Weather and Forecasting
American Meteorological Society
Tornadoes in the southeastern United States continue to cause substantial injury, death, and destruction. The present study seeks to 1) understand inadequate warning access, less understanding, and/or less likelihood of responding to tornado warnings; 2) examine public attitudes about NWS communications; and 3) explore the perceptions of NWS personnel regarding public response to tornado warnings, factors that might influence response, and how their perceptions impact their communication. Participants include a purposive sample of NWS forecasters in Tennessee (n = 11) and residents (n = 45) who were identified as having low access to, low knowledge of, or an unsafe response to tornado warnings in a previous study. A qualitative approach with semistructured interviews was used. Findings indicated that most participants had at least one warning source. Barriers to warning access included electricity outages, rurality, lack of storm radio, heavy sleeping, and hearing impairments. Most participants had knowledge of NWS guidelines for safe shelter seeking but still engaged in behaviors considered unsafe. Proximity, personal experience, and influence of family and friends emerged as influencers of response to warnings. NWS personnel perceived that proximity played a significant role in shelter-seeking behavior as well as the need for confirmation. Poor access to safe shelter arose as a major concern for NWS personnel, specifically mobile home residents. Messaging and specificity in warnings to evoke safe shelter-seeking behavior surfaced as critical issues for NWS personnel. Implications for education and policy changes to enhance public safety and improve public health are noted.
Walters, J.E., Mason, L.R., Ellis, K., & Winchester, B. (2020). Staying safe in a tornado: A qualitative inquiry into public knowledge, access, and response to tornado warnings. Weather and Forecasting, 35(1), 67-81. https://doi.org/10.1175/WAF-D-19-0090.1