LAR Website header

Strategic Priority: Investigating Weather and Climate Information Needs and Decision Making

Highlight: Societal Impacts Program


All aspects of the U.S. public and economy are directly and indirectly affected by weather. However, few definitive assessments of the use of weather information and weather impacts have been performed, and the information that has been generated from previous studies is hard to locate and synthesize. The Societal Impacts Program (SIP), funded by NOAA’s U.S. Weather Research Program (USWRP) and NSF, addresses these gaps by developing and supporting a closer relationship between weather researchers, operational forecasters, relevant end-users, and social scientists concerned with the impacts of weather and weather information on society. SIP activities include primary research, outreach and education, and development and support for the weather impacts community. SIP researchers at NCAR include participants from RAL, ISSE, and MMM, and from COMET in the UCAR Office of Programs.

FY2007 Accomplishments:

Current research activities by SIP staff have focused on completing the Overall U.S. Sector Sensitivity Assessment, which examined the sensitivity and vulnerability of state-level economic productivity to weather across 11 economic “super” sectors. Results show that all states and sectors show some sensitivity to weather. State sensitivity ranges from 2.5% (of gross state product) annual variability in Tennessee to 13.6% annual variability in New York, and sector sensitivity ranges from 2.2% annual variability in wholesale trade to 12.1% annual variability in agriculture. Overall U.S. sensitivity to weather variability is estimated to be about 3.4% of gross domestic product or $260 billion annually. This is the first study of its kind to combine economic and weather data using valid economic methods to assess sector, state, and national economic sensitivity weather variability. Building on this work, SIP staff initiated work on sector-specific studies with an emphasis on assessing the use and value of current and improved weather forecasts in addition to sectoral impact of weather.  This work is initially focused on the transportation sector.

In other research, an internet-based survey of 1520 U.S. households nationwide was conducted to elicit information on people’s sources, perceptions, uses, and values for weather forecasts. People’s understanding of, use of, and preferences for weather forecast uncertainty information were also elicited in the survey. Preliminary results indicate that the average household accesses weather forecast information from various sources 115 times a month.  Results also show that a majority of people are willing to receive forecasts that contain uncertainty information and that people have preferences for how uncertainty information is conveyed.

Funding from the U.S. Voluntary Cooperation Program Contribution managed by NOAA’s NWS International Activities Office was used to develop the “Primer on Economics for National Meteorological and Hydrological Services”. This Primer on economic theory, methods, and applications is primarily intended for members of the weather community with the goal of increasing their understanding of economic methods and their applicability in evaluating both the impacts of national meteorological and hydrological services (NMHS) and the associated benefits and costs of those services.

SIP staff continue to collaborate with university researchers in developing and implementing the Weather and Society*Integrated Studies (WAS*IS) workshops. This effort trains and empowers practitioners, researchers, and stakeholders to forge new relationships and to use new tools for more effective socio-economic applications and evaluations of weather products. A total of 145 WAS*IS graduates now comprise a growing community of researchers, operational forecasters, academics, and private sector individuals working to infuse social science research and understanding into the weather enterprise.

FY2008 Plans:

SIP staff will focus on the following activities:

  • Completion of the Overall U.S. Sector Sensitivity Assessment
  • Continued assessment of weather impacts and forecast values in the transportation sector
  • Analysis and publication of results from the U.S. household survey on sources, uses, and preferences for weather forecasts and weather forecast uncertainty information.
  • Examination of the societal impacts and economic values for activities of NOAA’s Hydrometeorological Testbed Center in the American River area of California.  
  • Assessment of the use and communication of extreme weather warning information by forecasters, public officials, the media, and members of the public with a  focus on how they receive, interpret, and use warning information
  • Preliminary assessment of the reliability, accuracy, and consistency of extreme weather data. Development of an overview of best practices for interacting with users to introduce new decision support technologies into their working environments.
  • Publication of an article reviewing the WAS*IS program in the November 2007 issue of the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society

Decision Support for Water Resource Managers

RAL scientists are working in several arenas to create improved decision support tools and systems for water resource managers. 

FY2007 Accomplishments:

IEUA schematicA schematic of the Inland Empire Utility Agency (IEUA) in WEAP21.

A team of researchers from NCAR, the Stockholm Environment Institute’s US Center (SEI-US), and the University of California, Davis and Berkeley, has developed an integrated water resource modeling framework, the Water Evaluation and Planning System, that can be used to investigate medium- to long- term water resource planning and management issues throughout the Sacramento Basin.  This framework makes use of climate data derived from a new Bayesian analysis technique that yields frequency distribution functions (FDFs) of regional climate change based on projections from multiple Atmosphere-Ocean models. These FDFs then guide the use of a K-nearest neighbor (K-nn) resampling technique to generate a large ensemble of local weather sequences that reflect this plausible range of regional climate changes. These weather sequences serve as input to water management models (e.g. WEAP) to evaluate possible climate change impacts on a regional or local water system. In one case-study to date, the method has been applied to the Inland Empire Utilities Agency (IEUA) in Southern California to look at probabilistically-weighted water management futures (Figure 1).

A second program, funded by NOAA, looks at the competition between water demands from cities in the Colorado Front Range and traditional agricultural water users. The feverish competition for water in this area may result in the transfer of a great deal of water before management innovations can be fully developed or the playing field more fairly balanced between small farming interests and cities with their extensive legal and financial resources. Researchers from RAL and C.U. are examining the competing interests for water resources with an eye to protecting future-opportunity interests for rural users, as well as the public’s interests in recreation, environmental protection and general quality of life.  Work also focuses on exploring new legal forms for water transfer using market mechanisms and increased flexibility, including short-term reversible leases or "water banks", and longer-term commitments to move water under specified conditions. In 2007 the team brought together a number of representative stakeholders at a workshop at Colorado State University to further discuss these issues.

A third effort, joint with SERE/ISSE, remains focused on an-going collaboration with the American Water Works Association’s Research Foundation (AwwaRF). Following the publication of their very successful climate change primer for the drinking water utility industry, the NCAR researchers are working to implement a locally-relevant, structured process to help utilities address climate change impact and adaptation options.  Several water utilities in California, Colorado, Massachusetts, New York, and North Carolina are participating in this effort.

FY2008 Plans:

An extensive literature review and outreach to western water interests and relevant professional societies has confirmed that there are enormous gaps in our knowledge of the biological impacts of water transfers from agricultural to urban uses, and surprisingly, no known research agenda to address these gaps. In particular, there are continental-scale estimates and micro-scale research, but regionally little in the way of a "big picture" helpful for identifying thresholds, avoiding problems, or anticipating consequences.   In 2008 the NCAR/CU researchers will team with the US Geological Survey and the US Fish and Wildlife Service to write a paper that will address these overarching issues.

A new NOAA grant will support the development of a regional model of water management possibilities that could help create long-term agricultural water security in eastern Colorado.   The WEAP model will be used to provide a balance of planning capacity with fast processing of flexible scenarios, incorporating critical place-specificity in climate, hydrology, water law, institutional and infrastructural inputs, and supporting geographic information systems for visualization of possibilities.  This work is expected to provide an informational platform which competing water interests can use to work toward sustaining small farms with improved economics and opportunity, and supporting rural economies.

Work will also begin to generate ensembles of synthetic daily weather data for sites within the Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) service area. Climate data will be simulated using the K-nearest neighbor (KNN) resampling technique, used to mimic potential future climate change in a statistically rigorous manner relevant for PG&E.  Historical temperature data, which will be provided by PG&E, are used by the KNN method, which in-turn is informed by an analysis of global climate models.  We will document the method used to simulate the data and provide a statistical analysis of the historical and simulated data.

RAL and SERE will also continue to work with partnering utilities involved in the AwwaRF/NCAR collaboration, formalizing the structured process that will help them address climate change impact and adaptation options. The decision analytic approach  includes: 1) a problem definition phase; 2) the development and/or modification of system-specific Integrated Water Resource Management (IWRM) models; 3) development of probabilistic climate change scenarios;  and 4) implementation of the structured process to examine alternative investment and adaptation strategies in light of the likely range of future climate-related changes in local hydrologic conditions.