Public Understanding and Use of Weather Radar

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Accurate interpretation and use of weather radar requires highly specialized knowledge and skills which have traditionally been taught in academic and government training programs, and radar was typically presented to the public by broadcast meteorologists. Yet, weather radar in the United States is now accessible by the general public on television, computers, tablets, and cell phones. Anyone with access to the internet can use near real-time maps and animations of weather radar data to aid in decision-making when weather conditions are a factor. However, little academic research has investigated who in the public accesses weather radar on the internet, how often they use it, what contexts they use it in, and how well they understand it. We explore these questions using data from two surveys which posed questions about the usefulness and understanding of weather radar. We analyze the 2014 National Weather Service (NWS) Customer Satisfaction Survey to reveal the extent to which users are satisfied with the NWS interactive radar display. We also utilize data from a second, much smaller survey conducted in 2014 with mobile home occupants in South Carolina which included questions about respondents' understanding of weather radar and their use of radar to understand whether thunderstorms may impact their location. Preliminary results suggest that several factors may influence the public use and understanding of weather radar, including risk perception of weather events, previous experience with inclement weather, trust in sources of weather information, general awareness of the weather, age, education, and income.

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Presented at the The Annual Meeting of The American Association of Geographers on March 29, 2016 in San Francisco, CA