National Weather Service United States Department of Commerce


Initial efforts associated with this project date back to 2011, but the project formally “kicked-off” with full social science engagement in 2014.  Below is a summary of data collection efforts NWS has supported to date. Click on the titles of each to view the associated reports from these efforts.

2018 Generalizable Public Survey


NWS sponsored a series of public surveys, each focusing on a different hazard. The surveys used representative samples so the results are generalizable to the broader population. The surveys tested public understanding of the current WWA terms and public response to four different prototypes as alternatives to the WWA system.  

Key Findings:

  • Watch and Warning were confused periodically. Advisory was least understood                                                                          and often confused with Watch as well. In general, Warning was the most well understood term. 

  • The term “Notice” performed well at the Watch level; in other words, people were more likely to monitor the situation and prepare when hearing a “Notice”.

  • Similarly, the terms “Orange Warning” and “Red Warning” performed well at the Advisory and Warning levels.

  • At the Emergency level, the term “Emergency” performed best at promoting the strongest action.

2017 Institutionalization Survey


NWS sponsored a survey of organizations from 32 different sectors to determine the degree to which the WWA system was embedded or “institutionalized” in their decision-making, laws, policies, operating procedures, bylaws, or other activities or processes.


Key Findings:

  • “Warning” was most embedded and “Advisory” the least

  • The WWA system was more embedded in policy than statute

  • Most respondents could adjust to a WWA system change within a year



2016 Testbed Activity


Prototypes developed during the 2015 Haz Simp Workshop were tested with emergency managers, NWS forecasters, and broadcast media using the Hazardous Weather Testbed (HWT). This research approach put forecasters and partners in a simulated real-world environment.

Key Findings:

  • Action-based language (e.g. Be Aware, Take Action) did not perform well within the Testbed. Forecasters especially had difficulty ‘issuing’ this type of message and tended to always choose “Take Action”.

  • The term “Warning” was deeply ingrained for all participants.

  • Participant agreement that any major changes to the system should continue to be tested via the Testbed in order to understand operability.


2015 Case Study Survey


NWS sponsored a survey of over 700 emergency managers, broadcast media, and other weather, water, and climate enterprise partners.  Participants were provided a weather event and asked to describe what went wrong and right from a hazard messaging perspective.

Key Findings:

  • Simplify and consolidate products, including improved formatting and easy-to understand language

  • Increase NWS coordination and collaboration between Weather Forecast Offices (WFO)

  • Revisit WWA product definitions and criteria and consider a more impact-based focus

  • Expand education and outreach efforts regardless of the extent of change that occurs

2015 Haz Simp Workshop


The NWS hosted a 3-day Workshop with emergency managers, broadcast meteorologists, private sector partners, and social scientists to 1) develop a set of prototypes that could be tested to replace some or all of the WWA system and to 2) suggest ideas for WWA enhancements that could clarify/simplify NWS hazard messages.

Key Findings:

  • There was a spectrum of change desired, from enhancing the current system by                                                               changing the “Advisory” term to blowing the system up entirely by using new terminology and language.

  • Of those that called for a new system, suggestions included a tiered approach using colors (e.g. yellow, red) or words (e.g. minor, severe) and action based language   (e.g. prepare, act).

  • There was general support for consolidating and/or eliminating some products and improving product formatting, with bullets, colors, and who, what, where, and when details.

2014 Focus Groups


NWS sponsored 20 focus groups with emergency managers, broadcast media, NWS forecasters, and the public to assess strengths and weaknesses of the current “Watch, Warning, Advisory” (WWA) system and explore possible improvements to it.

Key Findings:

  • There was a spectrum of understanding of the current WWA system, with “Advisory”                                                                being least understood term.

  • General support for a hierarchical system to replace or enhance the current system,      using colors, symbols, or language (Example of ideas in adjacent image).

  • General agreement that there are too many WWA products (e.g. Flood Watch,    Winter Storm Warning) and the product text can be confusing.

  • Many participants expressed caution toward any major change without proper research and testing.                                                They also stressed the importance of a large public outreach campaign.