Destructive tornado outbreaks often cause post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and lasting negative memories, especially among children and adolescents [1
]. PTSD and other traumatic symptoms after tornadoes can be mitigated by narrative construction from sensory data [4
] and dispositional optimism in the aftermath [5
]. Despite attempts at mitigating the psychological impacts of destructive tornadoes, these memories and past experiences with impacts or near impacts linger in the minds of those affected when making safety decisions about tornadoes. It is unknown to what extent past tornado activity, direct or indirect experiences, and memories influence the perception of climatological tornado risk.
The risk perception literature has an abundance of sources on perception of atmospheric hazard events. There is a smaller collection of research devoted to quantifying the differences in the numerical perception of risk for a meteorological or climatological hazard compared to the actual numerical meteorological or climatological risk. This difference between the perceived and actual meteorological or climatological risk is referred to as perception accuracy by the authors.
Perception accuracy has been studied in hurricanes with multiple research objectives. It was first mentioned as a problem for hurricane evacuees who may return home to find damage that was much greater or less than what was forecast to occur [6
]. Perception accuracy was evaluated in real time using forecast and actual landfall locations [7
], and hurricane hazards at landfall [8
]. It has also been further evaluated in the role of evacuation decision making using hypothetical scenarios [10
], and also co-evaluated with optimism bias and hurricane track forecast consistency [12
Perception accuracy has similarly been researched for tornadoes. In the closest direct comparison with this research, Ellis et al. [13
] examined the climatological tornado risk of Tennessee residents for three regions of the state with different tornado risks. Most Tennessee residents underestimated their climatological tornado risk, and this number increased to 80 percent when using a model that accounted for likely missed tornadoes. They found that people with past tornado experience were more likely to accurately estimate or overestimate their actual tornado risk. This is believed to be the only research that has specifically analyzed perception accuracy for tornado frequency, but there are many other factors that combine to influence risk perception for tornadoes. In this research, we concentrate on the impacts of tornado activity, past impacts, memory of past impacts, and tornado safety sentiments on perception accuracy. All of these factors combine with other external stimuli to shape overall perception. Some of these other factors and stimuli are briefly discussed in the following subsection.
An individual’s perception of risk may contribute to the series of actions they take during a tornado event, from receipt to response [14
]. Risk perception can be defined multiple ways, including a strict focus on hazard frequency, which we refer to as climatological risk [13
], or as a broad concept that includes vulnerability and the potential for the hazard to cause harm [15
]. Both aspects of risk, perceived frequency and vulnerability, are important for understanding human behavior surrounding atmospheric hazards, such as tornadoes. Schultz et al. [16
] found that survey participants who believed a tornado was likely to occur were more likely to plan for one. Mason et al. [17
] found that perceived climatological tornado risk, along with prior experience with tornadoes, was positively associated with the likelihood of receiving a tornado warning at night; meaning if someone perceived a greater hazard frequency they made more effort to receive warnings. Both of these results were based on the frequency aspect of risk. After receiving the tornado warning, Brotzge and Donner [14
] explain that personalization of risk is what leads to someone determining if protective action is necessary and feasible. This risk personalization requires an individual to feel personally threatened during an event [14
]. Miran et al. [18
] showed that proximity to a tornado was more likely to affect actions taken during an event than one’s prior experience, highlighting the importance of feeling immediately threatened. Outside of tornado literature specifically, overall heightened risk perception has been shown to lead to improved preparation for and/or response to various natural hazards [19
]. Outside of risk perception, the number of weather information sources [18
] and the ways these sources visualize information [23
] are also important factors contributing to warning response.
The factors contributing to one’s perception of risk are numerous and complex. Experiencing a hazard is usually positively associated with a person’s perception of the frequency or likelihood of an event [13
], and may affect their feelings of vulnerability to harm [26
]. Tangible experiences, such as property damage and injury, and intangible ones, including emotional impact and personal distress, may all play a role [27
]. However, if a hazard occurred and did not cause any negative consequences, it may lessen one’s perception of risk [28
]. Local geography also affects risk perception; for example, people may feel protected from tornadoes because of nearby hills or rivers [29
]. Socioeconomic characteristics, including gender, age, race, ethnicity, or education, were significantly related to perception of natural hazard risk in some studies, but not others, and their role continues to be debated [28
]. Specific to tornadoes, for example, Senkbeil et al. [31
] found that risk perception and preparedness varied by race/ethnicity, while Ellis et al. [30
] found that socioeconomic characteristics had no notable influence on climatological risk perception.
Brotzge and Donner [14
] found that public response to a warning includes a series of actions from reception of the warning, to understanding, belief, confirmation, personalization of risk, and determining if action is necessary and feasible. This means a person takes many steps between receiving a warning and acting, if they choose to do so. Walters et al. [32
] found that survey participants could be grouped by the sets of actions they take, with group membership being determined in part by their prior experience with tornadoes. Some survey participants were in the Tech User group, meaning they were likely to gather information from TV, radio, the internet, and/or a cell phone application. Meanwhile, other groups termed “non-reactors” or “passive actors” were not likely to seek additional information or safety [32
Some researchers have used college courses and campuses as a mechanism for gathering information from large groups of primarily young adults about their perceptions and behaviors surrounding natural hazards [33
]. College students were chosen as the focus of this research primarily due to that demographic being the future of tornado warning and watch communication improvement efforts. Shifts in tornado watch and warning communication via social media and multiple modes of information are now normal and thus require evolving emphasis for evaluating weather communication. Previous results from Ellis et al. [13
] had an older average participant age and likely fewer social media users during tornado events. In psychological studies on memory, older age demographics did not accurately recall and recognize negative images as accurately as younger demographics, which was believed to be due to a greater investment in emotional regulation with age [37
]. In related research older adults were more likely to recall the gist of when an event occurred but less likely to recall why it occurred. Women were more likely to remember time and perceptual details than men [38
]. Therefore, our sample in this research was young and evenly balanced between males and females.
The specific objectives of this research are as follows:
To develop a methodology to classify counties according to climatological tornado risk to provide a foundation for other analyses;
To evaluate perception accuracy;
What are the relationships between tornado sentiment and perception accuracy?
The structure of the Methods and Results sections mirrors the order of the objectives listed here and these sections are followed by a brief conclusion.