Can Social Science Help Improve Public Use of Flood Forecast Tools?

The National Weather Service (NWS) offers many flood forecast and warning tools that individuals can use during a predicted flood event. From tools that allow users to monitor projected river heights to flood inundation maps that show which areas in the community will be underwater during floods, the capability and accuracy of flood forecasting has increased dramatically in recent years. Despite these advances, many people still fail to understand and respond to flood forecasts and warnings issued by NWS.

Beyond technological advances in forecast lead-time and accuracy already achieved, what else can NWS do to improve its flood forecast and warning tools so they better motivate flood preparedness and warning response?

Nurture Nature Center, through two social science research projects, has been working to understand strategies that the National Weather Service can use to improve public response to riverine and coastal flood forecast and warning products. Through these projects, NNC engaged with the public to understand what tools audiences in New Jersey and Pennsylvania are already using to understand their flood risk, and what changes and improvements might motivate people to improve warning response and take preparedness actions.

NNC’s study of riverine flood forecast and warning products was funded by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration through the Office of Ocean and Atmospheric Research as one of four social science awards designed to support NOAA’s Weather-Ready Nation initiative.

NNC’s study of coastal flood forecast and warning products was funded by New Jersey Seagrant Consortium’s Coastal Storm Awareness Program.

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“Given the frequency and intensity of flooding not only in this region, but across the country, improving how people prepare for flooding is critical to reducing losses,” said NNC Director Rachel Hogan Carr. “These projects provide an excellent opportunity to help NWS understand how the public uses its flood forecast and warning tools, and what further refinements might improve public preparedness as people respond to news of impending river or coastal flood events.”

Nurture Nature Center, Inc. is a center for community learning about environmental risks in Easton, Pennsylvania, that was established in response to repetitive flooding in the Delaware River Basin in 2004, 2005 and 2006. Flooding is a core focus of its research and outreach programs. Since its formation in 2007, Nurture Nature Center (NNC) has conducted a series of research and education projects about flooding, and developed the Focus on Floods website in partnership with National Weather Service. For more about Nurture Nature Center, visit


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