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New publication: Information about certainty of a weather forecast helped decision making

Winton Centre for Risk and Evidence Communication

News - New publication: Information about certainty of a weather forecast helped decision making

To inform the way probabilistic forecasts would be displayed on their website, the UK Met Office ran an online game as a mass participation experiment to highlight the best methods of communicating uncertainty in rainfall and temperature forecasts. The game used a hypothetical “ice-cream seller” scenario and a randomized structure to test decision-making ability using different methods of representing uncertainty and to enable participants to experience being “lucky” or “unlucky” when the most likely forecast scenario did not occur.

The research study concludes:

"We find that participants provided with the probability of precipitation on average scored better than those without it, especially those who were presented with only the “weather symbol” deterministic forecast. This demonstrates that most people provided with information on uncertainty are able to make use of this additional information. Adding a graphical presentation format alongside (a bar) did not appear to help or hinder the interpretation of the probability, though the bar formats without the numerical probability alongside aided decision-making, which is thought to be linked to the game design which asked participants to select a satellite button to state how sure they were that the rain–temperature threshold would be met.

In addition to improving decision-making ability, we found that providing this additional information on uncertainty alongside the deterministic forecast did not cause confusion when a decision could be made by using the deterministic information alone. Further, the results agreed with the findings of Joslyn and Savelli (2010), showing that people infer uncertainty in a deterministic weather forecast, and it therefore seems inappropriate for forecasters not to provide quantified information on uncertainty to the public."

The paper describing the results is available here:

Elisabeth M. Stephens, David J. Spiegelhalter, Ken Mylne, and Mark Harrison (2019) The Met Office Weather Game: investigating how different methods for presenting probabilistic weather forecasts influence decision-making. Geosci. Commun., 2, 101-116, 2019