Podcast & Show Notes - Meteorologist Nicondra Norwood
Thu, 7/7 10:16AM • 22:35
SUMMARY KEYWORDS people, meteorologist, forecast, storm, climate, weather, tools, Southeast Louisiana, communication, hurricanes, convective, hear, Emergency Manager, communicating, audience, idea, line, happened, little bit, big
[00:00:03] Drew Hawkins: This podcast is a production of a research project at Louisiana State University funded by the Louisiana Sea Grant called communicating climate tools to coastal stakeholders or CCTCS. Researchers from the Department of Communication Studies the Manship School of Mass Communication, and the Department of Geography and Anthropology examined communication challenges during extreme weather events.
[00:00:34] Drew Hawkins: New Orleans is known all across the world for its good food and good music. It's also known for experiencing natural disasters. Hurricanes, flooding, tornadoes, and extreme heat are all within the realm of possibility, which can make the job of communicating risk a real challenge. Nicondra Norwood is a meteorologist at WVUE Fox 8 in New Orleans. In this discussion, she talks about some of the struggles she's faced while communicating weather and climate information to a general audience over her 23-year career and gives some insight into how communication can be improved in the future.
[00:01:26] Drew Hawkins: Thank you for sitting down with us. Can you maybe tell us a little bit about yourself, your name, your title, and a little bit of your work history?
[00:01:31] Nicondra Norwood: Hi, my name is Nicondra Norwood. I am a meteorologist at Fox 8, in New Orleans WVUE. I've been here, actually, this is coming up on my 15th anniversary here at Fox 8.Twenty-three years as a meteorologist. I've also worked in Montgomery, Alabama, as well as Memphis, Tennessee. So happy to join you today.
[00:01:52] Drew Hawkins: Wow, thank you so much. Could you maybe describe your understanding of weather and climate information? Generally?
[00:01:59] Nicondra Norwood: Well, you know, here's the thing. It's kind of like everybody knows about the weather. It affects everyone. But there's a very different understanding of what something means to the average person than it would mean to,say,us as a meteorologist, or to people that maybe have to make some decisions, societal decisions, based on what that weather forecast is.
[00:02:23] Drew Hawkins: Can you maybe walk us through a little bit of what some of those differences are?
[00:02:27] Nicondra Norwood: Well, you know, for one thing, I gotta get this all the time when I speak to viewers, and they say, “You know, we really love your forecasts, because, you know, you just tell us, is it going to be hot? Is it going to rain?” But then you have some people that really want that individual forecast. They want to know, “Is it going to rain on my block?” And I'd love to say we're that good, but we're not that good.
[00:02:50] Drew Hawkins: Could you maybe, it's because I know you've got a lot of experience in working like in a range of regions, geographic locations, would you maybe talk to us about the types of weather and climate events that you've encountered at your position here. And you know, which of those would you say, were the most severe? And were there any lessons that you learned from those events?
[00:03:10] Nicondra Norwood: You know, obviously, here in Southeast Louisiana, and we broadcast through all of Southeast Louisiana and some of the counties on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, and it's definitely our hurricane season and our individual hurricanes that make that greatest impact over the most number of people. And, you know, with some of the big storms that we've had, we just had another benchmark storm with Ida last season where a lot of people have not experienced a storm of that magnitude, sometimes you kind of think you do, but you haven't maybe been in that eye wall. And this time, a very large segment of our population did manage to unfortunately experience some of the worst parts of that storm. And unfortunately, it just, you know, we've had that over time here in the last few years really show up in very close order that, you know, the year before was Laura, that was just to the west,and it was Sally that was just to the east.
[00:04:06] So, having those major impact hurricanes, having long term effect, but here we are again where, you know, folks have not really recovered from last year, and it's time to start thinking about what storms we're going to have this season. And I think those are the times that we really need to have the best coordination, the best communication. Definitely, you know, we hear from viewers, and we hear from people in the community how, you know, they may not quite all be on the same page with what is coming out. We start talking about, well, who needs to evacuate or really understanding just how strong a storm really is. So, those are some of the things that we hope to continue to improve upon.
[00:04:51] Drew Hawkins: Gotcha. Switching a little bit into audience comprehension of weather and climate events, which you briefly kind of touched about. What would you say is your primary audience or one of your major audiences for weather and climate information?
[00:05:05] Nicondra Norwood: Well, our main audience is just going to be the average layperson. Even people who, you know, maybe don't even watch the news regularly or on a regular day, don't think much about the weather even worry about whether or not they need to bring an umbrella or not, when we start getting a torrential rainstorm, and they start noticing, “Oh, wait, the waters ponding in my street,” they're going to tune in. When they know, you know, they start hearing rumblings and buzzing about there's a hurricane in the Gulf, they're going to tune in. So, what we have those people that, you know, they got to tune in every day, they want to know what the temperature is, and that's our main regular audience. But when it comes to severe weather and those strong storms, it's everybody out there that needs to get that information to figure out how to keep them and their family safe.
[00:05:59] Drew Hawkins: From your perspective, what would you say is the public's understanding of weather and climate generally?
[00:06:06] Nicondra Norwood: In general, it's very difficult. There is a big disconnect about daily weather, and the idea of the climate. One of my colleagues just took a call literally, right, as I was dialing into you, picked up the phone, from one of our writers–they weren't clear on the idea of “Wait, how come the average temperature is 90, but the forecast for the whole week is 96, 98?” And you had to explain that, you know, we're saying normal, that's over that long term period, that 30-year period. And that's not the average of what the temperature is for that particular week. And most people I think, don't really, you know, that's not a top of their mind, and kind of have to explain that every time we really want to use it.
[00:06:59] Drew Hawkins: What would you say are some of the most common or frequent challenges you face? You know, as you're trying to relay climate and weather information?
[00:07:09] Nicondra Norwood: People's preconceived notions, again, you know, if you say it's the hottest it's ever been, we could go through records and nitpick and say, well, you know, actually, if you look at the summer of 1980, or you look at the summer of 2011, or you look at the summer of 2016, those were some of our hottest overall average temperature summers. But that, in the grand scheme of things, may not really matter that much.
[00:07:48] When we're talking about, we're under a hurricane warning, it's a tropical storm right now, but the forecast is that it's going to be a category 4 storm, which is exactly what happened during Ida. We did not see mass evacuations with Ida in a lot of places that there probably should have been. A part of that has to do with the timescale of, okay, you know, yes, this is a storm that's coming, and it's going to be here in two days. But also, when you see that big buzzsaw storm coming across the Gulf of Mexico, and it kind of spurs people into action, they don't always respond to the forecast as quickly, and then I think it kind of gets into that situation where we're too close or too late, we don't have time to move. And for us in this particular region, I think that's our number one situation where we really need people to listen to the forecast, and to understand what we're seeing, and what we're saying is coming.
[00:08:45] Severe weather we don't see quite as often when we start talking about tornadoes, but we do see them. And I think people are getting a lot better at paying attention on those days. Now that we do have kind of, you know, they're carrying their phone around with them, so those alerts go off, we use our weather apps, give you those alerts. So, it's maybe not as hard to get that immediate action. Because, you know, when you’re hearing that whistle, like it's happening now, as opposed to, you know, in 2 to 5 days this is going to be bad, you maybe want to get to moving, that doesn't spur the action as much.
[00:09:24] Drew Hawkins: So you know, you've mentioned hyperbole, like the hottest ever been and some of these challenges. Understandably, communicating risks, often there's going to walk this fine line between risk and hyperbole and how do you try to balance that in your line of work?
[00:09:42] Nicondra Norwood: Yeah, I think here we do a lot of reporting on wetlands issues. And that is we are kind of front lines on climate change in that regard. And I do think that, maybe in Southeast Louisiana at least, there is a group of people, particularly people that live in our major coastal environments, that they do see that effect very clearly. They do, you know, it is in their memory and in their line of sight. This used to be dry land, and it's not anymore. And so from that perspective, I think there is a segment of our viewership and a segment of our population here that has a better grasp of the urgency, and of those changes. I think more people are beginning to understand a little bit more, maybe not understanding the processes, but seeing, “Okay, that makes sense when you tell me this.” But I think there's still a long way to go and getting people to grasp that larger, you know, beyond the 1-year, 5-year, 10 years, and what happens every day. That what happens every day is a lot easier for people to hold on to.
[00:11:00] Drew Hawkins: Getting into some of the tools, the weather and climate tools that you use, can you maybe talk about what some of the tools that you mainly use to assess especially extreme weather and climate conditions? And why would--could you say also why you prefer these tools or resources as compared to others?
[00:11:17] Nicondra Norwood: Well, you know, I have to say, number one, as the meteorologists, our job is not really to focus on climate. We talk a lot about it, because we are the scientists that most people see on a day-to-day basis. So, we're probably the person that the average person talks to, or at least hears the most, that knows something about climate. But that's not really our field, our field is short term weather forecasting, which, again, is, you know, an entirely different area. And so while we're kind of the station scientists in a lot of events,and working in a television station, and having that microphone to broadcast to, that's also not our main field of study. So, part of it is, you know, getting people to be directed to the areas where they can get those best resources.
[00:12:08] Drew Hawkins: Based on a survey that was conducted by the Department of Communication Studies here at LSU. Focusing on the climate tools use, we found that among the most used climate and weather tools are the Convective Outlook, the Cone of Uncertainty and the Drought Monitor. From your perspective, can you on a scale of like 1 to 10? Can you kind of evaluate the quality of these tools?
[00:12:31] Nicondra Norwood: Well, you know, it's funny, because I don't really, I wouldn't necessarily classify, particularly the Cone of Uncertainty as a climate tool. The Cone of Uncertainty is most definitely, in my opinion, a forecast tool. Now when you talk about the Drought Monitor, again, that's giving information. I think it does give a good broad brushed idea of areas that maybe have half the limited rainfall for that certain period of time. But again, in order for that to really be used as a climate tool, you have to look at it over a much longer period of time. The Drought Monitors, it's still kind of giving us a short-term, you know, this is what has happened in this shorter period of time and looking at it cumulatively is going to give you more of the idea of what's going on with, you know, any kind of a climate shift. And then what was the third one that you mentioned?
[00:13:26] Drew Hawkins: The Convective Outlook? Yes.
[00:12:28] Nicondra Norwood: And again, I wouldn't consider that a climate tool. I would consider that a forecast tool, where we're looking at, you know, where's the best chance of us seeing storms for the day?
[00:13:39] Drew Hawkins: Gotcha. Is there anything that you would do to improve the communications of these tools or, you know, predictive as your, you know, as you put them to the public, as well as maybe Emergency Managers? Are there improvements you'd like to see?
[00:13:52]Nicondra Norwood: The Convective Outlook, I don't see as much of a public tool. I definitely see that more as a, this is one office of meteorologists that focuses on this one very specific part of forecasting, giving their knowledge and expertise to another group of meteorologists, who, you know, both us and the local, National Weather Services, the idea is that we are getting information and drilling it down into, you know, where a convective outlook is giving us information for, say, the region, we're now drilling it down to a parish or county or, you know, area around a city. And then broadcasting that information publicly to try to give the people that live in those areas the best idea, the best warnings. So that's really how I see that communication working.
[00:14:45] And you know, it is available to the public. Anybody can sit there and read it and look at it online. But if you are not, I wouldn't say that you have to be a meteorologist to understand it, but I do think you have to be that person, which we do have a lot of people that are like that, that is very interested in meteorology and has studied on terminology and knows a little bit of background to have an idea to really understand why this is reading the way it's reading, if you're not that person and you read it, it's going to just go over your head like, “Okay....” You know, that would be like me picking up a medical book, and I’m like, “All right, I heard that word before,” but I don't really understand the context of it or what that means. And I don't think that's a problem. Because that is what that product is for, that product is not really for the lay person, it's for other meteorologists. It may be useful to Emergency Managers who are also people that generally, that may not be their focus, but because that is a big part of their jobs,they are reading up on “Okay, what does that mean? What does this mean?”And so, they have a little bit more of a background knowledge.
[00:15:53] You know, if one of our reporters, and that happens a lot, sometimes they see something that's weather related, they need to know about it. They're going to come to us and ask, because even though they can find that online, it's not going to give a whole lot of information that they can translate. The Drought Monitor, I do think that's a nice quick glance. You know, if you're an Emergency Manager, and you are trying to figure out, “Okay, well, we're working on a water management plan,” and you know, “What are our rainfall rates been like?” “What, where's our storage?” You know, a lot of times that has to do with, not so much here, but I mean, in other places where they're dealing with reservoir issues, and that kind of thing. Well, I think it's a good broad brush overcast, and I really don't see that there's a problem with what's communicated in therefor what it is meant to be used for and needed for. Was Cone of Uncertainty included in this as well, because then that's another whole can of worms. [laughter]
[00:16:58] Drew Hawkins: [laughter] Sure, was there...
[00:17:00] Nicondra Norwood: ...that’s a very good question in all communities. [laughter]
[00:17:00]Drew Hawkins: Fair. Is there anything that you'd like to add as it relates to weather or climate communication that we didn't talk about? Is there something you wish more people knew about?
[00:17:14] Nicondra Norwood: Well, I will say, I do think that there is this plethora of information that's just available to everybody that was not there in the past. And I think it's imperative for people in the position of being a meteorologist, being an Emergency Manager, being a person that may have more of a background to interpret this information, to make sure that they are interpreting it for people, and for people not to grab onto the social media meteorologists. That is a very, I think, detrimental thing that's happened. And I mean, a lot of things, you know, the marketplace of ideas opening up is great, and people sharing their ideas, but there are some things that are facts, and looking at something that is a forecast and not understanding where that comes from, or what advantages, disadvantages, biases, negatives that you might be looking at.
[00:18:34] The big example is, I don't know if you follow, this was huge across social media in the middle of May. There's a particular model that almost all summer long, every two weeks, it shows a big tropical system somewhere towards the end of the forecast. And that's kind of just one of the failings of that particular model. Not to say that, you know, eventually that may not line up with what the actual forecast is, but the accuracy of those forecasts are not there long-term. In the past, only people that have studied that,and know that about those models,would have ever seen that. Now, it's there on the internet, for anybody to grab a screenshot of and say, “Oh, look, in two weeks, there's going to be a huge hurricane sitting off the coast!” That's not the case. It's not what happened, and there was a lot of fuel to that fire everybody just saying, “Oh, look at this forecast!” And then you have to turn around and all the people that do know having to say “Don’t look at that,that's not real.”
[00:19:46] You know, listen to people that have been trained that know why that's not real or not something to worry about at this time. And it puts a lot of--it muddies the water a lot when it is time to talk about a real threat because that gives that Boy-Who-Cried-Wolf syndrome, for people that may, you know, they're not paying attention to every single thing. They see this little post, and they’re like, “Ah, they said there was going to be a storm and see there wasn't a storm.” And it's not that they said there was going to be a storm, nobody that had any training, nobody from the hurricane center, nobody from the Weather Service, no TV meteorologists ever said, there's going to be a storm in two weeks. Somebody clipped a picture off the internet, and that sticks in somebody's mind. So that when those people are saying, “Hey, we need to pay attention!” We don't get that the way we need to.
[00:20:41] You know, I mentioned that, you know, the Cone of Uncertainty is a huge dilemma. Because there's two things in it, people draw that center line on and then they think that's where the storm is going to go,in the highlight is where it's going to affect, that is not the case. Lots of activity, depending on where the center of that storm is, is going to happen outside of that shaded area. And it's a struggle to, you know, always have to explain that. But on the flip side, it does give some meaning, it does get some people to spur to action. So just, you know, continuing to improve. And I mean, maybe that's one of the things that has happened recently, and I think is a good visual update to that, is adding some of the extent of the winds on top of that conefor people to understand, “Okay, this is where the center might be, but then 200 miles outside of that center, is where you may still be experiencing tropical storm force winds.” And so you know, that's just the educational piece that has to continue to stick in people's minds.
[00:21:53] Drew Hawkins: So generally, would it be safe to say you should get your forecast from professionals trust the experts?
[00:21:58] Nicondra Norwood: Trust the experts, get the forecast from professionals,and don't fall to the hype of something just because it looks official. You need to see–know where your sourcing comes from, and that's for everything, whether it be weather or news or whatever in life. You know, the next latest diet, you have to check the sources and see where it comes from.
[00:22:21] Drew Hawkins: Well, Nicondra, thank you so much for sitting down with me. I really appreciate it.
[00:22:25] Nicondra Norwood: Thanks for inviting me.