Learn your geography!

One persistent problem that hasn’t gone away, even with improvements to forecasting and technology is the reception of a weather forecast, in particular during alert or warning periods. NPR recently released an article that highlights the number one issue with weather forecast reception among the public.

People just don’t know where they are.

I reached out to some meteorologists and social scientists in the process of writing my book, (which comes out next month!) and more than any discussion on a particular type of weather phenomenon, the dissemination of alerts and warnings stood out as the most problematic issue with regards to operational meteorology. While meteorologists can continue to refine our communication of the severity and immediacy of a weather situation, it’s hard to tell someone to be vigilant of the weather in their area, if they don’t even know where their area is.

The NPR Facebook post for this article had many commenters claiming that James Spann’s methods for testing this out were flawed. How can anyone figure out where they are if you are given a map with only county and state lines? If you are given a state, I would posit, you should be able to know, roughly, what part of the state you are in. This should take only a couple of glances at the map to get yourself a rough idea. Failing that, warnings are given on a county basis. Learn county names, and you are a step ahead of the game.

Admittedly, I grew up as a kid who loved looking at maps and knowing where I was. I’m visiting relatives as I write this, and I know exactly where I am on a map of South Dakota, just as much for my own interest as for the benefit of receiving weather information (we did get thunderstorms overnight, though they were not severe). Also, I’ve been looking at maps for my entire professional career, so that is surely a benefit to me. That said, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to address one’s physical location in schools across the country at an early age. If it’s too late for some older people, perhaps we can inform young students and THEY can help their parents along the way.

Leave a Reply