Engaging Society with Weather and Climate Information

Engaging Society with Weather and Climate Information | Hindawi Blog

Last week Hindawi attended the European Meteorological Society Annual Meeting in Dublin, on behalf of our journal Advances in Meteorology. In this blog, Editorial Community Manager Sam Rose @rosenovich reports highlights from #emsannual2017.

After the recent devastating floods in Houston, and the destruction being caused by Hurricane Irma across the Caribbean and Florida, the importance of accurate weather forecasting and information could not be any more apparent. Detailed understanding of our weather allows for advance preparation and planning to reduce the impact from extreme events. Furthermore, meteorological information sheds light on global environmental concerns, such as the thinning ozone layer and acid rain – issues that are now being resolved through human intervention.

General scientific themes of the meeting included air quality and pollution, atmospheric effects on humans, forecasting and weather warning systems, understanding severe weather, energy meteorology, climate change, and European climate services.

I met with Henri Nyman (Finnish Meteorological Institute, Finland), who works behind the scenes as a forecaster. He explained how their reporting system is different from others, in that it reports extreme events by potential impact. This not only takes into account the extremity of the weather itself, but also how it’s likely to impact certain locations. For example, urban areas are often likely to suffer greater damage.

Michael Sharpe (Met Office, UK) gave a talk on the weather warning system used for the Shipping Forecast, which has provided reports on 21 sea areas around the UK for the past 150 years. The Warnings Verification System gives three types of gale warning, which, like Nyman’s system, works to categorize weather by impact. In this case, the impact is relative economic value.

I was particularly interested to learn more about engagement with society, and so other talks I attended focused more on communication with the public and other stakeholders. Tanja Cegnar (Slovenian Environment Agency, Slovenia) chaired a very nice session on Communication and Media. She gave a short talk on ‘Knowing your audience’, with the concluding point that the way people look at weather forecast information is changing, with the use of mobile apps rapidly increasing.

Jay Trobec (Keoland TV, USA) went into further detail on how to engage the public with weather reporting. He noted that 57 percent of Americans get their news from TV, making it still the most prominent form of media by number of users. He concurred that online presence is growing fast; in the USA, Facebook is still the most popular social media platform (79 percent of people), followed by Instagram (39 percent), LinkedIn (31 percent), then Twitter (29 percent).

Jay and his colleagues are using technology as an opportunity to evolve the way they report the weather. For instance, they make use of Facebook Live and Periscope. Most importantly, they try to take people ‘behind the curtain’ and give insights into what happens behind the scenes. This can be a very successful strategy to engage the public, and follows a trend of public figures using social media to present information in a more casual setting.

The TV Weather Forecast Award was presented to the infamous Helga van Leur (RTL 4, Netherlands). Helga is committed to providing the public with innovative weather reporting, including scientific insights beyond what is typically provided. Her ability to communicate meteorological information in an understandable way is commendable, making her a truly deserving winner of this award.

Heike Huebener (Hessian Centre on Climate Change, Germany) discussed communication by meteorologists not with the general public, but with non-expert stakeholders, such as policy makers. She gave a list of “what-not-to-dos” that should strike a chord with any scientist. The basis of the talk was to be as clear as possible with the non-expert, do not assume that they have read the literature that you are familiar with, do not tell them that their questions are out of the scope of the project, etc.

I met with Marta Terrado (Barcelona Supercomputing Center [BSC], Spain), who is a Science Communication Specialist. Her role involves engaging with users of services produced by the BSC, such as 48-hour air-quality forecasts and daily dust forecasts. Marta is involved in these projects from conception, and the most important aspect of her work is engaging with their users. This results in services being produced that people want to use:

  1. Identifying user needs
  2. Co-developing services with users
  3. Iterating based on user feedback

Peter Hoeppe (Munich Re, Germany) gave a refreshing talk, from the perspective of a meteorologist working for an insurance company. While it’s not surprising the insurers are interested in extreme weather, he gave insights into their extensive climate research. Since it’s closely tied to the core of their business, it is beneficial for insurance businesses to share their data and raise public awareness.

Climate change is an issue that goes hand-in-hand with public engagement. Meteorologists are often frustrated that despite all the evidence they present, there is still strong opposition. Keith Seitter (American Institute of Physics, USA) gave a keynote talk on this issue, and made the interesting point that experts have to “give up the idea of winning the argument”.

“The community has made tremendous progress in climate change science, and if we do not approach engagement with society in a careful scientific manner, the public will not get the full benefits of what we have to offer.”

-Keith Setter

Another keynote talk on climate change was given by Timo Vihma (Finnish Meteorological Institute, Finland). He highlighted that we still do not fully understand how Arctic warming affects mid-latitude weather. While Arctic forcing may reinforce or weaken existing weather conditions, it likely favors more persistent weather patterns in mid-latitudes, increasing the risk of floods, droughts, long-lasting heat waves and cold spells. There is no one cause and effect, but rather there are multiple forcing factors acting simultaneously in a chaotic dynamic system. To move forward and produce more consistent results, it is essential that optimal models are used and metrics are standardized between studies.

During the current particularly turbulent weather events, it brings home how essential accurate weather and climate information are to the daily lives of society. The climate change debate is still thoroughly unresolved, and I share the frustration of meteorologists from seeing people not take the issues seriously.

However, I also understand why scepticism exists, since there is a lot of misinformation out there and the science is incredibly complicated. The way we deliver information is key for engagement, and so it was great to see this being a priority of discussion.

The text and illustration in this blog post are by Hindawi and are distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC-BY). All photos: Sam Rose (also CC-BY).