Designing to communicate forecast uncertainty

Meteorologists aim to predict potentially disastrous weather events to a level that can help the public take action to guard against loss. The weather science behind these predictions involves a degree of uncertainty that is sometimes difficult for non-specialists to interpret. The illustration above shows a typical depiction of a hurricane’s path (this one from 2004), which has been shown to be misinterpreted by non-specialists. The area covered by white ‘cone of uncertainty’ around the line of forecast is typically seen as unlikely to be affected at the same intensity as the area on the line itself.

As part of the project PURE, funded by the Natural Environment Research Council, Centre for Information Design Research are working with the University of Reading’s Departments of Meteorology and Psychology to look at how risk and uncertainty might be communicated to people using forecasts that incorporate an element of uncertainty. In this  post on the PURE network’s blog, Alison Black discusses some of the difficulties in communicating and interpreting  risk and uncertainty.

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