Newswise — The series of hurricanes bearing down on the Caribbean and Florida is highlighting the critical need to be able to accurately communicate a storm’s impact path and intensity. University of Utah researchers say there are significant differences in how viewers in the general public interpret the two most commonly used forecast models, both of which are often hard to understand. The researchers studied the two approaches — summary displays and ensemble displays — in a forthcoming paper in the journal Cognitive Research: Principles and Implications. Summary displays show the possible paths of a hurricane as a cone with hard boundaries, referred to as the “cone of uncertainty.” Ensemble displays show many possible paths that a hurricane could take. They say the visualization technique chosen can change what information people think is most important and affect decision making about mandatory evacuations and allocation of emergency management resources. When asked about displays being used to show Hurricane Irma’s possible paths, the researchers said media may need to realize more context is needed, based on the type of images used, to help the public understand what they are seeing and what it means. The summary display may be misinterpreted as far as storm path and intensity. The ensemble display is promising for high-level decisions such as regions to evacuate, but isn’t necessarily the best approach for communicating impact in specific locations. Lead authors Lace M. Padilla and Sarah H. Creem-Regehr are available to talk about their findings and relevance to the current series of hurricanes.

Lace M. Padilla | doctoral student, Department of Psychology, University of Utah | 719-239-4173 | [email protected]

Sarah H. Creem-Regehr | professor, Department of Psychology, University of Utah | 801-581-5045 (office) or 801-879-6141 (mobile) | [email protected]