A View from David Appell

NWS's Narrow Line

The National Weather Service has decided to stick with a narrow black line to project the path of hurricanes, despite concerns that such a graphic does not express the uncertainity of their forecasts and could give the public a false…

  • March 27, 2005

The National Weather Service has decided to stick with a narrow black line to project the path of hurricanes, despite concerns that such a graphic does not express the uncertainity of their forecasts and could give the public a false sense of security.

The decision was made not on the basis of science, but “was made after the weather service sought opinions from the public, the news media and emergency service workers, receiving 971 e-mailed responses.” Respondents apparently thought they were smart enough to figure the details of the forecast out for themselves.

Roger Pielke Jr., who directs the University of Colorado’s Center for Science and Technology Policy Research, wrote a paper a few years ago that contradict the simplicity of such forecasts. Pielke considered the renowned flooding of the Red River, and found that characterizing the flooding in terms of a single number, i.e. flood stage, led to “misjudged risk assessment, overconfidence in forecasts, and ultimately poor decisions about how to fight the flood.”

His results seem to apply directly to the case of hurricane forecasting, where common uncertainties of 50 to 100 miles can make a real difference in forecasts. He says that local authorities often do not want the messiness of a probabilistic forecast, and that the NWS is (over)reacting to such a failure to accept responsibility.

Uh oh–you've read all of your free articles for this month.

Insider Premium
$179.95/yr US PRICE

Want more award-winning journalism? Subscribe and become an Insider.
  • Insider Premium {! insider.prices.premium !}*

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    Our award winning magazine, unlimited access to our story archive, special discounts to MIT Technology Review Events, and exclusive content.

    See details+

    What's Included

    Bimonthly home delivery and unlimited 24/7 access to MIT Technology Review’s website.

    The Download. Our daily newsletter of what's important in technology and innovation.

    Access to the Magazine archive. Over 24,000 articles going back to 1899 at your fingertips.

    Special Discounts to select partner offerings

    Discount to MIT Technology Review events

    Ad-free web experience

    First Look. Exclusive early access to stories.

    Insider Conversations. Listen in as our editors talk to innovators from around the world.

  • Insider Plus {! insider.prices.plus !}* Best Value

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    Everything included in Insider Basic, plus ad-free web experience, select discounts to partner offerings and MIT Technology Review events

    See details+

    What's Included

    Bimonthly home delivery and unlimited 24/7 access to MIT Technology Review’s website.

    The Download. Our daily newsletter of what's important in technology and innovation.

    Access to the Magazine archive. Over 24,000 articles going back to 1899 at your fingertips.

    Special Discounts to select partner offerings

    Discount to MIT Technology Review events

    Ad-free web experience

  • Insider Basic {! insider.prices.basic !}*

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    Six issues of our award winning magazine and daily delivery of The Download, our newsletter of what’s important in technology and innovation.

    See details+

    What's Included

    Bimonthly home delivery and unlimited 24/7 access to MIT Technology Review’s website.

    The Download. Our daily newsletter of what's important in technology and innovation.

/
You've read all of your free articles this month. This is your last free article this month. You've read of free articles this month. or  for unlimited online access.