New Publication on how NWS Forecasters Internally Process and Externally Communicate Extreme Rainfall Events

Extreme rainfall events continue to increase in frequency and intensity in the south-central United States. These events can be extremely impactful, hazardous, and costly. National Weather Service (NWS) forecasters are tasked with not only forecasting these events, but also effectively communicating the threats and impacts of the events to a variety of audiences. How NWS forecasters internally process then externally communicate extreme rainfall events has not been widely studied.

The study, “Examining Extreme Rainfall Forecast and Communication Processes in the South-Central United States”, recently published in Weather, Climate, and Society, addresses three research questions (RQs): 1) How do forecasters internally process model outliers?; 2) How do forecasters externally communicate model outliers and outlier events?; and 3) Do forecasters consider climate change when forecasting extreme rainfall events, and if so, does it impact how they process and communicate these events? Former Graduate Research Assistant Anna Wanless and SCIPP Director Rachel Riley conducted semistructured interviews of 21 NWS forecasters to investigate these questions. The interviews focused on extreme rainfall events that occurred in the south-central US between 2015 and 2019.

Wanless and Riley Pub Model
Results from the interviews led to the development of the Extreme Event Forecast Communication Process Model. The model helps explain how NWS forecasters internally process and externally communicate extreme rainfall events.

Qualitative analysis of the interviews resulted in the creation of an extreme event forecast communication process model that incorporated elements of sensemaking, judgement and decision-making, and principles of forecasting. After further testing for validation and applicability, this model could be the starting point to providing a framework for training forecasters on how such concepts impact the forecast and communication process. The article also presents practical findings to the three RQs: 1) Forecasters will acknowledge model outliers and monitor other models and model runs to see how the outlier evolves; 2) Forecasters may communicate the model outliers as possible worst-case scenarios to partners like emergency managers; and 3) the forecasters that addressed climate change acknowledged its role in extreme rainfall events, but did not link them to individual events, especially as the event is unfolding, as they felt it is outside of the scope of their position.

The full manuscript is available here.

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