By Dolly Na-Yemeh
“I don’t know what I’d do without it. I’d probably resign. It’s that important.” – H. Gunter (OK-First veteran)
Everyone encounters weather daily, but how we deal with weather and its impacts varies widely. In some instances, the weather information we need may simply help us decide whether to take an umbrella on our way to work or school. In another instance, the state of the weather could be a bit more disruptive, causing us to miss an appointment because of a delayed or canceled flight. And our interactions with weather can also be expensive, such as when vehicles are caught in a hailstorm, houses are flooded, or property destroyed by a tornado. For some, like the OK-First veteran quoted above, having weather information is synonymous with doing their jobs well. Letson et al. (2007) and Stewart et al. (2004) argued that there is a need to provide the meteorological community with information regarding user needs for an improved knowledge base of forecasts use and value. With this information, decisions can be made about how best to prepare for disasters. A good starting point for appreciating the value of weather data is a detailed understanding of user needs and decision processes. One way to guide this future direction is to consider the value of weather information. Unfortunately, this valuation information is either missing or scarce. Thus, my research focused on filling a gap in understanding the value of weather information, user needs, and interactions with weather data.
Public safety officials with emergency management responsibilities have the vital task of alerting the public of impending inclement weather by being liaisons between local National Weather Service (NWS) forecasters and the public. These officials also direct and protect mobile storm spotters responsible for providing “ground truth” data to assess weather hazards (Baumgart and Bass 2006; Baumgart et al. 2006). Thus, the role of EMs cannot be overemphasized, particularly in parts of the country prone to hazardous weather events. Because Oklahoma is prone to extreme weather, it served as a unique testbed to research weather data sources, the value of decisions, and the impact of extreme events.
One resource available to public safety officials in Oklahoma is the OK-First (Oklahoma’s First-response Information Resource System using Telecommunications), an outreach program of the Oklahoma Mesonet. Using this program, I was able to assess how public safety officials used weather information, the kinds of decisions they made using the program, and the value they placed on weather information. Oklahoma is also home to five federal military installations. This gave me an opportunity to assess the impacts of extreme weather on the defense sector in Oklahoma.
In my first study, I found that public safety officials considered the different products and tools provided by the OK-First program as very important to accomplish their roles in their various jurisdictions. Public safety officials also reported using and integrating OK-First tools in their workflow on a daily basis. The self-reported cost savings based on decisions made by OK-First participants were estimated to be over $1.2 million for a 12-month period. As can be seen in Figure 1, about 20% of those surveyed reported that using the OK-First tools saved their jurisdictions over $10,000.
In the second study, I used participants’ costs associated with travel to the OK-First certification class held at the National Weather Center in Norman, Oklahoma as a proxy for estimating the program’s value. Participants traveled from around Oklahoma to attend the 4-day certification class. Figure 2 shows the actual travel costs of participants and the willingness to pay travel costs of participants. The actual travel costs are participants’ actual costs associated with attending the certification class. The willingness travel costs are participants’ responses to a question on how many more miles they would be willing to travel to attend OK-First classes. The difference between the two curves gives us the consumer surplus. Participants’ total willingness travel costs were $288,000, with a collective surplus of $80,000. Results indicate that the OK-First program in Oklahoma is valued at an estimated $254,000 per training for the OK-First population. This conservative estimate suggests the importance of programs such as the OK-First training, especially for public safety officials in storm-prone areas such as Oklahoma.
For the third study, members of the Oklahoma military installations emphasized that Air Force Weather was their main source of weather data. All other sources were supplementary. Figure 3 shows examples of sources of data, generalized events, and weather-based decisions that two installations often took. Results revealed that weather information was essential in making unit-specific decisions such as operations scheduling to ensure uninterrupted missions. Also, because extreme events affect the day-to-day operations of installations, the military invests a lot of money and resources into Air Force Weather, illustrating costs associated with and incurred during hazardous events. Results also revealed that there was still an opportunity for the military and the state to collaborate on designing and implementing products, models, training, tools, and engineering of facilities to withstand extreme events.
Although my research was based in Oklahoma, these results can be translated nationally and especially to other storm-prone regions. As highlighted by Hocker et al. 2018, the results from my research echo the benefits of providing non-scientific audiences with complex information paired with well-designed, relevant, and routine training. My research fills gaps in the knowledge of understanding, research, and literature for economic valuation and the impacts of hazardous events. The study provides a better understanding of how public safety officials and emergency managers use and integrate different resources on a day-to-day basis. The research provides evidence to support more effective investments in weather training and information that can be presented by other states who hope to invest in weather decision support systems. These include cost savings, economic value, and decisions public safety officials made because of having well-designed weather information. Finally, these studies highlight that although much progress has been made, there is still a need for collaboration on multiple levels and across disciplines to prepare for and respond to hazardous weather conditions effectively. For example, the DoD in Oklahoma can partner with researchers at the University of Oklahoma, and affiliates such as the OK-First, South Central Climate Adaptation Science Center, and the Cooperative Institute for Severe and High-Impact Weather Research and Operations (CIWRO) to prepare for and mitigate the impacts of extreme events.
Baumgart, L. A., and E. J. Bass, 2006: Presenting information in simulated real-time to support part-task weather scenarios. 2006 IEEE Int. Conf. on Systems, Man and Cybernetics, Taipei, Taiwan, Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, 5209–5214, https://doi.org/10.1109/ICSMC.2006.385135.
Baumgart, L. A., E. J. Bass, B. Philips, and K. Kloesel, 2006: Emergency management decision-making during severe weather. Proc. Hum. Factors Ergon. Soc. Annu. Meet., 50, 381–385, https://doi.org/10.1177/154193120605000336.
Baumgart, L. A., E. J. Bass, B. Philips, and K. Kloesel, 2008: Emergency management decision making during severe weather. Wea. Forecasting, 23, 1268–1279, https://doi.org/10.1175/2008WAF2007092.1.
Hocker, J. E., A. D. Melvin, K. A. Kloesel, C. A. Fiebrich, R. W. Hill, R. D. Smith, and S. F. Piltz, 2018: The evolution and impact of a meteorological outreach program for public safety officials : An update on the Oklahoma mesonet’s ok-first program. Bull. Am. Meteorol. Soc., 99, 2009–2024, https://doi.org/10.1175/BAMS-D-17-0100.1.
Letson, D., D. S. Sutter, and J. K. Lazo, 2007: Economic value of hurricane forecasts: An overview and research needs. Natural Hazards Review 8 (3):78–86. doi: 10.1061/(ASCE)1527-6988(2007)8:3(78)
Stewart, T. R., R. A. Pielke, and R. Nath, 2004: Understanding user decision making and the value of improved precipitation forecasts. Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society 85 (2):223–36. doi: 10.1175/BAMS-85-2-223.
Na-Yemeh, D. Y., C.A. Fiebrich, J.E. Hocker, and M.A. Shafer, 2022: Assessing the Impacts of a Weather Decision Support System for Oklahoma Public Safety Officials, Weather, Climate, and Society, 14(2), 597-608, https://journals.ametsoc.org/view/journals/wcas/14/2/WCAS-D-21-0086.1.xml.
Na-Yemeh, D.Y, T.A. Legg and L.H. Lambert, 2022: Economic Value of a Weather Decision Support System for Oklahoma Public Safety Officials, Annals of the American Association of Geographers, https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/24694452.2022.210874.
Na-Yemeh, D., 2022. Importance Of Environmental Weather Monitoring for Emergency Management in Oklahoma, https://hdl.handle.net/11244/335564.
Dolly Na-Yemeh is a Climate Adaptation Specialist with the South Central Climate Adaptation Science Center at the University of Oklahoma. Dolly received her Ph.D. in Geography and Environmental Sustainability at the University of Oklahoma. Her research interests include the impacts of extreme weather events, the value of weather information, stakeholder engagement, and climate adaptation.
thumbnail photo by Brian McGowan on Unsplash