Weather Forecasts:
What Are They Worth to You?

Forecast map.

NOAA weather map.

High resolution (Credit: NOAA)

Could you put a price tag on weather forecasts? Scientists at the National Center for Atmospheric Research say yes, we can.

Results of an Internet-based survey created by NCAR scientists — and partially funded by NOAA through the U.S. Weather Research Program — shows that the average American values weather forecasts far more than government and private agencies spend producing them. 

According to lead survey author Jeffrey Lazo, the public places the value of a single forecast around 10.5 cents. Given that U.S. adults obtain about 300 billion forecasts over the course of one year, this equates to roughly $31.5 billion total. That’s in stark contrast to what it costs the federal and private sectors each year to support meteorological operations and research, which is estimated at only $5.1 billion.

Weathering Your Day-to-Day

Survey results show that close to nine out of 10 adult Americans obtain weather forecasts regularly, often more than three times per day. 

Crowded beach.

(Credit: NOAA)

“Social science research like this reminds us of just how complicated our lives would be if we didn’t know what the weather was going to do every day,” said Curtis Carey, Ph.D., director of communications for NOAA’s National Weather Service. “The study is invaluable to the National Weather Service because it tells us that Americans are showing a lot of confidence in our forecasts and warnings. We must be doing something right.”

Out of the 1,520 people surveyed, 1,465 said they use weather forecasts to make daily life decisions — from whether to carry an umbrella or where to vacation to critical life-saving decisions like taking shelter to escape a tornado.

Associate scientist and co-author of the survey Julie Demuth said that 85 percent of respondents indicated that they check weather forecasts half the time simply to find out what the weather will be like. 

A Good Return on Investment

The survey also gathered information about respondents’ weather-related experiences and basic demographic information. 

Lightning.

(Credit: NOAA)

On average, a person receives 3.8 forecasts daily, even though the number of forecasts obtain every day greatly fluctuates, depending on planned activities and weather events.

Lazo said that while it is hard to put a price on a forecast, the survey underscores the considerable difference between the actual cost of producing weather forecasts and the price people are willing to pay.

The survey also revealed that the top three most common ways people receive weather forecasts are: local television stations, cable television and commercial or public radio.

The researchers hope to administer the survey on a regular basis to keep pace with rapidly changing communication technologies and younger generations coming online, who may likely place different values on weather forecasts.

For more information look for UCAR News media at www.ucar.edu/news. NOAA logo.