How well do Germans understand the risks of the weather?

How well do Germans understand the risks of the weather?

In a survey of weather and climate knowledge in Germany, only one-fifth of respondents correctly identified that a 30-second gap between lightning flashes and thunderstorms meant that thunderstorms were about 10 kilometers away. Credit: Lucy Chian at Unsplash

Many Germans find it difficult to detect adverse weather conditions such as frost, heat, or ultraviolet radiation. This is one of the main results of a survey conducted by researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development. Weather, climate and society. The authors of the study support a new prediction of the impact that predicts not only the weather but also what it does.

While the current focus is on coronavirus, it is important not to forget the crisis, which poses an even greater threat in the long run: climate change. As climate change develops, the number of extreme weather events in the world is increasing. These events require an effective response not only from the authorities but also from each individual. Only those who can calculate the weather risks correctly can take precautions. But how smart is the general population about the weather risks? How well do we understand the uncertainty of the weather forecast? And how much do we know about climate change, which will further exacerbate weather risks in the future?

To answer these questions, researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development and the Hans Ertel Weather Research Center surveyed 1,004 Germans aged 144 and 93. Respondents answered 62 factual questions about weather conditions such as heat, ultraviolet radiation, thunderstorms, heavy rains and frost and their impact, as well as pre-determined uncertainty in Germany and climate change.

Respondents found it difficult to discuss weather risks in several areas. For example, 44% of participants believe that land frosts, which can cause frost on roads and sidewalks, can only be caused by air temperatures of 0 degrees Celsius and below – a misconception that can be treacherous. In fact, the temperature can only drop below zero above ground level, even when the air temperature declared in the weather forecast is above zero: the air temperature is usually measured two meters above the ground. Moreover, 66% of respondents falsely believed that higher temperatures meant higher levels of ultraviolet radiation. Ultraviolet radiation is actually the highest in the afternoon, and the temperature continues to rise during the day. And if thunderstorms approached, many respondents would probably not have taken refuge in time: only one-fifth of respondents correctly estimated that a 30-second gap with lightning brightness and thunderstorms meant that thunderstorms were about 10 miles away. More than a quarter of respondents thought it was about 30 kilometers away, thus drastically assessing their distance from the storm.

At the same time, there was uncertainty about how probability predictions were to be interpreted. Only one-fifth of respondents knew that the forecast, which predicts a 30% probability of rain in Berlin, means that with this forecast it rains 30% in Berlin throughout the day. Many respondents mistakenly thought it meant that it was raining in 30% of the area or 30% of the day. According to the authors of the study, the weather communicators are responsible for solving this uncertainty. Their responsibility is to make it clear and transparent what the probability is.

As for the evidence of climate change in Germany since the 1880s, 70% of respondents knew that the average temperature in Germany would rise. But 80% thought the intensity of the storm had increased, with virtually no change in Germany in this regard. "This perception could be influenced by recent extremism and the coverage of the media," said Nadine Fleischut, lead author of the Max Planck Institute for Human Development and principal investigator for the WEXICOM project. As co-author Ralph Hertwig, director of the Max Planck Institute for Human Development, adds: “If people here and now do not properly understand the risks of the weather, it is unlikely that they will be able to take into account the impact of climate change. Will have in the future. Daily weather forecasts can be an opportunity for a literacy attack that will help us all become smarter every day in understanding the weather, climate and uncertainty. "

The authors of the study require efforts to improve communication about extreme weather events and their impact. Forecasts should not focus solely on the weather event itself, but rather predict its impact, such as economic damage to traffic jams or buildings. At the same time, some information from the forecasts should be made more transparent. "Impact predictions need to be well developed and tested to avoid undesirable consequences, such as risk overruns or trivialization." – Says co-author Stefan Herzog at the Center for Rational Adaptation at the Max Planck Institute. Human development. The authors call on meteorology, psychology and journalism experts to work together to develop an effective format for communication.

Climate change makes some aspects of weather forecasting even more difficult

ᲛMore information:
Nadine Fleischhut et al. Weather literacy in times of climate change, Weather, climate and society (2020). DOI: 10.1175 / WCAS-D-19-0043.1

Max Planck Society

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How well do Germans understand the risks of the weather? (May 25, 2020)
Found on May 26, 2020

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