Maryland today | Clearer days for National Weather Service maps

Looking for a 10-day forecast for the southern United States? A map showing a distracting pixelated view of the Baffin Island fjords in Canada’s far north with a retro computer font could signify the prospect of partial confusion with the risk of headaches.

Last week, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (CPC) Climate Prediction Center (CPC) set aside these and other design choices to launch long-term U.S. temperature and precipitation forecast maps, more clearer and more user-friendly, widely used by meteorologists, media and policy makers. manufacturers whose industries rely on specific weather conditions.

The center did so with the help of researchers at the University of Maryland, who for several years have been studying how to render the charts, which are part of the National Weather Service’s suite of forecasting products, plus useful and usable, not to mention easier on the eyes.

“These are cards that haven’t changed for a long time,” said Michel gerst, associate research professor at the University of Maryland Interdisciplinary Center for Earth System Sciences (ESSIC). “Like the official federal government forecast for temperature and precipitation over the next two weeks and into the coming season, a lot of people are seeing these maps, and a change is not taken lightly.”

Gerst is the lead author of the research study underlying these forecast design changes. In 2017, the CPC embarked on an effort to diagnose readability and intelligibility issues in its forward-looking maps and partnered with Gerst and other collaborators at the Cooperative Institute for Earth System Studies. ESSIC satellite to analyze forecast maps and find ways to communicate more clearly in the long term. -the forward forecasts.

The overhaul represents a significant multi-institutional achievement, said Jon Gottschalck of the CPC Operational Forecasting Branch.

“After extensive research and collaboration with partners and users, we are delighted to bring these improved climate outlook maps, now operational, to our partners and to the public,” he said. Jon Gottschalck, Head of Operational Forecasting Directorate for CPC.

Gerst and his colleagues evaluated the monthly and seasonal outlook cards from six to 10 days, from eight to 14 days. The team incorporated feedback from map user focus groups as well as guidelines from data visualization science that stem from an understanding of how users perceive and interpret images.

“Our results showed that there were some features of the original maps that people found really confusing. Visualization science theory predicted that these would be the most difficult to understand, showing the practical utility of the theory in making good designs, ”Gerst said.

Gerst and his colleagues adjusted the design and compared the ease of use of the new versions with the original maps by polling a group of voluntary test users from four industries that rely on accurate weather information: agriculture, emergency management , water and energy resources.

The poll results shaped the final overhaul. One of the most significant changes included the removal of Canada from the image and the representation of Alaska alongside the continental United States.In addition, new fonts, a less ambiguous representation of forecast probability scales and a Clearer and more user-friendly legend make the new version cleaner and less cluttered.

CPC says these cards are just the first to get a new look. Other maps in the NWS forecasting suite of products will benefit from a visual upgrade in the coming years.

This story was adapted from a text provided by the Climate Prediction Center.

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