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Study: Users welcome probabilistic forecasts

Nurture Nature Center, with partner East Carolina University, recently released the results of its most recent social science study, “Major Risks, Uncertain Outcomes: Making Ensemble Forecasts Work for Multiple Audiences.” This study, which used focus groups and surveys to gather perspectives from residents, emergency managers and water resource managers in Maryland and West Virginia, aimed to understand how users interpret probabilistic forecast products from National Weather Service’s Hydrologic Ensemble Forecasting System (HEFS). HEFS is a new system that provides forecasts that show a range of probabilistic outcomes for events ranging from a few hours to 7 days and longer.  These probabilistic forecasts offer much promise for how professionals can plan for future severe flood events, but also present challenges for understanding more complex data.  Results from the social science study suggest that different users have different needs for how information is displayed and prevented, but that improvements to how the data is presented can better facilitate use by a range of audiences. The study was funded through National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Weather Service.  The full report of findings is available at http://nurturenaturecenter.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/03/Major-Risks-Uncertain-Outcomes-_.pdf.

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