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Dissemination and Presentation of Weather Information

Real-time meteorological products such as forecasts and warnings are highly perishable and must be disseminated rapidly in the most efficient way to the intended audience, to be of any use. The most common means of dissemination is the mass media, mainly television, radio and newspapers, whereas facsimile, telephone and pagers can specifically target certain user groups. The Internet is increasingly gaining importance.

Generally, the means of dissemination to users can be grouped as point-to-multipoint, for communication to the population at large, and point-to-point, where the information is sent out on demand only, to a single user.

Another way of grouping the means of dissemination is by the form of presentation used: visual or audio, text or graphic, or any combination of these forms. There are drawbacks in the use of each of these means of dissemination and an analysis should be made of which are the most effective for the different situations, information types and target audiences.

Product dissemination - some problems and recommended solutions

  • The media's contact numbers are busy - the NMHS product must compete for access to the media. Coordination with the media will ascertain the best time for immediate connection;
  • There is a communications systems breakdown - this is likely to happen from time to time. Partnerships with the media and emergency management can result in pooling of resources and capabilities, to provide a backup;
  • Funding constraints - budget considerations affect the quality, cost and maintenance of equipment that can be acquired. Forging partnerships with the media and emergency management, as well as with companies involved in weather-sensitive operations may be a helpful approach in reducing costs to the NMHS.

Components of effective presentation

Preparation:

To optimize the efficiency of a forecast, the presentation techniques including content, format, language and style must fit the chosen means of dissemination as well as the target audience. The NMS staff should know how to take advantage of the respective features of the various dissemination channels so as to present a product in a way that will be appreciated by users, and encourage positive response.

Contents:

The NMS should be aware of what aspects of local weather appeal to the public's interest. The geography, climate and culture of a country will most times dictate the contents of public weather products. A weather bulletin content should be relevant to the actual stated user needs and may include:

  • A summary of recent past weather;
  • A list of current warnings, if any;
  • A forecast and an outlook/extended outlook, if available;
  • A brief explanation of past and forecast weather;
  • Special forecasts for occasions, events, sports, holidays or weekends;
  • Marine and astronomical (almanac) information as appropriate.
Length:

The length of the presentation will depend on the available time/space for presentation on the specific medium. Too much detail not only increases length but is also undesirable since salient points of the forecast or warning could be lost.

Style and format:

The presentation should attempt to grab and retain the users' attention. It should be concise and easy to understand and interpret, but when necessary, emphasis should be placed on the most important meteorological phenomena and their impacts. The following are points to consider in the context of style and format:

  • Language - if more than one main language is used, broadcasts should be available at least during certain times, in the main languages of a country. Graphics on television or newspapers help transcend language problems;
  • Appropriate terminology - as much as possible, non-technical, clear, concise and simple terminology should be used. Words and phrases that have familiar usage in the country or region will be appropriate and will minimize the potential for public confusion;
  • Location of hazards - use of descriptive geographic and geopolitical features familiar to the public will facilitate clearer understanding and better public response to warnings;
  • Required user action - ''call to action'' statements in terminology agreed upon by the NMHS, emergency management and government authorities, inform the user about specific actions to take to reduce risk.
Style and format suited to Presentation Forms:

The following indicates that there are differences in style and format among presentation forms:

  • Text products - for television, newspapers, television crawlers and facsimile, and are usually supported by graphics;
  • Audio products - mainly for radio and telephone services. They should be clear and concise, with short sentences. For audio-visual products the audio must complement the images;
  • Visual products - mainly for television, the Internet, newspapers or facsimile, and include graphics, charts and images. They must be clear, concise and comprehensive, without being cluttered by confusing detail;
  • Animations - mainly for television and the Internet. Care should be taken over the animation speed and the frequency of the picture loop;
  • Tabulated data - suitable for presentation of rainfall, temperature or climate data in newspapers and on the Internet. If used on television they should be accompanied by complementary audio.

Point-to-multipoint presentation and dissemination

Point-to-multipoint dissemination provides simultaneous, widespread information to the broad spectrum of users of meteorological information, and has the ability to deliver at site-specific areas. Within many countries, national press networks are the primary means of delivery to newspapers, radio and television. At regional and global levels, major wire services disseminate to the media. Generally, the information is relayed as received or with a minimum of editing.

The print media

Catering to the needs of the print media is an important task for the NMS because they contribute to the public weather services by publishing NMS products and educating the public on meteorological topics, risks associated with severe weather and how to mitigate adverse impacts.

Newspapers and magazines

Newspapers effectively disseminate routine weather forecasts and information with the use of text and graphics but are less useful for the short-lived, fast-breaking weather events such as tornadoes or severe thunderstorms. Many newspapers are now on-line and provide a wider range of products. Periodicals tend to carry past weather information or medium to long-range forecasts and outlooks.

Newspapers show a major interest in weather information and some weather pages display considerable innovation in design, use of color and other attention-grabbing techniques to attract the reader. Some NMSs produce ready-to-print weather pages but many newspapers rely on private weather companies for custom-designed weather information packages.

Bulletins and Newsletters

These can be used to provide non-real time information such as weather summaries, rainfall amounts and distribution, temperature values, hydrological and agro-meteorological data and so on. The design and printing can be done in-house for daily or weekly issues but for longer-period issues, sponsorship might be required to cover overall costs.

Radio

Radio continues to be one of the most common and important means of dissemination of weather information and not infrequently, is the only effectively functioning mass medium in the aftermath of severe weather disasters. Many radio stations include weather forecasts in their news programmes and some even schedule comprehensive, complete weather segments. In some countries the NMHS operates a Weather Radio System which provides a 24-hour continuous broadcast on special VHF frequencies.

The public image of the NMHS could be significantly improved by live radio broadcasts featuring competent NMHS staff, especially during times of unusual weather.

Television

Television is very popular in most countries as a dissemination medium for public weather products because of its extensive graphics capabilities, powerful visual impact and the fact that it enables viewers to directly assess the severity of an impending event. Many television stations carry weather forecasts and related information as part of their news programmes and several have meteorologists doing regularly scheduled weathercasts. A few countries also have 24-hour weather channels that are quite successful and attract large viewing audiences.

National and international television weather broadcasts cover large geographical areas, but the broader the area, the more forecasts become generalized. However, international television broadcasts provide a useful service to vacationers, travelers and even local populations because they are widely available in hotels and on cable television channels.

The use of television crawlers across the top or bottom of the screen is an effective way of capturing viewer attention regarding severe weather information, without interrupting the regular programme.

(The Guide to Public Weather Services Practices offers guidelines for the preparation and production of Radio and Television weather broadcasts, and a weather page for a newspaper).

Press conferences

Press conferences can be useful in overcoming inundation of the NMS due to requests for information from the media, during severe weather. In such situations, it may be helpful to conduct a press conference to which all interested media, especially radio and television, have been invited.

Others

In some countries, traditional means such as bells, sirens, speakers, flags and beacons still exist to convey information on local and community scales. There are drawbacks in their use because they depend on people seeing and/or hearing them for effect, and communities have to be educated in the interpretation of the various signals and sounds. Yet, these ''old-fashioned'' means of communication have been found to be quite effective as alert and warning schemes.

Point-to-point presentation and dissemination

In point-to-point dissemination, the information is available at source and is sent out on demand to one user at a time. Telephone and facsimile are the most important means in this dissemination method. Manual dialing-up of telephone numbers for point-to-point dissemination of warnings or other weather information is time-consuming and costly, and should be maintained only for contact with the electronic media or emergency management. New technologies are available which present rapid automatic transmission of critical information to clients or to a central facility, for redistribution by other methods.

Telephone Services

Telephone services can be divided into two broad categories:

  • Personal telephone contacts - in many countries, people can call and speak directly to the NMS staff but overloading of service lines at critical times requires assistance of additional staff members. Restricted-use, unlisted, hotline numbers should be available which will permit urgent communication between the NMHS and government authorities or emergency management;
  • Recorded weather by telephone - automatic telephone answering devices are effective in reducing the number of telephone calls to the office. This service is very popular and in some countries access is for a fee. Messages should be in easy-to-understand, concise language and must be kept updated.

Other systems available for dissemination are:

  • Telephone paging systems - these allow quick, simple messages or alarms about time-critical weather information, to special individuals or emergency managers;
  • Cellular telephones - a coordinated telecommunication programme delivers site-specific public warnings to some cellular telephone subscribers.
Facsimile

Text and graphics can be disseminated by fax to users in the public, the media or to special paying customers. The process can be automated to send, and users can also dial-in to get information.

E-mail

This is a quick and efficient dissemination method that caters to a fixed user, or group of users. The drawback is that the recipient has to access the mailbox and as a result, this is not a sure method for urgent warnings.

Direct computer connections

Direct computer communications can provide an effective method for transmission and receipt of a wide variety of information and data in the form of text, graphics and gridded data fields. A well-maintained NMS computer facility makes information available at all times, night or day, and allows two-way information exchange between NMS and user.

The Internet

The advent of the Internet provides both opportunity and challenge to the international meteorological community in determining how best to harness its potential for dissemination and relay of weather data and products, while minimising problems associated with this new and open information highway. It is a very effective way for the NMS to make all data available to interested parties.

Most NMSs have access to the Internet and many are using it as a dissemination medium. However, for several reasons it is difficult to guarantee delivery, timeliness, authenticity or accuracy of network information. For this reason, the Internet should not be depended solely upon to support forecast and warning operations.

Internet Homepage

Weather sites are some of the most popular on the Internet and provide a wide array of information including raw data, forecasts and warnings, satellite and radar pictures and educational information. The NMS can use its position as owner of unique regional and local data and information to promote its services and improve its profile. (The Guide to Public Weather Services Practices provides guidelines on the creation of an Internet Home Page).

 
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