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When Weather Matters: Science and Services to Meet Critical Societal Needs (2010)

Chapter: 2 Socioeconomic Research and Capacity

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Suggested Citation:"2 Socioeconomic Research and Capacity." National Research Council. 2010. When Weather Matters: Science and Services to Meet Critical Societal Needs. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12888.
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2
Socioeconomic Research and Capacity

Understanding and addressing socioeconomic aspects of weather prediction is critical for the weather community to reach its goals and for society to fully benefit from advances in weather prediction. To date, the weather prediction community and society are still far from achieving the full potential that comes from integrating social sciences expertise with weather research and research to operations (R2O).

As discussed in the introduction, weather and weather information affect a wide range of socioeconomic sectors and decisions. Socioeconomic considerations are fundamental in determining how, when, and why the weather information produced by research and R2O activities is, or is not, used. Thus, socioeconomics is an extremely important component of weather research and the transfer of research results to operations (and also the transfer of operations knowledge and experience back to research—O2R). Yet the weather prediction enterprise still lacks interdisciplinary capacity to understand and address socioeconomic issues. As a result, socioeconomic expertise is underutilized in the weather community, and the potential value of socioeconomic considerations in planning and executing weather activities has not been fully achieved. In the same way that there are major gaps in weather research and R2O, there are also gaps in research and R2O in socioeconomics of weather that, when filled, will substantially benefit the weather community and, more importantly, society at large. Unless and until these gaps are filled, the value of the work of the weather community will not be fully realized in the broader context of advancing weather prediction capabilities for societal benefit.

The importance of integrating socioeconomic considerations into weather research and R2O emerged as a strong theme at the 2009 Board on Atmospheric Sciences and Climate (BASC) Summer Study workshop. Socioeconomic themes have been discussed by other groups examining major issues in meteorology, including previous NRC committees (e.g.,

Suggested Citation:"2 Socioeconomic Research and Capacity." National Research Council. 2010. When Weather Matters: Science and Services to Meet Critical Societal Needs. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12888.
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NRC, 1998b, 2006a), the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Science Advisory Board (NSAB, 2003, 2009), the World Meteorological Organization (Rogers et al., 2007), the international THORPEX1 program (Morss et al., 2008b; Shapiro and Thorpe, 2004), and USWRP PDT reports (Emanuel et al., 1995; Pielke et al., 1997). Yet the 2009 BASC Summer Study workshop represented the first time that socioeconomic issues have been discussed as a core priority in weather prediction research and R2O at the level of an NRC committee and workshop. Integration of socioeconomic considerations was viewed by workshop participants from a variety of disciplines and backgrounds as important in general for meeting weather community and societal needs, and more specifically to address the established and emerging weather research and R2O needs that are identified in Chapters 3 and 4 of this report. Achieving this integration requires incorporating knowledge and tools from the social sciences.

The social sciences are an assembly of scientific disciplines that address social and economic issues with rigorous theory and methods. These disciplines each have specific knowledge, approaches, and expertise that can contribute substantively to the goal of understanding society’s weather-related needs and providing usable weather information to stakeholders, including public officials, industry, and members of the public. Social science disciplines that can benefit weather research and R2O include economics, human geography, political science, public policy, communication, anthropology, sociology, and psychology. Interdisciplinary fields that integrate social and physical sciences, such as environmental science, risk communication, and natural hazards, can also make important contributions to producing usable weather information.

Although this chapter focuses mostly on information related to weather forecasts, current and historical weather information also have significant societal value. Examples include the use of wind data for siting wind energy facilities and information about past hazardous weather events for public-and private-sector management of future hazardous weather risks. The priorities and mechanisms discussed below are also applicable to benefit the use and value of these types of weather information.

RECENT TRENDS

Societal needs have a long history of being considered in weather prediction, and during the past 15 years, socioeconomic issues in weather predic-

1

THORPEX originally was denoted as “The Observing System Research and Predictability Experiment,” but that terminology is no longer used.

Suggested Citation:"2 Socioeconomic Research and Capacity." National Research Council. 2010. When Weather Matters: Science and Services to Meet Critical Societal Needs. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12888.
×

tion have been discussed in a number of different venues. For example, the U.S. Weather Research Program (USWRP) sponsored a Prospectus Development Team (PDT–6) focused on socioeconomic aspects of weather prediction and related priorities. The PDT–6 report (Pielke et al., 1997) discussed the benefits of integrating societal-aspects research into weather prediction efforts and found that despite the recognized importance of societal aspects of weather, this area has received too little attention for too long. Priorities identified in the PDT–6 report included integrating users into all aspects of weather prediction efforts, and not just at the “end of the line.” The NRC 21st Century report (1998b) identified societal considerations as important, and it included them in Imperative 1 (Optimize and Integrate Observation Capabilities) and Leadership and Management Recommendation 3 (Assess Benefits and Costs). However, the NRC 21st Century report did not identify socioeconomic research or R2O as specific priorities.

Some progress has been made toward the goals identified by PDT–6. Societal aspects of weather are receiving greater attention within the weather prediction community. They are often a topic of significant discussion at community meetings, such as the 2009 BASC Summer Study workshop and recent American Meteorological Society (AMS) Summer Community meetings.2 The AMS Symposium on Policy and Socio-Economic Research, which has been held annually since 2006, has been growing rapidly, and in recognition of the increasing interest in this area, in 2009 the AMS launched a new journal Weather, Climate, and Society. User needs are being incorporated into some weather prediction efforts earlier in the research and development process; examples include the discussions of emerging needs in Chapter 4 of this report and the National Science Foundation (NSF) Collaborative Adaptive Sensing of the Atmosphere (CASA) Engineering Research Center (Box 2.1). The weather prediction community now often includes the input of at least one social or interdisciplinary scientist in important discussions. For example, in recent years, NRC committees addressing societally relevant issues in meteorology have typically included social scientists and interdisciplinary experts. This represents significant progress over the past decade.

However, societal considerations do not yet have a full voice, and social sciences are not yet recognized as full and equal partners in most weather research and R2O efforts. The social sciences include multiple areas of relevant expertise and methodological approaches; one or two individuals can provide only a subset of the social science perspectives that can be useful

Suggested Citation:"2 Socioeconomic Research and Capacity." National Research Council. 2010. When Weather Matters: Science and Services to Meet Critical Societal Needs. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12888.
×

BOX 2.1

Examples of Successes in Integrated Work on Socioeconomics of Weather

Over the years, a variety of research and R2O efforts have addressed socioeconomic aspects of weather. Six examples of current programs that do so by integrating social sciences and meteorology are provided here. Each has a different focus and strategy. These programs demonstrate how such integrated programs can enhance weather community efforts and help society benefit from meteorological advances.


The Collaborative Adaptive Sensing of the Atmosphere (CASA)1 center is an interdisciplinary effort aimed at developing dense networks of small radars to “revolutioniz[e] our ability to observe, understand, predict and respond to hazardous weather events.” Funded as an NSF Engineering Research Center since 2003, CASA is a partnership among governmental, industrial, and academic entities. The center has included social science and end-user components since its inception. Recent integrated CASA successes include studies of emergency management decision making, public response to severe weather, and user-defined adaptive radar scanning strategies (e.g., Bass et al., 2009; McLaughlin et al., 2009; Philips et al., 2007; Rodriguez et al., 2010) and a demonstration of CASA’s end-to-end approach during the May 13, 2009 tornado event (Philips et al., 2009).


The Communicating Hurricane Information (CHI)2 program is a joint NOAA– NSF solicitation “focusing on advancing fundamental understanding of the communication of hurricane outlooks, forecasts, watches, and warnings both to decision makers (i.e., emergency managers, elected officials) and to the general public.” As of 2009, five programs were being funded with total funding of approximately $2 million. This program illustrates how agencies can partner to support integrated weather–society work that simultaneously advances fundamental understanding and addresses mission agency needs. It also illustrates how well-designed research initiatives can entrain social scientists with a variety of expertise into addressing weather forecasting issues.


The University of Washington Probability Forecast (PROBCAST)3 project is a “prototype and test bed for exploring the best approaches for communicating high-resolution uncertainty information to a large and varied user community” (Mass et al., 2009). This research and applications effort, which integrates work in meteorology, statistics, and psychology, developed over approximately 10 years with funding from NSF and the Department of Defense (DOD). Recent PROBCAST successes include research studies examining how people interpret and use probabilistic

Suggested Citation:"2 Socioeconomic Research and Capacity." National Research Council. 2010. When Weather Matters: Science and Services to Meet Critical Societal Needs. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12888.
×

information (Joslyn et al., 2009) and the PROBCAST Web-based portal that disseminates weather forecast uncertainty information.


The Collaborative Program on the Societal Impacts and Economic Benefits of Weather Information (SIP)4 was founded in 2004 to “improve societal gains from weather forecasting by infusing social science research, methods, and capabilities into the Weather Enterprise.” SIP is hosted at NCAR in Boulder, Colorado, with support from NOAA (through the U.S. Weather Research Program) and NSF, as well as from research grants. Recent SIP successes include results from a nationwide survey examining the public’s sources, perceptions, and uses of and values for, weather forecast information, including forecast uncertainty (Lazo et al., 2009, Morss et al., 2008a, 2010), a working group and workshop (Gladwin et al., 2007) that helped initiate the NOAA–NSF CHI program solicitation (see above); and the WAS*IS program (see below).


The Social Science Woven into Meteorology (SSWIM)5 program “promotes collaborative research and partnerships between the social sciences and the physical sciences to enhance societal relevance and to reduce the human risk from atmospheric and related hazards.” SSWIM was founded in 2008 at the National Weather Center in Norman, Oklahoma, and is supported by NOAA and the University of Oklahoma. Recent SSWIM successes include cohosting 2008 and 2009 workshops6 with NOAA’s Hazardous Weather Testbed and Global Systems Division to improve the development of new hazardous weather warning products.


Weather and Society*Integrated Studies (WAS*IS)7 is a “grassroots movement that is changing the weather enterprise by integrating social science into meteorological research and practice in comprehensive and sustained ways.” The WAS*IS program focuses primarily on empowering early career participants to address integrated weather–society issues by introducing social science methods and concepts and building community through workshops (Demuth et al., 2007). The movement aims to help change from what WAS to what IS the future of integrated weather studies not by generating explicit research products, but by building exposure, commitment, and capacity.

Suggested Citation:"2 Socioeconomic Research and Capacity." National Research Council. 2010. When Weather Matters: Science and Services to Meet Critical Societal Needs. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12888.
×

to weather prediction. Moreover, social scientists are still often treated as consultants on projects, brought in once the activity is well under way. Social scientists can contribute not only to demonstrating or helping realize socioeconomic value once a meteorological effort is nearly complete; they can make perhaps even more important contributions to problem identification and research design. Further, progress toward addressing the societal and interdisciplinary priority areas identified more than a decade ago in the NRC (1998b) report has been minimal (Morss et al., 2008b). These areas are of major importance for the weather community in providing cost-effective services for society, but there has been limited motivation or support to pursue them. Although NOAA has made some progress in incorporating social sciences in some areas, social sciences capabilities within NOAA are inadequate and are far from being sufficiently utilized to meet NOAA’s and the nation’s needs (NSAB, 2009; Figure 2.1). Programs to train meteorologists and social scientists to understand and apply each other’s perspectives are also lacking.

Thus, despite previous discussions and efforts, limited progress has been made in bridging the gap between weather prediction and the social sciences. Yet interest in doing so continues to grow. To build on the current momentum and discuss socioeconomics as a high-level priority for the weather prediction community, the 2009 BASC Summer Study workshop included socioeconomic impacts as one of five focal topics. The goal of the socioeconomic discussions was to entrain multiple perspectives at an NRC-sponsored community-level workshop to identify key steps for advancing weather–society research and R2O. Previous related efforts were briefly discussed, but opinions on successes, failures, and the reasons underlying them differed. The bulk of the discussions focused on how to most productively move forward.

Discussions of socioeconomic issues at the 2009 BASC Summer Study workshop received the critical input of physical, social, and interdisciplinary scientists and managers engaged in a variety of weather–society research and R2O activities. The workshop included three presentations on progress and priorities in socioeconomics of weather, followed by a discussion among all workshop participants. An interdisciplinary socioeconomic working group then met to discuss weather–society research and R2O priorities in greater detail, and discussions among the group continued after the workshop. Socioeconomic considerations were also discussed in conjunction with other workshop focal topics, especially the emerging applications (Chapter 4). The concepts and priorities presented here represent a synthesis of discussions at the workshop and those of the study committee.

Suggested Citation:"2 Socioeconomic Research and Capacity." National Research Council. 2010. When Weather Matters: Science and Services to Meet Critical Societal Needs. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12888.
×
FIGURE 2.1 NOAA invests a relatively small amount in social science related to weather. FY 2008 social science budget as a proportion of total NOAA budget and as distributed across line offices (NWS = National Weather Service; OAR = Oceanic and Atmospheric Research; NESDIS = National Environmental Satellite Data and Information Service; PPI = Office of Program Planning and Integration; NMFS = National Marine Fisheries Service; NOS = National Ocean Service). Most of NOAA’s OAR investment in social science in FY 2008 was in climate and other nonweather areas; the total FY 2008 social science budget for the Weather and Water mission goal within NOAA was $0.75M. SOURCE: NSAB (2009).

FIGURE 2.1 NOAA invests a relatively small amount in social science related to weather. FY 2008 social science budget as a proportion of total NOAA budget and as distributed across line offices (NWS = National Weather Service; OAR = Oceanic and Atmospheric Research; NESDIS = National Environmental Satellite Data and Information Service; PPI = Office of Program Planning and Integration; NMFS = National Marine Fisheries Service; NOS = National Ocean Service). Most of NOAA’s OAR investment in social science in FY 2008 was in climate and other nonweather areas; the total FY 2008 social science budget for the Weather and Water mission goal within NOAA was $0.75M. SOURCE: NSAB (2009).

PRIORITY WEATHER–SOCIETY TOPICS

During the workshop and subsequent meetings of the study committee, meteorologists and social scientists jointly identified three initial priority topics for weather research and R2O activities in the socioeconomics of weather information: estimating value; understanding the interpretation and use of information; and improving communication of information. The first focuses primarily on economic value, although other societal values (such as environmental health or human well-being) may be considered. The second and third focus primarily on other, noneconomic social science perspectives, although economic perspectives and tools can be applied as well to address user needs and communications.

For each topic, sample research and R2O questions are briefly mentioned. Note that although the questions are not discussed in detail, substantial complexity underlies them. Addressing each area will require bringing theoretical and methodological tools from the social sciences together with input from meteorology researchers, meteorology practitioners, and forecast users.

Suggested Citation:"2 Socioeconomic Research and Capacity." National Research Council. 2010. When Weather Matters: Science and Services to Meet Critical Societal Needs. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12888.
×

Estimating Value

Reliable estimates of the economic value of weather impacts and forecasts are key to demonstrating the importance of weather prediction programs and to making cost-benefit decisions among different options for allocating weather prediction resources. Estimating the value of forecasts often requires understanding their use (the second priority area). Valuation can also provide insight into the use of forecasts, and thus help improve forecast communication and use. Economists employ multiple approaches and tools for valuing weather impacts and forecasts, such as econometric modeling, decision analysis, and nonmarket valuation. Each has particular strengths and weaknesses and is best suited for different applications. Thus, to build a holistic picture of the value of weather impacts and forecasts to different societal sectors and society as a whole, a core weather-economics expertise needs to be entrained and applied to estimate value from complementary perspectives. Weather and weather forecasts also have significant societal and cultural value that can be examined using perspectives from other, noneconomic, social science disciplines, including public policy, sociology, and anthropology.

Examples of interdisciplinary research and R2O questions in this area include the following:

  • What are the impacts of current weather forecasts on different sectors of the U.S. economy (such as transportation and energy), and what would be the value of forecast improvements?

  • How do weather and weather forecasts interact with socioeconomic infrastructure and systems (such as the transportation system or electric power grid) to influence weather impacts and forecast value?

  • How do the benefits of improving forecasts of the timing and location of hurricane landfall compare with the benefits of improving forecasts of hurricane intensity at landfall?

  • What are the costs and benefits to different sectors and groups of longer lead times for tornado warnings?

  • What are the cost-benefit trade-offs among different improvements to observational networks and among investments in different components of weather prediction systems (e.g., increased resolution, improved data assimilation, improved physics, ensemble size)?

Understanding User Needs, Interpretation, and Use of Information

A key component of the provision of more beneficial weather forecasts is understanding how people interpret forecast information and use it for

Suggested Citation:"2 Socioeconomic Research and Capacity." National Research Council. 2010. When Weather Matters: Science and Services to Meet Critical Societal Needs. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12888.
×

their needs. This includes individuals and organizations in the private and public sectors. Forecast and warning information is interpreted through the lens of individuals’ and organizations’ risk perceptions, experience, needs, beliefs, capabilities, and so on. Further, forecasts are only one of many factors that affect weather-related decisions; cultural, political, economic, and other considerations are also important, as well as interactions with systems such air transportation systems, power grids, and communication networks. Thus, understanding user needs and value requires understanding how people interpret forecasts and how forecasts influence people’s behavior in different contexts. A variety of social science and related theories, from disciplines such as communication, sociology, psychology, and human geography, can be used to understand forecast interpretation and use, employing approaches such as in-depth interviews, focus groups, surveys, and decision experiments. The resulting knowledge can be applied to improve forecast communication, use, and value, and is key to providing societally beneficial impact forecasts as discussed in Chapter 4. To develop holistic understanding that is both deep and broad, work in this area will need to include in-depth studies of cases and specific contexts as well as studies that span populations, economic sectors, regions, and meteorological phenomena.

Examples of questions in this area include the following:

  • What makes various populations more or less vulnerable to severe weather events, and how can improved weather information help mitigate those vulnerabilities?

  • How do people (individually and within organizations) interpret severe weather warnings, and what motivates people to respond?

  • When and how do the biases and framing effects that have been identified in other risk communication contexts affect interpretations and use of weather forecasts?

  • What are people’s mental models of risks from hazardous weather events such as hurricanes and floods? How do those mental models promote or limit interpretation and use of information about weather risks and decisions about protective actions?

  • How do people interpret and use forecast information that communicates uncertainty in different ways, and in what circumstances can uncertainty information help individuals and organizations make better decisions?

  • What are the weather forecast information needs of air transportation providers and users related to the Next Generation Air Transportation System

Suggested Citation:"2 Socioeconomic Research and Capacity." National Research Council. 2010. When Weather Matters: Science and Services to Meet Critical Societal Needs. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12888.
×

or NextGen,3 and what do those needs mean for development of forecasts for NextGen and design of the NextGen system?

  • What impact variables are most important to different individuals and organizations in advance of various types of very high impact weather events, for use in their decisions (see Chapter 4)?

Improving Communication of Information

For forecast and warning information to be used effectively, it needs to be received and understood. People receive forecast information from different sources, ranging from media broadcasters, to the Internet and social networking sites, to friends and family. Thus, effective development and dissemination of weather forecasts requires an understanding of how different communication modes influence interpretation and use of weather forecast information, and how different communication channels and modes interact. Understanding barriers to effective communication and to motivating effective risk-reducing behavior is also important. Given the uncertainty inherent in weather forecasting, it is particularly important to address communication of forecast uncertainty to users ranging from businesses to emergency managers to the general public. Work in this area includes more traditional research approaches such as interviews and surveys as well as stakeholder-oriented and participatory approaches that can aid transition of concepts from research to operations.

Examples of questions include the following:

  • How do people integrate weather forecast information gathered from different sources to form risk perceptions and resolve perceived information conflicts?

  • How do people make decisions to seek new information as a weather situation and its forecasts evolve?

  • How is new forecast information integrated with experience, earlier information, and other considerations to update or confirm risk perceptions and decisions?

  • What roles do social networks play in disseminating forecast information, and how are new media technologies changing how weather information is communicated to different populations?

  • How will a transition from a “warn-on-detection” to “warn-on-forecast” paradigm within the NWS affect severe weather warning communication and use for various audiences?

Suggested Citation:"2 Socioeconomic Research and Capacity." National Research Council. 2010. When Weather Matters: Science and Services to Meet Critical Societal Needs. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12888.
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  • How can the answers to the above questions be applied to develop mechanisms to more effectively communicate weather information and forecasts—particularly those containing uncertainty information—in ways that account for different interpretation by different user groups and promote beneficial behavior?

In all of these priority areas, a sustained, interdisciplinary effort is needed to develop core knowledge that can be applied to address current community needs for weather information, as well as to address new research questions and weather R2O needs as they arise. As in meteorology, quantitative and qualitative approaches can be combined to develop more complete understanding. Relevant social science and interdisciplinary expertise is best entrained from the beginning of studies, to ensure that the work incorporates relevant social science theory and knowledge developed in other contexts and avoids reinventing existing findings. To be most effective, this work would need to link with progress in allied domains that examine risk communication and decisions under risk and uncertainty, such as healthcare and nonweather hazards. Such cross-fertilization would also help attract more leading social scientists to devoting effort to weather prediction issues.

In some situations, addressing these priority areas will involve applying existing social science theories and methods to weather information contexts. Doing so will not only improve knowledge about socioeconomics of weather; it will often also generate interdisciplinary theoretical and methodological advances. In other situations, application to weather contexts will require development of new or substantially improved theories and methods. Thus, work in these priority areas will involve a mix of application and enhancement of existing tools with fundamental new developments. Because meteorologists and researchers from different social science fields can have different ways of learning and knowing, creating successful collaborations and outcomes will require acknowledging and respecting these different backgrounds and approaches.

The findings from this work would not only help the weather community improve the use and value of existing weather information, they would also help the community identify information gaps. In this way, socioeconomic research has the added advantage of identifying groundbreaking new areas for meteorological research and R2O activities. Examples are provided in the discussions in Chapter 4 on very high impact weather, urban meteorology, and renewable energy production.

Commitment to addressing the socioeconomics of weather has another advantage: helping agencies and the weather community at large make

Suggested Citation:"2 Socioeconomic Research and Capacity." National Research Council. 2010. When Weather Matters: Science and Services to Meet Critical Societal Needs. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12888.
×

policy and investment decisions. Weather research and R2O activities inevitably involve choices among priorities for investing resources, and different groups’ societal and economic priorities will invariably differ. For example, a 5-day forecast indicating that a coastal tourism area may need to be evacuated to save lives because of an approaching hurricane may conflict with local businesses’ desire to retain customers and employees and with the area’s long-term economic prosperity if an evacuation turns out to be unnecessary. Investments in research and R2O activities to improve 10-day weather forecasts may mean fewer resources for improving 0- to 24-hour forecasts. Similarly, investments in probabilistic forecasts with larger numbers of ensemble members could result (at least in the near term) in lower resolution forecasts. Decisions about such trade-offs can be informed by an understanding of societal needs for forecasts. Socioeconomic considerations are also important for decisions about designing forecast dissemination and decision support systems of the future, such as new NWS products and NextGen. Thus, weather–society capacity and knowledge can help agencies and political and business leaders make such decisions within a broader policy framework (e.g., Morss, 2005; Morss et al., 2005).

INTEGRATING THE SOCIAL SCIENCES AND WEATHER: A PATH FORWARD

One approach to categorizing interdisciplinary “sociometeorology” research and R2O activities is to consider a combination of “cutting-edge” and “off-the-shelf” (readily available) knowledge in the different disciplines. The most innovative and riskiest research will combine cutting-edge social science with cutting-edge meteorology, advancing science and knowledge in both fields. For some research and R2O questions, cutting-edge social science will most appropriately be applied with off-the-shelf meteorology, or vice versa. Each of these types of work is needed and has value for advancing interdisciplinary knowledge and weather community goals. From an integrated perspective, work that applies off-the-shelf meteorology in a new way to address cutting-edge societal needs has potential to be just as groundbreaking as other types of work. As a result, it is important for fundamental, applied, and use-inspired activities to be supported in career development and by funding agencies.

Building programs that develop and conduct research and R2O activities in these different ways requires two-way partnerships among meteorologists and social scientists, where different perspectives and interests are discussed and incorporated. Depending on the program, different areas of expertise

Suggested Citation:"2 Socioeconomic Research and Capacity." National Research Council. 2010. When Weather Matters: Science and Services to Meet Critical Societal Needs. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12888.
×

and methodological approaches from the social sciences will be needed. There are different approaches that can be taken to build interdisciplinary capacity and expertise. No single approach alone will suffice, but a combination of complementary approaches is required. Summarized below are some opportunities for building interdisciplinary capacity that could be considered (along with a few current examples). Pursued together, programs of this type can develop the required interdisciplinary capacity and knowledge and also apply it to meet weather community, agency, and societal needs.

  • Long-term programs to establish and maintain expertise and resources for integrating social sciences and weather prediction: Current examples include the National Center for Atmospheric Research’s (NCAR’s) Societal Impacts Program (SIP) and the Oklahoma National Weather Center’s Social Science Woven Into Meteorology (SSWIM) program (Box 2.1). A significant feature of both programs is their colocation with (and integration of social scientists into) a major meteorological entity. This colocation and integration is important because it facilitates engaging social science to advance weather–society knowledge and applications.

  • Grant-funded research to address priority fundamental and R2O issues at the weather–society interface: Currently, few research and R2O activities focused on weather–society issues are funded by the federal agencies. This is in contrast to the climate arena, where a variety of programs fund socioeconomic and policy research. One current example of this type of effort in the weather arena is the NOAA/NSF-funded Communicating Hurricane Information (CHI) program (Box 2.1), in which NOAA and NSF, in conjunction with an interdisciplinary group of experts, identified key social science issues related to the hurricane forecast and warning system and then issued a call for proposals. Such grant programs are one of the most effective mechanisms for addressing priority interdisciplinary issues that involve more basic research or for which the most fruitful approaches and expertise are not apparent; in other words, where PI-driven creativity and innovation can make key contributions. They are also a strong mechanism for building interdisciplinary teams and entraining new social science and interdisciplinary expertise to address weather prediction issues.

  • Directed research to quickly address priority applied issues at the weather–society interface: When the specific questions are well-defined, concrete results are needed in a few months or years, and the methodologies to produce those results are known and well developed, the most appropriate mechanism can often be directed research efforts such as targeted short-term grants, contracts, or consultant studies (e.g., Centrec, 2003; Lazo

Suggested Citation:"2 Socioeconomic Research and Capacity." National Research Council. 2010. When Weather Matters: Science and Services to Meet Critical Societal Needs. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12888.
×

and Chestnut, 2002). Such studies generally involve off-the-shelf social science combined with off-the-shelf meteorology. As socioeconomic capacity is developed within the weather prediction community, more studies may fall into this category.

  • Collaborative social science–physical science or –engineering (“end-to-end-to-end”) testbeds that integrate social science into the development of new meteorological technologies and products: A current example is the NSF CASA Engineering Research Center (Box 2.1), which has incorporated social science as an equal partner in multiple aspects of its work. The long-term programs described above may also include efforts of this type. Such efforts combine new weather technologies and products, users and their socioeconomic considerations, and social science expertise. In doing so, they provide a focusing mechanism for integrating social sciences into meteorology in ways that meet users’ and meteorologists’ needs.

  • Agency programs to develop internal and external capacity to address specific weather–society needs related to the missions of NOAA/NWS and other agencies: Developing internal agency capacity will require hiring social and interdisciplinary scientists as well as social science training of existing agency personnel. External capacity familiar with agency needs can be developed through mechanisms such as programs for interdisciplinary university faculty, postdoctoral researchers, and graduate students to work in residence at specific agencies (similar to the American Association for the Advancement of Science’s Science & Technology Policy Fellowship program,4 but focused on weather-society work). Such programs are needed to develop R2O applications of social sciences and to allow agencies to effectively use input from social science efforts. An important aspect of such programs is engaging a diversity of social science disciplines, since different disciplines (and subdisciplines) bring different perspectives relevant to addressing agency missions.

  • Educational initiatives to train the next generation of meteorology researchers, forecasters, and practitioners in integrated weather–society thinking: A small group of meteorologists who understand socioeconomic issues is developing, and the community of interdisciplinary weather– society researchers is growing. However, these individuals have been trained largely through their own initiative to pursue interdisciplinary education and through small efforts such as the WAS*IS (Weather and Society*Integrated Studies) program (Box 2.1). This group is also well below the critical mass required to meet weather community needs. Thus, educational initiatives

Suggested Citation:"2 Socioeconomic Research and Capacity." National Research Council. 2010. When Weather Matters: Science and Services to Meet Critical Societal Needs. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12888.
×

are needed to train meteorology students, forecasters, and practicing meteorologists in societal aspects of weather. Interdisciplinary undergraduate and graduate programs are also needed for meteorologists and social scientists interested in weather–society careers. Such initiatives can be developed by universities, NOAA/NWS, and other organizations, and fostered by community-wide institutions such as AMS.

Several current examples of such programs are provided in Box 2.1. These programs are complementary, and each fills a unique niche. Their successes include interdisciplinary research projects and results, forecast programs and products that integrate end-user needs, and researchers and forecasters knowledgeable in the integration of meteorology and social sciences. Although such programs demonstrate substantial progress in integrated weather–society work, it will take time for these efforts to demonstrate large-scale benefits to the weather community and society. Further, they are far from sufficient in filling the weather community’s needs in this area, and funding for many of the programs is currently limited or uncertain in the future. This highlights the need for long-term, sustainable funding for such programs. To further this collaborative work, the weather community can build on examples in areas such as the multiple U.S. centers focusing on natural hazards research and reduction, the National Marine Fisheries Service and other natural resources management programs, and NOAA’s Regional Integrated Sciences and Assessments program to address climate issues important to regional decision makers.

Agency coordination is important for facilitating efforts to address socioeconomic aspects of weather, but many of the ideas and much of the implementation effort will need to come from within the weather research and R2O community and from allied social scientists. Given the interdisciplinary nature of this area, specific ideas and partnerships will need to be developed through in-depth discussion among meteorologists and social scientists from various disciplines. Periodic workshops that bring social scientists and meteorologists together to discuss priority research and R2O topics in socioeconomic aspects of weather prediction will aid in integrating these fields. AMS and long-term programs such as NCAR’s SIP and the Oklahoma National Weather Center’s SSWIM program are already coordinating such discussions, and they can continue to facilitate workshops on a variety of topics. Because limited time was available at the 2009 BASC Summer Study workshop to discuss socioeconomic programs and issues, workshop participants noted the potential value of a future community workshop for social and interdisciplinary scientists to discuss priorities and strategies for

Suggested Citation:"2 Socioeconomic Research and Capacity." National Research Council. 2010. When Weather Matters: Science and Services to Meet Critical Societal Needs. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12888.
×

weather–society research and R2O in depth. Mission agencies, such as NOAA, can organize workshops focused on addressing specific social science needs for transitioning R2O.

Vision

The committee’s vision is that by ~2025 a core group of social scientists and meteorologists will have formed a strong, mutually beneficial partnership in which multiple areas of science work together to ensure that weather research and forecasting meet societal needs. The knowledge and expertise needed to address critical problems at the weather–society interface efficiently and reliably will be readily available, and it will be applied regularly to address research questions of interest to both social scientists and meteorologists and to enhance weather R2O and operations. Where societal considerations are integral to meteorological projects and programs, social scientists with appropriate expertise will be engaged from the onset of planning, so that the social sciences can most effectively contribute to program goals and outcomes. Sufficient support will be available to incorporate relevant social science perspectives from various disciplines into traditionally physical science–oriented programs, and to provide opportunities for sustained, mutually beneficial social science–meteorology partnerships. This includes institutional and funding support from government agencies (including NOAA, NSF, NASA, and others) as well as community support from other agencies, universities, research institutions, AMS, and other members of the weather enterprise.

Progress is being made, as illustrated by the activities in Box 2.1 and the growing number of people interested in integrated weather–society issues, but current activities and capacity are still below critical mass, and years will be needed for the benefits of these efforts to be broadly realized. After decades of discussing the importance of socioeconomic considerations, the vision is that the weather prediction community will finally have the capacity to understand and act on them. The benefits will be realized through integrated, interdisciplinary research, R2O, and operational work in very high impact weather, urban meteorology, renewable energy production, and other, long-standing issues (e.g., transportation) at the weather–society interface. Socioeconomics will be infused into weather research and forecasting in these areas; and in discussions of weather community priorities, socioeconomic perspectives will be integrated into findings and recommendations. This will result in meteorological researchers and forecast providers, social

Suggested Citation:"2 Socioeconomic Research and Capacity." National Research Council. 2010. When Weather Matters: Science and Services to Meet Critical Societal Needs. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12888.
×

scientists, and forecast users working together to generate weather science and services that effectively meet critical societal needs.

Recommendation: The weather community and social scientists should create partnerships to develop a core interdisciplinary capacity for weather–society research and transitioning research to operations, starting with three priority areas:

  • estimating the societal and economic value of weather information;

  • understanding the interpretation and use of weather information by various audiences;

  • and applying this knowledge to improve communication, use, and value.

To be effective, the partnership between the weather community and social scientists should be two-way and balanced, and should include a variety of social science perspectives. Members of the weather community, including research institutions, universities, individual meteorologists, NOAA, NSF, and other agencies, should pursue multiple mechanisms for building research and R2O capacity in the socioeconomics of weather, including long-term interdisciplinary programs; grant-funded and directed research, R2O, and applications activities; integrated social science–physical science testbeds; mission agency programs to develop capacity; and educational initiatives. The required capacity should be developed and utilized through partnerships across agencies, programs, and disciplines, and in concert with academia and the private sector.

Suggested Citation:"2 Socioeconomic Research and Capacity." National Research Council. 2010. When Weather Matters: Science and Services to Meet Critical Societal Needs. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12888.
×

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Suggested Citation:"2 Socioeconomic Research and Capacity." National Research Council. 2010. When Weather Matters: Science and Services to Meet Critical Societal Needs. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12888.
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Suggested Citation:"2 Socioeconomic Research and Capacity." National Research Council. 2010. When Weather Matters: Science and Services to Meet Critical Societal Needs. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12888.
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Suggested Citation:"2 Socioeconomic Research and Capacity." National Research Council. 2010. When Weather Matters: Science and Services to Meet Critical Societal Needs. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12888.
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Suggested Citation:"2 Socioeconomic Research and Capacity." National Research Council. 2010. When Weather Matters: Science and Services to Meet Critical Societal Needs. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12888.
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Suggested Citation:"2 Socioeconomic Research and Capacity." National Research Council. 2010. When Weather Matters: Science and Services to Meet Critical Societal Needs. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12888.
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Suggested Citation:"2 Socioeconomic Research and Capacity." National Research Council. 2010. When Weather Matters: Science and Services to Meet Critical Societal Needs. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12888.
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Suggested Citation:"2 Socioeconomic Research and Capacity." National Research Council. 2010. When Weather Matters: Science and Services to Meet Critical Societal Needs. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12888.
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Suggested Citation:"2 Socioeconomic Research and Capacity." National Research Council. 2010. When Weather Matters: Science and Services to Meet Critical Societal Needs. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12888.
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Suggested Citation:"2 Socioeconomic Research and Capacity." National Research Council. 2010. When Weather Matters: Science and Services to Meet Critical Societal Needs. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12888.
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Suggested Citation:"2 Socioeconomic Research and Capacity." National Research Council. 2010. When Weather Matters: Science and Services to Meet Critical Societal Needs. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12888.
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Suggested Citation:"2 Socioeconomic Research and Capacity." National Research Council. 2010. When Weather Matters: Science and Services to Meet Critical Societal Needs. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12888.
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Suggested Citation:"2 Socioeconomic Research and Capacity." National Research Council. 2010. When Weather Matters: Science and Services to Meet Critical Societal Needs. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12888.
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Suggested Citation:"2 Socioeconomic Research and Capacity." National Research Council. 2010. When Weather Matters: Science and Services to Meet Critical Societal Needs. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12888.
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Suggested Citation:"2 Socioeconomic Research and Capacity." National Research Council. 2010. When Weather Matters: Science and Services to Meet Critical Societal Needs. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12888.
×
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Suggested Citation:"2 Socioeconomic Research and Capacity." National Research Council. 2010. When Weather Matters: Science and Services to Meet Critical Societal Needs. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12888.
×
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Suggested Citation:"2 Socioeconomic Research and Capacity." National Research Council. 2010. When Weather Matters: Science and Services to Meet Critical Societal Needs. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12888.
×
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Suggested Citation:"2 Socioeconomic Research and Capacity." National Research Council. 2010. When Weather Matters: Science and Services to Meet Critical Societal Needs. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12888.
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Suggested Citation:"2 Socioeconomic Research and Capacity." National Research Council. 2010. When Weather Matters: Science and Services to Meet Critical Societal Needs. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12888.
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The past 15 years have seen marked progress in observing, understanding, and predicting weather. At the same time, the United States has failed to match or surpass progress in operational numerical weather prediction achieved by other nations and failed to realize its prediction potential; as a result, the nation is not mitigating weather impacts to the extent possible.

This book represents a sense of the weather community as guided by the discussions of a Board on Atmospheric Sciences and Climate community workshop held in summer 2009. The book puts forth the committee's judgment on the most pressing high level, weather-focused research challenges and research to operations needs, and makes corresponding recommendations. The book addresses issues including observations, global non-hydrostatic coupled modeling, data assimilation, probabilistic forecasting, and quantitative precipitation and hydrologic forecasting. The book also identifies three important, emerging issues--predictions of very high impact weather, urban meteorology, and renewable energy development--not recognized or emphasized in previous studies. Cutting across all of these challenges is a set of socioeconomic issues, whose importance and emphasis--while increasing--has been undervalued and underemphasized in the past and warrants greater recognition and priority today.

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