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Communicating the risks of severe weather
The flash floodings of the past week have highlighted just how susceptible we are to the elements. Extreme weather conditions can cause damage to property and loss of life. What is the best way to communicate the risks associated with severe weather, and whose responsibility is it to ensure that communities have heard and understood these risks?
On Thursday 6 May, the BA will be holding a SPA Forum, entitled “Severe weather warning: communicating danger and disaster”, looking at these issues. Speakers will include David Faichney, Senior Hydrologist at the Scottish Environment Protection Agency, Irene Lorenzoni from the Centre for Environmental Risk at the University of East Anglia and Ewen McCullum, Chief Meteorologist at the Met Office. The Met Office works closely the Scottish Environment Protection Agency to enable accurate assessments of areas at risk from severe weather events and to communicate the risk of flooding to populations likely to be affected.
“Weather forecasts have become more accurate in recent years. Our forecasts three days ahead are as good as a one day forecast twenty years ago,” says Ewen McCallum, “but the science of forecasting is only half the story. These days communicating the risk and confidence associated with a forecast are just as important so that our customers and the public can make useful decisions based on our advice.”
“Predicting flooding is not an exact science as projections always contain elements of uncertainty, yet there is increased demand for more accurate forecasts and precise warnings,” says Irene Lorenzoni. “Some studies have shown that in the UK, people can become increasingly annoyed when warnings are not followed by forecasted flooding. This begs the questions of how communicating the risks of severe weather can be made more effective. ”
Experts predict an increase in the number of occurrences of extreme weather conditions due to climate change, and this has implications for risk communicators.
“Research has found that people tend to distance themselves from the risk of climate change,” says Dr Lorenzoni. “It is generally considered an issue remote in space and time, something that may affect other nations or future generations. This complicates the task of risk communicators as one option is to make the message personally relevant so that adequate action can ensue.” 
The SPA Forum will take place at 6.30 pm on Thursday 6 May at Dynamic Earth, Edinburgh. Places are free but must be reserved in advance. To book e-mail or call 020 7019 4940.
The SPA Forum is sponsored by the Met Office.