Michael H. Glantz, Conference Organizer
Lesley F. Tarleton, Conference Coordinator
Environmental and Societal Impacts Group
PO Box 3000
Boulder, Colorado 80307
* The National Center for Atmospheric Research is sponsored by the National Science Foundation.
The Mesoscale Research Initiative: Societal Aspects workshop was organized by the Environmental and Societal Impacts Group (ESIG) of the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) and funded by the National Science Foundation's Division of Atmospheric Sciences through the Field Projects Office of NCAR.
The workshop organizers wish to thank all attendees for their enthusiastic participation and productive ideas which have formed the basis for this report. The report is a truly collaborative effort with input and review by all members of ESIG, as well as many other participants. Special thanks go to Maria Krenz of ESIG for assisting with arranging the workshop and preparation of the final report and to Jan Stewart and Shirley Broach of ESIG for typing this report through many revisions.
Across the United States, weather works unceasingly to shape our
prospects and fortunes. Blessing some, bringing suffering and hardship
to others, weather penetrates so broadly and deeply into our everyday
lives that its full influence is more instinctively felt than
consciously recognized. Seasons in their turn bring spring and summer
squalls, autumn hurricanes, and winter blizzards that endanger our
citizens, whether at home or in transit. Precipitation molds our
agriculture, our water resources, the navigability of our rivers, and
our wetland habitats. Regional weather combines with our energy use to
dictate the quality of our air. Once-insignificant weather features --
small dust storms, or patches of fog or haze -- today can compromise
complex operations of a high-technology military. Population growth,
demographic shifts, and economic development have combined to increase
the number of lives and dollar value at stake. New technology creates
opportunities for domesticating weather -- harnessing its benefits and
avoiding its hazards -- but at the same time introduces new, unforeseen
societal exposures. The worldwide reach of US trade and strategic
interests transforms a national challenge into a global one.
The workshop on the societal aspects of the Mesoscale Research Initiative was convened by Michael Glantz, Head of the Environmental and Societal Impacts Group at NCAR on December 10, 1990. Twenty-seven participants from the US and Canada attended the meeting. Their expertise represented a wide range of professional interests including physical and social sciences, and scientific research, applications, and administration. Disciplinary backgrounds included political science, economics, statistics, meteorology, hydrology, engineering, geography, psychology, and law (for complete addresses and a brief biographical sketch for each participant, see Appendices 2 and 3).
Each participant presented a brief statement about his or her interest in mesoscale research. Their names and organizational affiliation are as follows.
Barbara Brown, Statistics and Meteorology, ESIG/NCAR
Stanley Changnon Water Resources, Illinois State Water Survey
Hal Cochrane Economics, Colorado State University
Margaret Davidson Environmental Law, South Carolina Sea Grant Consortium, Charleston, South Carolina
Deborah Davis Administration, Research Applications Program, NCAR
Mary Downton Computer Science, ESIG/NCAR
David George Meteorology, NOAA/ERL, Boulder, Colorado
Michael Glantz Political Science, ESIG/NCAR
Eve Gruntfest Geography, University of Colorado at Colorado Springs
William Hooke Office of the Chief Scientist, NOAA, Washington, DC
Dale Jamieson Environmental Ethics, University of Colorado
Richard Katz Statistics, ESIG/NCAR
Margaret LeMone Mesoscale Meteorology, NCAR
Gordon McKay Meteorology, Atmospheric Environment Services, Environment Canada (retired)
Kathleen Miller Economics, ESIG/NCAR
Larry Mooney Meteorology, NWS Forecast Office, Denver, Colorado
Tom Potter Meteorology, National Weather Service, Western Region, Salt Lake City, Utah
Roger Pulwarty Geography, University of Colorado at Boulder
Steven Rhodes Political Science, ESIG/NCAR
William Riebsame Geography, Natural Hazards \& Research Applications Center, University of Colorado at Boulder
Art Shantz Political Science, Research Applications Program/NCAR
Tom Stewart Psychology, Center for Policy Research, State University of New York, Albany
Robert Stoffel Emergency Response Institute, Olympia, Washington
Edward Szoke Mesoscale Meteorology, NCAR
Lesley Tarleton Mesoscale Meteorology, ESIG/NCAR
Don Wilhite Agricultural Meteorology, University of Nebraska, Lincoln
Jon Zufelt Hydraulic Engineering, Cold Regions Research & Engineering Laboratory, US Army Corps of Engineers, Hanover, NH
During his opening remarks Glantz noted that mesoscale weather events directly and indirectly affect a wide range of human activities. While there may be little that societies can do to stop the occurrence of such events, advanced and ex post facto information about them can provide society with an ability to minimize their present and future impacts. The judicious use of information about mesoscale events can shift the balance of responses from reaction to proaction as a result of increased awareness of the risks involved with mesoscale weather.
Glantz introduced William Hooke, Executive Director, Office of the Chief Scientist, NOAA. Hooke informed the participants that there was sincere, lasting interest in the development of a social science research agenda focused on mesoscale weather events, broadly defined, including extreme meteorological events and other weather hazards. The goal of such an agenda would be to enable society to capitalize on the benefits that might be derived from improved spatial and temporal weather information, as well as to mitigate the hazards that such events bring.
He also noted that the National Weather Service (NWS) is at an important juncture in its history. The multi-billion-dollar modernization program to upgrade the technological support of the NWS has strengthened the potential for developing an improved weather forecast system. The need for a modernization program was recognized as urgent, as the NWS infrastructure was rapidly becoming outmoded. Modernization made it possible to improve the system, especially, for example, with such tools as Doppler radar. This technology produces measurable improvements in tornado and other severe thunderstorm forecasts/warnings. Hooke noted, as an example, that with the change from relying solely on spotters (tornado warnings were issued only after a spotter had sighted a tornado) to using Doppler radar, the lead time changed from 3 to 20 minutes and there was a drastic reduction in error rate. Although a tornado will cause damage regardless of the forecast, the degree of harm to individuals, and to some extent to property, could be reduced with improvements in forecast skill and information dissemination.
In addition to upgrading the hardware, there is a recognized need to improve forecasts and their usage. Hooke noted that a common question asked by the staff of the Office of Management and Budget relates to the benefits of improved forecasts. What are the realistic benefits of improved forecasts of mesoscale weather events? To date many responses to this question have been anecdotal. There is a demand for reliable and credible quantitative as well as qualitative forecast value assessments. Hooke recognized the need to support research on societal aspects of mesoscale weather events on a sustained, as opposed to ad hoc, and long-term as opposed to a short-term basis. He identified four important motives behind the strong interest in mesoscale research: life, property, national defense and science. He also emphasized the importance of mesoscale weather to the economic productivity of the nation. He closed his presentation with the following: What questions should we be asking now?
Participants then raised issues about mesoscale research in general. As society evolves, and as climate (and therefore weather) varies, new results are expected of the forecasting community. There is a constant need to identify areas where forecasting methods can aid in the decision-making process, such as in agriculture and in aviation. In addition, available technology is always changing. Thus, vulnerabilities and risks may also be changing. Hooke cited the example of the switch from propeller-driven aircraft to jets and how this changed the weather forecast needs of a particular segment of the forecasters' user community.
Participants expressed the view that it is as beneficial to improve the use of existing forecasts as it is to develop improved forecasts, especially of extreme meteorological events. This was based on the belief that it is not enough to produce and disseminate a forecast of a specific weather event but that there is a need to improve society's understanding and use of that forecast.
Discussion highlighted the general acceptance of the view that research on the physical and the societal aspects of mesoscale weather-related events is extremely important for the following reasons: (1) People are most aware of weather events in their locale, and each locale has its own set of specific weather-related hazards with which it must contend. (2) This is the scale at which human activities directly interface with atmospheric processes. (3) Mesoscale research is more tractable than research on broader time and space scales and can, therefore, yield tangible results in relatively shorter periods of time.
The overriding objective of the Mesoscale Research Initiative is the improvement of science to enhance societal well-being. This workshop was supported in order to provide social scientists with an opportunity to provide a framework for a societal aspects research program that would be a part of the Mesoscale Research Initiative, through the identification and enhancement of the social, economic and environmental benefits associated with improved mesoscale research.
Interest in the value of forecasts specifically, and of mesoscale research in general, is high in such agencies as the Federal Aviation Administration, Department of Agriculture, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Department of Energy, Department of Defense, Federal Emergency Management Administration, and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, among many others. In addition, mesoscale research output will be required as input to global change research activities.
It was suggested that with regard to the impacts of weather events on society, the focus has been on accounting for loss of life and of property. Yet, there is an important factor that is often omitted from discussion of adverse impacts. Adverse weather impacts include displacement, relocation, community breakdown, and suffering; what one might call a "misery quotient." Incorporating this factor along with quantitative assessments would provide a more accurate picture of the actual impacts of mesoscale weather events on society.
It was also noted that there is a need to develop a framework for communicating impacts research output, such as, for example, what information is needed and in what form it is most beneficial, back to the meteorological forecasting community in order to ensure that information flows in both directions. It is no longer acceptable nor sufficient for forecasters to provide their forecasts to potential users with the hope that either the users will know what information is most important for their needs or that the users will know how best to use the information provided by the forecasters.
Glantz then provided the workshop participants with a plan of action for the remainder of the meeting. The participants were divided into three working groups centered on forecasts (with Tom Stewart, SUNY-Albany, as chairperson), impacts (with Stan Changnon, Illinois Water Survey, as chairperson) and responses (with Skip Stoffel, Emergency Management, Inc., as chairperson). It was noted that these categories were not mutually exclusive. Assignment to each of these groups was based on the primary interest of each of the participants.
The forecasts category relates to the entire process of forecasting, from constructing forecasts to their dissemination. Impacts refers to the interactions between society and mesoscale weather events as well as the societal impacts of forecasts. Responses refers to societal reaction to either meteorological events or to forecasts of such events. A list of possible issues that might be encompassed within these categories was supplied to the participants, who were advised that the list was meant to be suggestive, not exhaustive. It was provided to spark discussion. The working groups were free to set their own agendas.
With regard to forecasts, it was suggested that the group consider users' needs and communication processes, as well as the research and technology that go into improving forecasts. Along these lines the group might consider discussing perceptions of societal and environmental costs and benefits of forecasts. "Nowcasting" (in addition to or as part of the forecasting process) is important, as quantitative information is often desired about the status of a freeze, a snow storm, a flash flood, and so on, while the event is still in progress. Research on the use and value of forecasts is important to assess what improvements in forecast output are feasible, most needed, and most valuable.
With respect to impacts, suggestions for possible discussion on impact assessment included consideration of a ``misery quotient" or a way to capture the true costs of extreme meteorological events; indirect as well as direct and long-term as well as short-term impacts (although a tornado occurs in a matter of minutes, its impacts can linger for years); psychological factors associated with forecasts and with impacts, and so forth. Research on these and similar topics would enable researchers to better apportion responsibility between nature and society for the severity of impacts of extreme or anomalous weather events at the mesoscale. It was suggested that more attention be given to the idea of "hindcasting" with regard to impact assessment; that is, reviewing the cost/benefit assessment after some time has passed so that a more realistic assessment can be made.
Responses to mesoscale events as well as to forecasts can be categorized as follows: preventive, mitigative, and adaptive. Suggested issues that could be addressed included: How do migrants to a new area adjust to the local weather hazards? To what extent can policy changes reduce vulnerability? How can one change social responses to extreme meterological events? What are the land-use policies that can minimize or exacerbate the level of risk from mesoscale weather events? How best might one measure the efficiency of responses to mesoscale forecasts? How best can users' needs for information be fed back to forecasters?
Some common themes were suggested to the working groups: methods of assessment, climate change issues, risk probability factors. The following questions were suggested to focus group discussions: (1) What has been done in this area? (2) What is not being done? (3) What are the critical gaps in our knowledge? (4) What are priority issues to be addressed in this area? (5) What are the next steps?
The plenary session ended with the workshop dividing into the three working groups (see Appendix 2b for the membership of these working groups). The working group meetings were interspersed with plenary sessions to assess the direction and progress of discussion of each group. The final statements produced by each of the working groups are presented in the following section.
In order to achieve the full societal benefit of improved forecasting capability resulting from the National Weather Service modernization and the Mesoscale Research Initiative (MRI), the following must occur:
A few case studies dealing with direct effects, as well as the value of short-term weather forecasts (e.g., snow removal), have been produced. But the lack of an acceptable theoretical framework has limited the "generalizability" of these studies and hindered the reliance on their policy recommendations. Attempts to develop a theoretical framework have been based on the so-called "hazard" paradigm and on the normative, prescriptive decision-analytic methodology (i.e., "risk-benefit" analysis). Although it is clear that improved information about weather is of potential economic value, the circumstances under which this value will be at least partially realized and how best to quantify it are still open questions.
Much of the impacts assessment research has been aimed at estimating economic impacts in dollar terms. However, it is well recognized that the full social costs of mescoscale events includes psychological consequences and other social disruptions. Examples include residual fears and anxieties, altered social relationships, effects of damages to public services and facilities, and civil disorder.
There is also minimal literature on assessment methodologies for mesoscale impacts research. Each research community has informally adopted a different and varying set of definitions, criteria for mesoscale impact assessment, and methods of quantification (including economic impacts). This has contributed to a lack of communication between the physical and social sciences, and limits the credibility of impact value estimates.
Changes in demographics, technology, energy costs, and public policies will also change societal and economic vulnerabilities, as well as alter the value of improved mesoscale forecasts. As an example, it is estimated that by the year 2000 more than 80\% of the US population will reside within 50 miles of a coast. This has significant implications for business and economic activity at risk to severe storms (e.g., hurricanes, tornadoes, Great Lakes severe weather).
Anticipation of future demographics and patterns of economic activity and technological development would allow better tailoring of economically beneficial weather services. At present, the design for better weather services comes from the day-to-day interaction of weather service providers and users. Rather than being future-oriented, weather service design is present-oriented. In an increasingly integrated global economy, rapid responses will become more important; and improved mesoscale forecasts will facilitate more efficient use of resources.
There is a need for centralization and networking in the development and use of mesoscale impact data bases. Currently most data base development is project-specific and tends to be unavailable to other researchers working on weather-related impacts studies.
At present there exist limited opportunities for education and training in weather-related impacts research. Limited interaction between the physical and social sciences, coupled with episodic funding which focuses primarily on major disasters, has resulted in minimal concern and support for continuous multidisciplinary research on weather services and impacts.
Because most impacts-related research has focused on catastrophic events, there has been little emphasis placed on long-term follow-up or on phenomena which occur over longer time periods and affect larger geographic regions. Validation of impacts-related research findings, or what might be termed impacts re-assessment, has not been widely practiced. The value of such re-assessments would be to confirm impacts research methods in order to ensure a degree of comparability between research on mesoscale events and impacts in different geographic regions. In addition, such re-assessments would provide comparability between impacts in different economic sectors. The policy implications of improved understanding of mesoscale impacts and better forecasts are evident: better information (both past and future) can yield improvements in commercial transportation (rail, air), public works (snow removal, road maintenance, water management and treatment) and public safety.
Typically, the effect of mesoscale events is assessed during and immediately following the event. Often validation of the estimates does not take place, and effects of intangibles are not included. Validations would take an in-depth look at impacts of both the weather events and related government policies.
A few recent examples should be selected in which a detailed re-assessment of impacts is feasible. Possible examples are: 1988 drought, West Virginia floods, Hurricane Hugo, the Limon (Colorado) tornado, 1987-88 winter storms, among others.
Such an evaluation would compare impacts of services with and without an improvement in mesoscale forecasting or use of mesoscale forecast information.
Possible examples demonstrating such effects are: tornadoes, agricultural weather forecasting centers, Great Lakes storm forecasting, fire weather forecasting, airport policy to avoid microbursts, downslope wind forecasting for the Colorado front range. (This list is only meant to be suggestive.)
Coastal cities -- rapid growth increases their vulnerability. Urban heat islands -- health risks increase for aging population. Aviation -- increasing air traffic and fuel costs creates the need to reduce delays. Colorado River water -- growing population in the US West increases demand for efficient water use. Energy shortage -- rising and fluctuating energy costs create need for conservation and efficiency. Environmental quality -- relating weather conditions to emissions control can improve efficiency. Financial capacity -- heavy reliance on debt increases sensitivity to hazardous events, for individuals, businesses, and government.
Many useful technologies have been developed to prevent or mitigate the effects of mesoscale weather events and other natural hazards. However, these are not being effectively and efficiently used because of the lack of awareness of their existence, and lack of a format in which information can be quickly read and understood and readily applied. A study should be made of how the effectiveness of communication can be enhanced to remedy this deficiency. Candidate studies could include the Washington State floods of December 1990 and hurricane Hugo. A guide, based upon an examination of effective communication mechanisms from such case studies, could be prepared for use in coping with future hazardous mesoscale events.
Develop, establish, and maintain communication networks.
At least two kinds of problems emerge as data moves along the continuum from forecasting to response. First, there is a large variety of data sources with diverse data formats that are not readily known to potential users. Second, there are large numbers of institutional sources of information (with overlapping or conflicting mandates), as well as diverse users.
To address these problems, we need to identify sources of information, dissemination methods, and the "users" and their responsibilities. With this information, we can then suggest a model framework for the establishment of communication networks of sources and users. To ensure effectiveness and continuity, efficiency and economic analyses should be conducted periodically as "fine tuning" mechanisms, and included in operational costs.
Identify and use nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and civic groups in developing public awareness and educational activities with respect to appropriate responses to mesoscale weather events.
Broad-based use of improved forecasting is necessarily predicated upon widespread public awareness of and education about the significance of the information. This issue is inadequately addressed by educational and management institutions. Current NGO activities in other fields of endeavor suggest that there is a significant role for NGOs as well as civic groups in educating the public. It is important to develop a plan for identifying and actively involving these groups.
The societal aspects of mesoscale research must emphasize societal responses, as well as detection. Physical and social scientists must realize that institutions and social groups that collectively constitute the public vary. This diversity must be taken into account in order to encourage effective responses. Age, gender, ethnicity, and ability to pay are some of the social variations which should be considered.
Address need for integrated planning and response. Too frequently, integrated planning for responses to mesoscale phenomena either fails or is less effective than desired because of the inability of the planning teams to obtain the full support of all agencies or organizations. More effective ways must be found for exploiting and advancing the societal benefits of meteorological research and services.
An integrated emergency management system is essential to successful community disaster response: this requires positive and constructive interaction among different disciplines. Because of jurisdictional issues and concerns about autonomy, specialized professions and disciplines may fail to exchange information that could improve the outcome. In order for mesoscale weather research to be used effectively, a clear understanding of the potential contribution of all disciplines needs to be identified. The disciplines of ecology, sociology, meteorology, economics, emergency management, and hydrology, among others, need to play an interactive role in response to and recovery from extreme meteorological events.
Responses to mesoscale events can be long-term and collective, as well as short-term and individual. Long-term, collective responses include policy decisions about land use, insurance, and compensation. Such policy decisions greatly affect future societal vulnerability. Research is needed on existing policies and their effects, and also on the impacts of alternative policies.
Government increasingly accepts responsibility for actions and measures meant to ensure public safety. Government cannot assume total responsibility for citizen safety and welfare related to hazardous weather phenomena. Research is needed to address growing concerns over tort liability and the need for more definitive limits and guidelines in the area of government versus private sector responsibility and liability.
Develop mesoscale planning models.
Considerable effort has been invested in recent years in the development of drought contingency plans by state governments to improve the effectiveness of response to drought. It is imperative that these plans be evaluated. Existing plans and models for drought planning should be considered for their applicability to other mesoscale weather events.
Develop and enhance institutional capabilities and memory.
The relative infrequency of many natural hazards results in a lack of sustained effort to achieve needed understanding and a less than adequate capability to respond where they recur; examples include major floods and droughts which are priority items only when they are in progress. A viable sustained capability can be achieved by addressing the whole array of hazards, and by extending areas considered to be at risk. Post-disaster evaluations, particularly for drought and floods, have concluded that assessment and response efforts have been poorly coordinated, untimely, and largely ineffective. To address these problems, more post-disaster evaluations are needed and the results must be used in disaster planning: the studies should include costs of preparedness versus benefits, how planning and disaster preparedness (e.g., disaster drills) may reduce future impacts and the need for response programs, i.e., long-term vulnerability.
Address probabilities of exposure to risk.
Hazard response teams do not have an adequate basis for assessing the potential level of risk posed by extreme events nor the potential uses of improved forecasts. Hindcasting techniques have been successfully used to reconstruct the physical dimensions of historic events. Hydroclimatic data should be used to estimate the probability of recurrence of historical extreme events and their probable impacts, given current and projected land-use change, development and habitation. Initially, this information would be developed, for example, for the Columbia Basin and the utility of that information assessed. On the basis of the experience of this pilot project the procedure would be applied to other locations determined to be at high risk to weather-related natural hazards such as hail, snowstorms, extreme sustained heat, etc.
Assess and enhance community capabilities.
During and immediately after extreme events, only highly localized responses are practical: institutions are generally unable to react quickly and comprehensively. Anecdotal information exists on the appropriateness and effectiveness of community/neighborhood-based response; e.g., Oakland, California, during the Loma Prieta earthquake. Research is needed on the processes by which these community/neighborhood capabilities are fostered, refined and maintained. Information on grassroots organization and on the development of team skills needs to be adapted to mesoscale problems. These models, then, need to be disseminated through locally based education and training programs.
Identify and quantify the nature and perception of risk.
Experts need to be sensitive to the fact that their perceptions may vary radically from public perceptions. There is a need to more closely align these differing perceptions of risk. While the National Weather Service has retained jurisdictional responsibility for issuing watches and warnings, this has not always resulted in timely, effective dissemination of information to the public. And if the public gets this information, it will not necessarily be interpreted correctly. For example, people involved in the transfer of risk perception to the public now include meteorologists, emergency management offices and private consulting firms.
Populations at risk must be educated to have reasonable expectations about the limits of scientific predictions. There is a limit to the accuracy of predictions. The public must acknowledge that probabilities need to be interpreted and people must be capable of making decisions based on the probabilities. Current designations of risk are ambiguous by their very nature and are likely to remain that way. Exploration into new concepts of risk designation is necessary.
At the final session of the workshop, each of the working groups presented a brief statement that highlighted an important aspect of the working group's area of interest. Those statements were presented as follows:
2. SAR is the Subcommittee on Atmospheric Research, which is part of the Committee on Earth and Environmental Sciences.
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