Listening to the Forecast

Anne Jefferson has a look at last year’s Pakistan flooding that explores the intriguing question of how you get people to listen to forecasts. It turns out that they had forecasts in enough time to take action to reduce risk, but the forecasts were apparently ignored:

So the Pakistani government did forecast the flood – at least four days out – in plenty of time to get people in northern Pakistan’s valleys out of the way. The problem was not with the meteorological and hydrologic science either internationally or in Pakistan. Instead,disaster was ensured when flood warnings were not taken sufficiently seriously by regional authorities, media, and residents.


  1. Thanks for the shout-out. It would be really interesting to know where in the chain from meteorologist to villager the communication broke down. Was it really the media? Or were there problems within the Pakistani military chain of command, since the PMD is a branch of the military?

  2. Anne – There’s a research community that looks at this stuff, but I’m woefully ignorant of what they have learned. (Especially woeful given my profession.) But it seems to require ongoing integration between knowledge generators (the forecasters) and knowledge users, so that when the shit hits the fan, everyone already knows one another, and knows how to use the information. Here’s one paper I’ve seen folks reference a lot:

    doi: 10.1177/0162243906287547 Science Technology Human Values July 2006 vol. 31 no. 4 465-494

    Here in Albuquerque, there area a couple of ongoing processes at different time scales where folks try to make that happen. At the scale of weather, the National Weather Service folks hold a briefing once a week – importantly, good weather or bad. Some media, some emergency services folk, all talking once a week, getting a feel for one another’s knowledge and needs. Then, at the seasonal scale, a drought working group does a briefing once a month – ag people, water supply meteorology, hydrology types. So when things get bad, we already know one another, know the cues, know to ratchet up the attention.

    This would imply that you can’t do it at the last minute, when the storm is imminent, if you don’t have the systems in place ahead of time. That’s my inexpert, intuitive thought.

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