Everybody Talks about the Weather–but Not All the Time

January 23, 2012 · 0 comments

Installation of dual-polarization radar at the Sacramento, California, office of the National Weather Service prompted a local paper to publish a detailed profile of forecast operations there. The web version we linked includes a short video interview with meteorologist Kathy Hoxsie explaining the advantages of the new observing technology.

Dual-pol of course is a major topic here at the Annual Meeting in New Orleans. Many attendees are getting a chance to hear the latest updates on the installation of the technology, including tomorrow (Tuesday, 11 a.m., Room 357) when Timothy Crum of NOAA/NEXRAD operations gives a “30,000 foot view” of the upgrade process.

One thing that caught our eye in the article was a telling comment Hoxsie made about the public’s interest in weather, when a

storm – which was producing a light drizzle Friday morning – had moved in Thursday, ending what had been a spike in weather interest by the public.

Counter-intuitively, people are interested when weather isn’t doing what it is expected to do, Hoxsie said. So the arrival of rain – a normal occurrence throughout the winter – didn’t mean more questions from the public.

“We get almost as many calls when there is no weather,” Hoxsie said. “People want to know if there is a drought, when the next storm is coming, when will the sunny weather end? The interest actually lessens a bit because the weather is doing what everyone’s expecting it to do.”

(Even if the public takes an occasional break from talking about the weather, surely this week of all weeks we can go nonstop, so here goes:) Doesn’t this effect depend on how menacing a rain might be? One would think a heavy rain might prompt a spike of interest in flood risks, or simply questions about when the rain would end. But the counterintuitive effect Hoxsie mentioned is a reminder that our relationship with weather is more nuanced than we might think.

So, at the same time as the presentation on dual pol radar (but in Room 243), you’ll find clear evidence of that subtlety thanks to David Perkins IV, who cuts through preconceptions about how weather determines people’s zoo attendance.

Social forces are admittedly the strengths of attendance prediction; however, the subtle differences in a zoo’s weather vulnerability—whether it is related to city proximity, spatial layout, surrounding demography, or climate of the location—are factors that underlie the scholarship of how weather and weather perception both affect zoo attendance.

The next paper in that session is by Kevin Simmons and Daniel Sutter, two social science researchers who also refuse to take this relationship for granted. We’re particularly interested to know what their cold-eyed data show about the effect TV meteorologists actually have on saving lives during tornadoes.