[Proposal] Weather decisions, uncertainty, and salience: Individual differences and decision thresholds across various severe weather events and outdoor activities

Weather decisions, uncertainty, and salience: Individual differences and decision thresholds across various severe weather events and outdoor activities .

Victoria J. Heinrich and Prof. Kimberley Norris.
School of Psychological Sciences, University of Tasmania, Australia.


“First it should be understood that [weather] forecasts provide no intrinsic value. They acquire value through their ability to influence the decisions made by users of the forecasts.”

Murphy, A. H. (1993, p.286).

Weather-related decisions can literally be decisions of life or death. Research investigating severe weather events shows that ‘one size’ does not ‘fit all’ for weather messages and warnings - nor do people always react in predictable, expected, desirable, or safe ways. Despite global improvements in the accuracy environmental prediction and forecasts, people still unknowingly putting themselves in the way of hazardous weather and harm through lack of awareness, disregarded warnings, and poor decision-making, particularly when working or recreating outdoors. There is limited understanding of what individual differences are most influential in people’s weather decisions, and much of the existing research focuses on large scale extreme events and disasters like hurricanes and bushfires. Worldwide, and under a changing climate, there is a need to more thoroughly understand every day and individual perceptions and decisions around severe weather events like thunderstorms and damaging winds, to improve human safety and build community resilience. Understanding people’s decision thresholds (i.e., the forecasted probability or percentage-chance at which a decision occurs), and factors that influence this for different weather events can provide empirical evidence to inform weather and emergency services’ structuring of community weather warnings and alerts. This study is part of a series in a doctoral research project examining human factors, information use, and cognition in weather decision-making, and aims to improve our understanding of people’s interpretations, motivations, and protective behaviours when faced with warning messages and severe weather events. This knowledge will allow us to tailor weather information to diverse user needs, increase forecast utility, and develop messaging that is heard and acted on in a desirable, safe way. Improved warning responses, greater public awareness, and enhanced communication increase people’s ability to cope with and adapt to changeable weather events and threats. Increasing adaptability reduces the adverse impacts of severe weather (in human and economic terms) and leads to greater resilience and community security.

The scenarios and methods proposed can be applied globally. Platforms like prolific allow us to access participants around the world, with diverse interests in weather and outdoor activities, and in various climatic zones. Examining multiple populations, cultures, and contexts strengthens our research and theoretical understanding of weather-related decision-making, individual differences, and human behaviour. Understanding individual differences in how people interpret and react to more common, less intense, every-day and severe weather scenarios may allow us make recommendations to enhance our weather services, tailor risk messages, support safer decision-making, and develop weather resilient communities.

Research questions:

  • Which individual difference factors predict people’s weather decision thresholds?
  • Are people’s weather decision thresholds influenced by context, weather event, or outdoor activity?


To investigate weather-related decisions and individual differences around personal and group safely the probability (percent chance or likelihood) threshold at which people would change their mind about outdoor an activity (e.g., camping, picnic) will be examined using decision scenarios in an online survey. Measures and questions that relate to factors implicated in weather decision-making are drawn from the literature and our previous weather knowledge study. The scenarios (3 weather hazards x 3 outdoor activities) are one new (original) and two adapted from the literature (Morss et al., 2010; Rodwell et al., 2020). A small pilot study is planned to check materials, survey structure, and timings. Participants (over 18 years) will give informed consent and will be pre-screened by location (country of residence) to allow for group comparisons. Each participant will complete 9 short (two sentence) scenarios, individual difference measures, and answer questions. Ethics approval was granted through the Human Research Ethics Committee of Tasmania (Ref No: H0018352). To test hypotheses, examine group differences, variable relationships and interactions, reliability, and report effect sizes, data will be statistically analysed using classical and Bayesian inference techniques as outlined in the pre-registration documentation.

Sample size and costs.

Weather studies examining factors that influence decision-making and risk perception show small to medium effect sizes. A power analysis for an 3x3 ANOVA with a medium effect (f = .25) determined a minimum sample size of 400. To account for inattention this sample size was increased to 550 participants.

Pricing for a 20 minute survey at £2.80 per participant (£7.50 per hr rate plus £0.30 bonus), VAT (0%), service fee (33%) = £2055.


Pre-registration of this study will soon be available on the Weather, Climate, and Environmental Information Use, Decision-making, and Risk Perception project page on the Center for Open Science’s Open Science Framework (OSF) platform at: https://osf.io/y5am3/


Findings from this research with contribute to a PhD research project and more broadly to our understanding of weather risk perception, risk communication, and decision-making . This research may inform recommendations to enhance warning messages and forecasts, interventions to increase community resilience, and development of weather education materials to support individuals to make safer decisions during severe weather events.

All efforts will be made to publish in open-access peer-reviewed journals and pre-prints will be available. Findings will be presented through social media sites, conferences, seminars, and thesis publications. Datasets, materials, methods, and associated studies will be publicly available through the OSF project page.