South Africans, New Zealanders trust forecasts about the weather at sea
South Africans and New Zealanders working and living along coastal areas rely on weather forecast services that are easy to use, and which constantly provide accurate predictions.
National forecasting services and various commercial websites provide predictions about what the weather will be. They strive to be as accurate and as useful as possible. A great deal of science and scientific thinking go into such forecasts.
In this study researchers chose to look at how people in South Africa and New Zealand use forecasting services – both countries have long coastlines, but have vastly different populations and coastal conditions.
They wanted to find out how often these coastal citizens use national or commercial forecasting services, for what purposes and whether they found these useful and trustworthy. These are important factors in light of how future climate change might impact weather forecasting.
An online questionnaire was answered by 31 South Africans and 126 New Zealanders. These included people who use weather forecasts for work purposes (for instance fishermen and search and rescue organisations), and others who take part in ocean-related sports and leisure activities such as surfing, paddling, or swimming.
Researchers asked about how easy a preferred weather forecasting service was to use, and how accurate and consistent its predictions were.
Participants listed the factors that made it more useful and important to them and said whether these might change because of climate change. They also had to say whether they trusted the information provided by their national weather services, and how they felt about it.
Most South Africans who took part in the study were surfers, or people who helped with search and rescue operations or research projects. Most New Zealanders who answered the questions looked at weather forecasts because they wanted to go fishing, sail a boat or paddle out to sea.
Participants from both countries trusted the information provided to them by their national weather services. They preferred forecasting services that are accurate, consistent, easy to use and have features that can be adapted to suit their needs.
Participants who used the service for job purposes in general found forecasts for offshore conditions close to shore were not accurate enough. Information for some areas was more accurate than others.
South Africans tended to use weather services more often than New Zealanders, and looked at it at least once a day. For 9 out of every 10 respondents, a very good forecasting system was very important.
Most preferred a service that gave a three to seven day look into the future. People who worked in aquaculture farming or had to plan around possible emergency situations wanted longer-term and seasonal predictions.
Most users believed that because of increased climate change, forecasting services will have to use even better science-based information in future to ensure accurate predictions.
Very few such studies have previously been done in countries in the Southern Hemisphere.
The researchers hope that they managed to learn enough from participants based on the questions they asked them. A possible weakness is also that more people living in New Zealand than in South Africa took part in the study.
Their work will help people working for weather forecasting services to design better products that keep the needs of their clients in mind. They will be able to make improvements and changes based on how satisfied their clients are and why they use it.
The present study aims to address a disconnect between science and the public in the form of a potential misalignment in the supply and demand of information known as the usability gap. In this case, we explore the salience of marine meteorological (metocean) information as perceived by users in two Southern Hemisphere countries: South Africa and New Zealand. Here, the focus is not only on the perceptions, usability and uptake of extreme event forecasts but rather focused on general, routine forecast engagement. The research was conducted by means of a survey, designed around three research questions. The research questions covered topics ranging from forecasting tool ergonomics, accuracy and consistency, usability, institutional reputation, and uncertainties related to climate change (to name but a few). The online questionnaire was widely distributed to include both recreational and commercial users. The study focused on identifying potential decision-making cultures that uniquely impact coastal ocean users' information needs. Cultural consensus analysis (CCA) was used to investigate shared understandings and variations in perceptions within the total group of respondents as well as in sectoral and country-based subgroups. We found varying degrees of consensus in the whole group (participants from both countries and all sectors combined) versus different subgroups of users. All participants taken together exhibited an overall moderate cultural consensus regarding the issues presented but with some variations in perspectives at the country-level, suggesting potential subcultures. Analysing national and sectoral subgroups separately, we found the most coherent cultural consensus in the South African users' cohort, with strong agreement regardless of sectoral affiliation. New Zealand's commercial users' cohort had the weakest agreement with all other subgroups. We discuss the implications from our findings on important factors in service uptake and therefore on the production of salient forecasts. Several priorities for science-based forecasts in the future are also reflected on, considering anticipated climate change impacts. We conclude by proposing a conceptual diagram to highlight the important interplay between forecast product co-development and scientific accuracy/consistency.
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