The U.S. is trying to make daily weather forecasts on its website easier to comprehend.
Changes include new colors, symbols and icons, the little emoji-like cartoon boxes showing the five-day forecast. A wind sock will replace a windmill to show blustery breezes ahead, for instance. The new look grew out of the service’s “Weather Ready Nation” initiative that started in August 2011. The plan is designed to allow people to gauge the risks they may face more accurately.
“The overall goal is to translate our forecasts into actionable information,” said Eli Jacks, acting chief for the National Weather Service’s forecast-services division in Silver Spring, Maryland. “We want better communication between timing and the severity of events.”
Under the current criteria, the worst weather of the day determines the icon: A forecast of thunderstorms on a Tuesday afternoon means a flashing lightning bolt for the day.
“So it is a little bit misleading,” Jacks said.
Starting Tuesday afternoon, if a day starts sunny and then becomes stormy, both icons will share the box. There will also be arrows to show changing probabilities, such as a day that starts with a 50 percent chance of rain that falls to 20 percent by afternoon.
Another change will be bands of color showing the duration of warnings and watches that can spread over several days. These could include a red-flag warning for weather conditions that can spur wildfires.
In the case of dual watches and warnings, red and yellow stripes will spread out across the days of the week, like the flood warning and watch in St. Louis that paint the week in color.
Along with that will be an information tab marked “I” above the daily icons. Clicking it will show a text box detailing the threat. In addition, there will be a “now box” to the left of the daily icons showing immediate hazards when necessary, Jacks said.
The redesign was all done internally with the weather service’s web-development expertise, Jack said. The social science behind how the information should be conveyed came from work done by the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado. The NCAR research showed people are more likely to pay attention when new icons were used and when threats came with clear start and stop times.
The weather service will be tracking the public’s reaction to the new icons and making adjustments as needed, Jacks said.
If all goes well, this means you will be able to know how long you can enjoy that sunny day at the beach, or how long wind-whipped snow will pile up at your front door.