NOAA looks to social technology to improve weather warnings
As residents of the Gulf Coast got hit this week by the effects of tropical storm Isaac, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced four new research awards seeking to improve the way potentially life-saving weather warnings reach those who need to act on them.
The four, two-year projects worth $879,000 were awarded to the Cooperative Institute for Mesoscale Meteorological Studies, the University of Oklahoma, Arizona State University, East Carolina University, the University of North Carolina, and the Nurture Nature Center in Easton, Penn.
Despite advances in weather prediction and hurricane tracking, researchers continue to grapple with the problem of how to more effectively issue storm warnings to populations caught in the path of natural disasters. Online tools and social media offer tremendous potential in positively impacting how people respond to adverse weather conditions.
For its part, the Center for Applied Social Research at the University of Oklahoma in Norman, Okla., will lead a project that examines how Twitter messages could be tapped as a source of local weather observations and how Twitter could be used to share weather updates. Also of note, the non-profit Nurture Nature Center will develop strategies to improve online flood forecasting tools and to better motivate residents to prepare for floods and respond to flood warnings.
"These projects apply innovative social science research methods to the immense challenge of communicating crucial weather information in an increasingly complex world," said Kathryn Sullivan, deputy administrator of NOAA, in a statement. "The results are expected to improve communication within the weather community and motivate appropriate responses from the public when dangerous weather threatens."
University and nonprofit social science and weather researchers will lead the projects, which support the NOAA Weather-Ready Nation initiative. NOAA experts from the Storm Prediction Center, National Severe Storms Laboratory, weather forecast offices, and river forecast centers will collaborate on them.
Greg Slabodkin is a freelance reporter.
- see the NOAA announcement