NSSL Research: Social Science

Our mission is to conduct social science research with the goal of minimizing the impacts of hazardous weather on society.

To achieve this mission, NSSL researchers and their collaborators work to understand and provide the weather information society needs. Research scientists consider both the content of the weather information and the different ways people receive it to evaluate opportunities for improvement.

People now receive weather information from a variety of sources, including television, mobile phones, tornado sirens, radio, internet, NOAA weather radio, friends and family, and social media, and each platform offers different features for communicating about the weather. NSSL social science research directly involves emergency managers, broadcast meteorologists, and operational forecasters, in addition to the United States public, to assure innovations in weather research are holistically integrated into the weather communication system.

Social Science Research Areas

Emergency Management

Emergency managers play a critical role in distributing NOAA National Weather Service warnings to people using a variety of methods, such as activating sirens, notifying schools, hospitals and other critical services, activating an emergency alert system, cable television interrupt, or a reverse emergency call-out system. Emergency managers play an integral role in the testing, evaluation, and feedback during the development of probabilistic hazard information within the NOAA Hazardous Weather Testbed. They provide feedback on their interpretation of experimental probabilistic forecasts generated in the HWT from the PHI Experiment and the Experimental Forecast Program. This feedback is used in conjunction with feedback from forecasters and broadcast meteorologists to refine how the uncertainty information is generated and disseminated. In addition, NSSL collaborators conduct ethnographic research with emergency managers during live events. This helps researchers understand the complex decision-making processes of emergency managers during severe weather outside controlled testbed environments.

Broadcast Meteorology

As intermediaries between NOAA National Weather Service forecasters and the public, broadcast meteorologists serve a critical and complex role in the communication of weather warnings. NSSL researchers work directly with broadcast meteorologists to get their feedback on experimental forecast tools, including their interpretation of experimental probabilistic forecasts generated in the HWT from the Probabilistic Hazards Information Experiment. Researchers include broadcasters directly in the HWT spring experiment, and they also conduct interviews and focus groups with broadcasters outside the testbed environment. This feedback is used in conjunction with feedback from emergency managers and forecasters to refine how uncertainty information is generated and disseminated.

Weather Forecasters

Modern forecasters have many tools to forecast the weather and communicate those forecasts with their users. As these tools become ever more complex, it has become important to test new innovations in operational settings and assure new tools are useful, usable, and used. NOAA National Weather Service forecasters participate in experiments in the NOAA Hazardous Weather Testbed that evaluate their decision-making processes. In addition, NSSL researchers and collaborators go into NOAA National Weather Service forecast offices to observe the complexities of real-life forecasting. Improvements to forecasting and weather communication can come from improvements to forecasting tools, and from improved tools for communicating with each other, with core partners, and with the public.

United States Public

The success of the weather communication system ultimately depends on how well members of the United States public can receive, understand, and respond to weather information and warnings. NSSL researchers and collaborators collect data related to these goals through interviews, focus groups and surveys. Studies of the U.S. population range in scale from highly local, where researchers examine specific issues in particular places, to national. Insights generated from this work inform recommendations for the communication products, practices and policies of forecasters, emergency managers and broadcast meteorologists, in addition to the research agendas of other social scientists.

Social Science Research Partnerships

NSSL researchers collaborate with colleagues at The University of Oklahoma’s Center for Risk and Crisis Management, the OU Center for Applied Social Research, the OU Center for the Analysis and Prediction of Storms, the University of Akron, Howard University, and NOAA’s Sea Grant Extension Network. Through these relationships, NSSL leverages cutting-edge science and expertise from across the many social science disciplines that conduct research in this area. Collaborators include researchers from psychology, adult education, anthropology, political science, communication, and geography. Each discipline contributes an important perspective on the intersection of weather and society, allowing NSSL to thoughtfully identify the innovations that will improve national resilience to weather hazards.

Are you interested in becoming a partner organization in our work? Contact Kim Klockow at Kim.Klockow@noaa.gov for more information.