A 50% chance of showers: Can we improve the communication of probabilistic weather forecasts?

An interdisciplinary project looking at the role of expectations and presentation format on people's understanding of probabilistic weather forecasts.

Department: Psychology

Supervised by: Dr Rachel McCloy

The Placement Project

An increasingly important part of weather forecasting is the ability to predict the uncertainty of any given forecast in addition to the forecast itself. Techniques which were originally applied to forecasts on the medium-range (5-10 days ahead) have now been applied and adapted to forecasts on a wide variety of lead times (e.g., 0-24 hours ahead). Part of fully exploiting the potential of this forecasting system is understanding how best to communicate the forecasts it makes to the users of such forecasts. Previous research on public perception of probabilistic forecasts of precipitation has shown that both prior experience of this type of forecast and the method of communication can strongly affect the accuracy with which end-users consume the forecast information. In this project, three linked UROP students will begin to consider how best to communicate this new type of weather forecast to the public. The UROP student in Psychology will review the psychological literature on understanding probabilistic information in meteorological and other settings. The student will draw on this review to develop an experiment addressing the role of expectations in people’s understanding of probabilistic weather forecasts. This experiment will be carried out as part of a survey designed to look at different methods of communicating probabilistic weather forecasts. The student will gather background for this work by visiting the Met Office in order to understand the new forecast system. The student will be required to interact with PIs of other linked UROP projects and other UROP students throughout their work.


1. Visit to the UK Met Office to discuss the forecasting system which will be studied. [1 day] 2. Researching and presenting relevant past research on the understanding of probabilistic information. [20% of placement] 3. Work with Meteorology and Information Design students to consider relevance of different ways of improving understanding of probabilities to 3 case studies produced as part of the meteorology placement.[10% of placement] 4. Development of experimental materials, with reviews with co-investigators [20% of placement] 5. Work with Information Design student to agree and carry out detailed preparation of materials for testing.[10% of placement] 6. Assisting in the collection of survey/experimental data in a public forum (e.g., event queue; train station).[4 days] 7. Coding and statistical analysis of data collected in the survey/experimental phase (10% of placement) 8. Production of one section of research paper relating to background to and development of materials for testing (figures and text). [15% of placement] 9. Meet with PIs and other UROP students to review the outcomes of the research and their design implications. [5% of placement] Please note that, in the event that this UROP placement is funded, but other related UROP placement applications are not, the experimental work can still progress a stand alone project. It will still involve input for the Met Office and colleagues in Meteorology and Typography, but will place more emphasis on data collection and on the production of subject specific publications.

Skills, knowledge and experience required

The student will need the following key core skills: • General knowledge of experimental design. • Good knowledge of statistical analysis in experimental designs. • Ability to communicate effectively with other scientists and those from different disciplines. • Outgoing and friendly character to be able to assist with survey data collection. • Willingness to develop new skills, typical outside of degree specialism.

Skills which will be developed during the placement

The student will develop the following skills during the placement: • Independent research skills • Specialist knowledge on understanding probabilities and risks. • Team-working skills • Inter-disciplinary research communication skills • Research presentation and communication skills

Place of Work

The student will have a desk in the Psychology building since this is where the PI is based

Hours of Work


Approximate Start and End Dates (not fixed)

Friday 05 July 2013 - Friday 16 August 2013

How to Apply

Students should submit a CV and a covering letter outlining why they would like to do the placement and what they hope to gain from this project in particular. Shortlisted students will be interviewed by the PIs in Meteorology, Psychology and Information Design along with other applicants for the UROP positions.

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