New publication: Article on the communication and use of probabilistic weather forecasts

The article discusses problems with and approaches for using probabilistic forecasts using three examples from operational practise.

News from Jun 12, 2019

Some weather forecasts are more uncertain than others. The uncertainty varies e.g. by weather situation, forecast range or by what is forecasted. Yet although nowadays this uncertainty can be predicted quite reliably, it is still often not communicated.

The current practice of withholding probabilistic information rather than striving to express it transparently impedes a shared decision-making process between meteorological experts, institutions, and the public. Rather than enabling institutions and the public to make informed decisions, meteorologists often find themselves – reluctantly – deciding on behalf of others by issuing deterministic warnings without knowing the particular needs of their end-users. The worry is that uncertainty may be misunderstood, resulting in risky behaviour or loss of trust.

Using three examples of forecasts for emergency services, road authorities and renewable energy production, scientists and practitioners from the German Weather Service, the Max-Planck-Institute for Human Development and the Institute for Meteorology of the Free University Berlin investigated in how far probability forecasts are useful under real operational constraints and which presentations user prefer. In addition, the article describes evidence-based methods of risk communication and point to relevant studies from the social and behavioural sciences.

The examples illustrate three key points:

  1. Without probabilistic information, people can only guess the underlying uncertainty of forecasts. Communicating probabilistic forecasts is thus critical to support informed decisions by users with varying needs.

  2. Probabilistic information can be understood by laypeople if representations are well-developed, tailored to user needs, and tested.

  3. Users need the opportunity to use probabilistic forecasts in their actual work in order to experience potential benefits and develop probabilistic thresholds for their decisions.

The article is available open access as part of a special issue of the Quarterly Journal of the Royal Meteorological Society on "25 years of Ensemble weather forecasting" :

Fundel, V. J., Fleischhut, N., Herzog, S. M.,Göber, M., & Hagedorn, R. (2019). Promoting the use of probabilistic weather forecasts through a dialogue between scientists, developers, and end-users. Quarterly Journal of Royal Meteorological Society https://doi.org/10.1002/qj.3482

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