COMPLETING THE FORECAST

Characterizing and Communicating Uncertainty for Better Decisions Using Weather and Climate Forecasts

Committee on Estimating and Communicating Uncertainty in Weather and Climate Forecasts

Board on Atmospheric Sciences and Climate

Division on Earth and Life Studies

NATIONAL RESEARCH COUNCIL OF THE NATIONAL ACADEMIES

THE NATIONAL ACADEMIES PRESS

Washington, D.C.
www.nap.edu



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Completing the Forecast: Characterizing and Communicating Uncertainty for Better Decisions Using Weather and Climate Forecasts COMPLETING THE FORECAST Characterizing and Communicating Uncertainty for Better Decisions Using Weather and Climate Forecasts Committee on Estimating and Communicating Uncertainty in Weather and Climate Forecasts Board on Atmospheric Sciences and Climate Division on Earth and Life Studies NATIONAL RESEARCH COUNCIL OF THE NATIONAL ACADEMIES THE NATIONAL ACADEMIES PRESS Washington, D.C. www.nap.edu

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Completing the Forecast: Characterizing and Communicating Uncertainty for Better Decisions Using Weather and Climate Forecasts THE NATIONAL ACADEMIES PRESS 500 Fifth Street, NW Washington, DC 20001 NOTICE: The project that is the subject of this report was approved by the Governing Board of the National Research Council, whose members are drawn from the councils of the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering, and the Institute of Medicine. The members of the committee responsible for the report were chosen for their special competences and with regard for appropriate balance. Support for this project was provided by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration under Contract No. DG133R04CQ0009, Task Order #3. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the organizations or agencies that provided support for the project. International Standard Book Number 0-309-10255-3 (Book) International Standard Book Number 0-309-66261-3 (PDF) Library of Congress Control Number 2006932671 Additional copies of this report are available from the National Academies Press, 500 Fifth Street, N.W., Lockbox 285, Washington, D.C. 20055; (800) 624-6242 or (202) 334-3313 (in the Washington metropolitan area); Internet, http://www.nap.edu. Copyright 2006 by the National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved. Printed in the United States of America

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Completing the Forecast: Characterizing and Communicating Uncertainty for Better Decisions Using Weather and Climate Forecasts THE NATIONAL ACADEMIES Advisers to the Nation on Science, Engineering, and Medicine The National Academy of Sciences is a private, nonprofit, self-perpetuating society of distinguished scholars engaged in scientific and engineering research, dedicated to the furtherance of science and technology and to their use for the general welfare. Upon the authority of the charter granted to it by the Congress in 1863, the Academy has a mandate that requires it to advise the federal government on scientific and technical matters. Dr. Ralph J. Cicerone is president of the National Academy of Sciences. The National Academy of Engineering was established in 1964, under the charter of the National Academy of Sciences, as a parallel organization of outstanding engineers. It is autonomous in its administration and in the selection of its members, sharing with the National Academy of Sciences the responsibility for advising the federal government. The National Academy of Engineering also sponsors engineering programs aimed at meeting national needs, encourages education and research, and recognizes the superior achievements of engineers. Dr. Wm. A. Wulf is president of the National Academy of Engineering. The Institute of Medicine was established in 1970 by the National Academy of Sciences to secure the services of eminent members of appropriate professions in the examination of policy matters pertaining to the health of the public. The Institute acts under the responsibility given to the National Academy of Sciences by its congressional charter to be an adviser to the federal government and, upon its own initiative, to identify issues of medical care, research, and education. Dr. Harvey V. Fineberg is president of the Institute of Medicine. The National Research Council was organized by the National Academy of Sciences in 1916 to associate the broad community of science and technology with the Academy’s purposes of furthering knowledge and advising the federal government. Functioning in accordance with general policies determined by the Academy, the Council has become the principal operating agency of both the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Engineering in providing services to the government, the public, and the scientific and engineering communities. The Council is administered jointly by both Academies and the Institute of Medicine. Dr. Ralph J. Cicerone and Dr. Wm. A. Wulf are chair and vice chair, respectively, of the National Research Council. www.national-academies.org

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Completing the Forecast: Characterizing and Communicating Uncertainty for Better Decisions Using Weather and Climate Forecasts COMMITTEE ON ESTIMATING AND COMMUNICATING UNCERTAINTY IN WEATHER AND CLIMATE FORECASTS RAYMOND J. BAN (Chair), The Weather Channel, Inc., Atlanta, Georgia JOHN T. ANDREW, California Department of Water Resources, Sacramento, California BARBARA G. BROWN, National Center for Atmospheric Research, Boulder, Colorado DAVID CHANGNON, Northern Illinois University, DeKalb, Illinois KONSTANTINE GEORGAKAKOS, Hydrologic Research Center, San Diego, California JAMES HANSEN, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge RONALD N. KEENER, JR., Duke Energy, Charlotte, North Carolina UPMANU LALL, Columbia University, New York CLIFFORD F. MASS, University of Washington, Seattle REBECCA E. MORSS, National Center for Atmospheric Research, Boulder, Colorado ROBERT T. RYAN, NBC4, Washington, DC ELKE U. WEBER, Columbia University, New York NRC Staff PAUL CUTLER, Study Director LEAH PROBST, Research Associate ROB GREENWAY, Senior Program Assistant

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Completing the Forecast: Characterizing and Communicating Uncertainty for Better Decisions Using Weather and Climate Forecasts BOARD ON ATMOSPHERIC SCIENCES AND CLIMATE ROBERT J. SERAFIN (Chair), National Center for Atmospheric Research, Boulder, Colorado M. JOAN ALEXANDER, NorthWest Research Associates/CORA, Boulder, Colorado FREDERICK R. ANDERSON, McKenna Long & Aldridge LLP, Washington, DC MICHAEL L. BENDER, Princeton University, New Jersey ROSINA M. BIERBAUM, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor MARY ANNE CARROLL, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor CAROL ANNE CLAYSON, Florida State University, Tallahassee WALTER F. DABBERDT, Vaisala Inc., Boulder, Colorado KERRY A. EMANUEL, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge DENNIS L. HARTMANN, University of Washington, Seattle PETER R. LEAVITT, Weather Information Inc., Newton, Massachusetts JENNIFER A. LOGAN, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts VERNON R. MORRIS, Howard University, Washington, DC F. SHERWOOD ROWLAND, University of California, Irvine THOMAS H. VONDER HAAR, Colorado State University/CIRA, Fort Collins ROGER M. WAKIMOTO, National Center for Atmospheric Research, Boulder, Colorado Ex Officio Members ANTONIO J. BUSALACCHI, JR., University of Maryland, College Park ERIC F. WOOD, Princeton University, New Jersey NRC Staff CHRIS ELFRING, Director PAUL CUTLER, Senior Program Officer AMANDA STAUDT, Senior Program Officer IAN KRAUCUNAS, Associate Program Officer CLAUDIA MENGELT, Associate Program Officer LEAH PROBST, Research Associate ELIZABETH A. GALINIS, Research Associate ROB GREENWAY, Senior Program Assistant DIANE GUSTAFSON, Administrative Coordinator ANDREAS SOHRE, Financial Associate

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Completing the Forecast: Characterizing and Communicating Uncertainty for Better Decisions Using Weather and Climate Forecasts Preface Recognizing the opportunity to enhance the service it provides to the nation, the National Weather Service (NWS) commissioned the National Research Council (NRC) to form a committee to provide recommendations on how NWS can more effectively estimate and communicate uncertainty in weather and climate forecasts. This opportunity was highlighted in Recommendation 8 of the report Fair Weather: Effective Partnerships in Weather and Climate Forecasts (NRC, 2003a) and NWS desired more specific input in this area. The committee was tasked with providing guidance on understanding and characterizing user needs for uncertainty information, suggesting improvements in current methods used to estimate and validate uncertainty products and recommending improvements in methods used to communicate uncertainty information. Since weather services in the United States are the result of an interdependent enterprise consisting of public, private, and academic assets, NWS also asked the committee to make recommendations consistent with an “enterprise” viewpoint. At the very beginning of the study, the committee realized that an exhaustive look at the needs of users or user categories with regard to uncertainty information would be vastly beyond its time constraints and resources. Although several specific examples of user needs appear in the report (as requested in the charge), the overall thrust is to provide NWS with a template of how to effectively assess the unique needs of a very wide range of users. The psychology of decision-making processes is presented along with general paths that the enterprise can follow in providing useful input into decision-support systems. “Teaching how to fish versus catching a fish” is an appropriate analogy and is one that NWS used at the committee’s first meeting. The committee met a total of five times between April 2005 and February 2006 and received broad and diverse input from specialists on topics ranging from probabilistic data generation, to product development, to user decision processes. The committee would like to thank all of those who provided their time and insight. The contributors are listed in Appendix B of the report. Finally the committee thanks NWS personnel for all of the input they provided during the course of the study, including answers to our many questions and numerous and complete product summaries. In particular we thank Ed Johnson, Lee Anderson, and John Sokich for their prompt and complete responses. Raymond J. Ban, Chair Committee on Estimating and Communicating Uncertainty in Weather and Climate Forecasts

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Completing the Forecast: Characterizing and Communicating Uncertainty for Better Decisions Using Weather and Climate Forecasts Acknowledgments This report has been reviewed in draft form by individuals chosen for their diverse perspectives and technical expertise, in accordance with procedures approved by the National Research Council’s Report Review Committee. The purpose of this independent review is to provide candid and critical comments that will assist the institution in making its published report as sound as possible and to ensure that the report meets institutional standards for objectivity, evidence, and responsiveness to the study charge. The review comments and draft manuscript remain confidential to protect the integrity of the deliberative process. We wish to thank the following individuals for their review of this report: James Block, DTN-Meteorlogix, Minneapolis, Minnesota David Budescu, University of Illinois, Champaign Simon Chang, Naval Research Laboratory, Monterey, California Holly Hartmann, University of Arizona, Tucson Kathryn Laskey, George Mason University, Fairfax, Virginia Daniel P. Loucks, Cornell University, Ithaca, New York Tom Skilling, WGN-TV News, Chicago, Illinois Mort Webster, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Lawrence Wilson, Meteorological Service of Canada, Dorval, Quebec Although the reviewers listed above have provided constructive comments and suggestions, they were not asked to endorse the report’s conclusions or recommendations, nor did they see the final draft of the report before its release. The review of this report was overseen by George Frederick, Vaisala, Inc., and Kuo-Nan Liou, University of California, Los Angeles. Appointed by the National Research Council, they were responsible for making certain that an independent examination of this report was carried out in accordance with institutional procedures and that all review comments were carefully considered. Responsibility for the final content of this report rests entirely with the authoring committee and the institution.

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Completing the Forecast: Characterizing and Communicating Uncertainty for Better Decisions Using Weather and Climate Forecasts Contents     SUMMARY   1      Overarching Findings and Recommendations,   2 1   INTRODUCTION   5      The Uncertain Atmosphere and Hydrosphere,   6      The Evolution of Hydrometeorological Uncertainty Prediction,   6      Communication of Uncertainty Information,   10      Reasons for Supplying Uncertainty Information,   11      The Need for an Enterprise-Wide Response,   13      Education as a Cornerstone of the Transition to a Probabilistic Viewpoint,   14      The Uncertainty Imperative,   14 2   UNCERTAINTY IN DECISION MAKING   15      User Types and Needs for Uncertainty Information,   15      Psychological Factors in Interpreting and Using Uncertain Information,   21      Statistical Approaches to Decision Making Under Uncertainty,   28      Guidance on Identifying and Characterizing User Needs,   35      Summary,   37 3   ESTIMATING AND VALIDATING UNCERTAINTY   39      Environmental Modeling Center: Global and Mesoscale Guidance,   39      Climate Prediction Center,   52      Office of Hydrologic Development,   54      Subjectively Creating Uncertainty Information,   61      Verification,   63      Summary,   65 4   COMMUNICATING FORECAST UNCERTAINTY   66      Background,   66      Communicating Uncertainty in Everyday and Hazardous Weather Forecast Products,   66      Important Aspects of Communicating Uncertainty,   69      Role of Users in the Product Development Process,   84      Research and Development Program to Improve Communication of Forecast Uncertainty,   85      Education and Training Needs,   87      Summary,   87      Annex 4:  Examples of Uncertainty Communication Approaches and Products,   88

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Completing the Forecast: Characterizing and Communicating Uncertainty for Better Decisions Using Weather and Climate Forecasts 5   OVERARCHING RECOMMENDATIONS   98      Context,   98      Next Steps,   98     REFERENCES   102     APPENDIXES     A   Acronyms and Initialisms   107 B   List of Presenters and Other Contributors to the Study Process   109 C   Biographical Sketches of Committee Members and Staff   110