HomeNewsCollaborative research improves understanding and usability of climate outlook maps

Collaborative research improves understanding and usability of climate outlook maps

On September 15, NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center (CPC) launched an updated look for their  temperature and precipitation maps to better communicate climate outlooks across the U.S. “After considerable research and collaboration with partners and users, we are pleased to offer these now-operational upgraded climate outlook maps for our partners and the public,” said Jon Gottschalck, Climate Prediction Center. 

To develop the new visualization approach, an interdisciplinary research team from University of Minnesota’s Institute on the Environment and University of Maryland Cooperative Institute for Satellite Earth Systems Studies (CISESS) worked with both experts who regularly use these data products for decisions in the agriculture, energy, water resources, emergency management sectors and people who had rarely seen or used these outlooks.

“Our goal was to engage users to test which maps were understood the best. We want even more people to use NOAA data to support their decisions and social science research provides cost efficient answers on what works best,” said project lead Melissa Kenney, who is IonE’s Director of Research. Including the NOAA experts and decision-makers in the research process created shared agreement on the need for updated maps and the shared understanding of the range of possible solutions, which Kenney says makes research implementable.


sample seasonal temperature outlook map featuring color adjustment and improved legend


NOAA’s goal is to accurately convey geospatial data that includes probabilities and uncertainties, which are difficult for most non-expert viewers to interpret. The approach used control / treatment testing which provided evidence that creating consistency across maps, with the use of colors, and a redesigned legend to provide more context improved the users’ understanding of the climate outlooks.  

Kenney will be leading similar collaborative research on a new 5-year project with NOAA CPC and the National Integrated Drought Information System (NIDIS) focused on improving the US Drought and Hazard Outlooks and a new experimental decision-support product on soil moisture.

To learn more about the science behind these upgraded map products, read more in the American Meteorological Society article: Using Visualization Science to Improve Expert and Public Understanding of Probabilistic Temperature and Precipitation Outlooks.

Kate Nyquist is IonE’s manager of communications & content. 

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