communities as vulnerable to tornadoes in general, yet also prepared and receptive to warnings. Factors influencing perceived barriers and vulnerability are incorporated into a conceptual model of tornado risk communication, which is applicable to tornadoes in general. Ideas for overcoming these barriers include consolidation of warning graphics, collaboration between the meteorological and social science communities, and improved education of tornado risks for the most vulnerable sectors of society.