National Academies Press: OpenBook
Suggested Citation:"Front Matter." National Research Council. 2006. Completing the Forecast: Characterizing and Communicating Uncertainty for Better Decisions Using Weather and Climate Forecasts. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11699.
×

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

Suggested Citation:"Front Matter." National Research Council. 2006. Completing the Forecast: Characterizing and Communicating Uncertainty for Better Decisions Using Weather and Climate Forecasts. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11699.
×

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

Suggested Citation:"Front Matter." National Research Council. 2006. Completing the Forecast: Characterizing and Communicating Uncertainty for Better Decisions Using Weather and Climate Forecasts. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11699.
×

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

Suggested Citation:"Front Matter." National Research Council. 2006. Completing the Forecast: Characterizing and Communicating Uncertainty for Better Decisions Using Weather and Climate Forecasts. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11699.
×

This page intially left blank

Suggested Citation:"Front Matter." National Research Council. 2006. Completing the Forecast: Characterizing and Communicating Uncertainty for Better Decisions Using Weather and Climate Forecasts. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11699.
×

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

Suggested Citation:"Front Matter." National Research Council. 2006. Completing the Forecast: Characterizing and Communicating Uncertainty for Better Decisions Using Weather and Climate Forecasts. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11699.
×

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

Suggested Citation:"Front Matter." National Research Council. 2006. Completing the Forecast: Characterizing and Communicating Uncertainty for Better Decisions Using Weather and Climate Forecasts. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11699.
×

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

Page viii Cite
Suggested Citation:"Front Matter." National Research Council. 2006. Completing the Forecast: Characterizing and Communicating Uncertainty for Better Decisions Using Weather and Climate Forecasts. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11699.
×

This page intially left blank

Suggested Citation:"Front Matter." National Research Council. 2006. Completing the Forecast: Characterizing and Communicating Uncertainty for Better Decisions Using Weather and Climate Forecasts. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11699.
×

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.

Suggested Citation:"Front Matter." National Research Council. 2006. Completing the Forecast: Characterizing and Communicating Uncertainty for Better Decisions Using Weather and Climate Forecasts. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11699.
×

This page intially left blank

Suggested Citation:"Front Matter." National Research Council. 2006. Completing the Forecast: Characterizing and Communicating Uncertainty for Better Decisions Using Weather and Climate Forecasts. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11699.
×

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

Suggested Citation:"Front Matter." National Research Council. 2006. Completing the Forecast: Characterizing and Communicating Uncertainty for Better Decisions Using Weather and Climate Forecasts. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11699.
×
Suggested Citation:"Front Matter." National Research Council. 2006. Completing the Forecast: Characterizing and Communicating Uncertainty for Better Decisions Using Weather and Climate Forecasts. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11699.
×
Page R1
Suggested Citation:"Front Matter." National Research Council. 2006. Completing the Forecast: Characterizing and Communicating Uncertainty for Better Decisions Using Weather and Climate Forecasts. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11699.
×
Page R2
Suggested Citation:"Front Matter." National Research Council. 2006. Completing the Forecast: Characterizing and Communicating Uncertainty for Better Decisions Using Weather and Climate Forecasts. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11699.
×
Page R3
Suggested Citation:"Front Matter." National Research Council. 2006. Completing the Forecast: Characterizing and Communicating Uncertainty for Better Decisions Using Weather and Climate Forecasts. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11699.
×
Page R4
Suggested Citation:"Front Matter." National Research Council. 2006. Completing the Forecast: Characterizing and Communicating Uncertainty for Better Decisions Using Weather and Climate Forecasts. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11699.
×
Page R5
Suggested Citation:"Front Matter." National Research Council. 2006. Completing the Forecast: Characterizing and Communicating Uncertainty for Better Decisions Using Weather and Climate Forecasts. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11699.
×
Page R6
Suggested Citation:"Front Matter." National Research Council. 2006. Completing the Forecast: Characterizing and Communicating Uncertainty for Better Decisions Using Weather and Climate Forecasts. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11699.
×
Page R7
Page viii Cite
Suggested Citation:"Front Matter." National Research Council. 2006. Completing the Forecast: Characterizing and Communicating Uncertainty for Better Decisions Using Weather and Climate Forecasts. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11699.
×
Page R8
Suggested Citation:"Front Matter." National Research Council. 2006. Completing the Forecast: Characterizing and Communicating Uncertainty for Better Decisions Using Weather and Climate Forecasts. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11699.
×
Page R9
Suggested Citation:"Front Matter." National Research Council. 2006. Completing the Forecast: Characterizing and Communicating Uncertainty for Better Decisions Using Weather and Climate Forecasts. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11699.
×
Page R10
Suggested Citation:"Front Matter." National Research Council. 2006. Completing the Forecast: Characterizing and Communicating Uncertainty for Better Decisions Using Weather and Climate Forecasts. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11699.
×
Page R11
Suggested Citation:"Front Matter." National Research Council. 2006. Completing the Forecast: Characterizing and Communicating Uncertainty for Better Decisions Using Weather and Climate Forecasts. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11699.
×
Page R12
Next: Summary »
Completing the Forecast: Characterizing and Communicating Uncertainty for Better Decisions Using Weather and Climate Forecasts Get This Book
×
Buy Paperback | $43.00 Buy Ebook | $34.99
MyNAP members save 10% online.
Login or Register to save!
Download Free PDF

Uncertainty is a fundamental characteristic of weather, seasonal climate, and hydrological prediction, and no forecast is complete without a description of its uncertainty. Effective communication of uncertainty helps people better understand the likelihood of a particular event and improves their ability to make decisions based on the forecast. Nonetheless, for decades, users of these forecasts have been conditioned to receive incomplete information about uncertainty. They have become used to single-valued (deterministic) forecasts (e.g., "the high temperature will be 70 degrees Farenheit 9 days from now") and applied their own experience in determining how much confidence to place in the forecast. Most forecast products from the public and private sectors, including those from the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Weather Service, continue this deterministic legacy. Fortunately, the National Weather Service and others in the prediction community have recognized the need to view uncertainty as a fundamental part of forecasts. By partnering with other segments of the community to understand user needs, generate relevant and rich informational products, and utilize effective communication vehicles, the National Weather Service can take a leading role in the transition to widespread, effective incorporation of uncertainty information into predictions. "Completing the Forecast" makes recommendations to the National Weather Service and the broader prediction community on how to make this transition.

  1. ×

    Welcome to OpenBook!

    You're looking at OpenBook, NAP.edu's online reading room since 1999. Based on feedback from you, our users, we've made some improvements that make it easier than ever to read thousands of publications on our website.

    Do you want to take a quick tour of the OpenBook's features?

    No Thanks Take a Tour »
  2. ×

    Show this book's table of contents, where you can jump to any chapter by name.

    « Back Next »
  3. ×

    ...or use these buttons to go back to the previous chapter or skip to the next one.

    « Back Next »
  4. ×

    Jump up to the previous page or down to the next one. Also, you can type in a page number and press Enter to go directly to that page in the book.

    « Back Next »
  5. ×

    Switch between the Original Pages, where you can read the report as it appeared in print, and Text Pages for the web version, where you can highlight and search the text.

    « Back Next »
  6. ×

    To search the entire text of this book, type in your search term here and press Enter.

    « Back Next »
  7. ×

    Share a link to this book page on your preferred social network or via email.

    « Back Next »
  8. ×

    View our suggested citation for this chapter.

    « Back Next »
  9. ×

    Ready to take your reading offline? Click here to buy this book in print or download it as a free PDF, if available.

    « Back Next »
Stay Connected!