By Jason Samenow
The Weather Service, which has a mission to protect life and property, may have felt it was best serving the public by stressing the worst-case scenario for the big cities. But it’s a risky strategy that can cost credibility.
Trust is so important in weather prediction because, when it is eroded, the public may take forecasts less seriously in life-or-death situations.
The Weather Service doesn’t have to limit itself to communicating the worst-case scenario for the public to pay attention to a high-stakes forecast. The public is smarter than it is given credit for; it can understand uncertainty if it is explained well; and it appreciates knowing about changes to the forecast.
When Atlanta broadcast meteorologist Glenn Burns asked his viewers about the Associated Press report that the Weather Service decided not to revise its forecast even when presented with new information, many were insulted.
“We are not children,” said Jill Nelmark. “Give the most accurate forecast and accurate update.”
“It makes the NWS look less reliable for future events,” said Josh Walls.
“Give me the facts and trust me to make an intelligent decision,” said Kris Chandler.
“I think they should have been honest and said that it might not be as bad. But to still prepare in case it was,” said Suzanne Blanton.
The New York news blog Gothamist reacted to the AP report with this snarky headline: National Weather Service: Sorry, You’re Too Stupid To Trust With The REAL Forecast
The influential media aggregator Matt Drudge tweeted, “What is going on with National Weather Service? Lots of misses piling up.” He added: “Overreaction by govts, bad forecasting … very troubling trend.”