Joseph T. Ripberger

University of Oklahoma
Cooperative Institute for Mesoscale Meteorological Studies

Center for Applied Social Research
3100 Monitor Avenue, Suite 100
Norman, OK

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Currently, my research focuses on the scientific, institutional, and social forces that influence public perceptions about, preparation for, and responses to natural and anthropogenic crises and disasters. I am also interested in mechanisms through which individual attention, beliefs, and emotions influence the political and policymaking process.

Ripberger, Joseph T., Carol L. Silva, Hank C. Jenkins-Smith, Deven E. Carlson, Mark James and Kerry G. Herron. Forthcoming. “False Alarms and Missed Events: The Impact and Origins of Perceived Inaccuracy in Tornado Warning Systems.” Risk Analysis.
Abstract: Theory and conventional wisdom suggest that errors undermine the credibility of tornado warning systems and thus decrease the probability that individuals will comply (i.e., engage in protective action) when future warnings are issued. Unfortunately, empirical research on the influence of warning system accuracy on public responses to tornado warnings is incomplete and inconclusive. This study adds to existing research by analyzing two sets of relationships. First, we assess the relationship between perceptions of accuracy, credibility, and warning response. Using data collected via a large regional survey, we find that trust in the National Weather Service (NWS; the agency responsible for issuing tornado warnings) increases the likelihood that an individual will opt for protective action when responding to a hypothetical warning. More importantly, we find that subjective perceptions of warning system accuracy are, as theory suggests, systematically related to trust in the NWS and (by extension) stated responses to future warnings. The second half of the study matches survey data against NWS warning and event archives to investigate a critical follow-up question—Why do some people perceive that their warning system is accurate, whereas others perceive that their system is error prone? We find that subjective perceptions are—in part—a function of objective experience, knowledge, and demographic characteristics. When considered in tandem, these findings support the proposition that errors influence perceptions about the accuracy of warning systems, which in turn impact the credibility that people assign to information provided by systems and, ultimately, public decisions about how to respond when warnings are issued.
Ripberger, Joseph T., Hank C. Jenkins-Smith, Carol L. Silva, Deven E. Carlson, and Matthew Henderson. Forthcoming. “Social Media and Severe Weather: Do ‘Tweets’ Provide a Valid Indicator of Public Attention to Tornadoes?” Weather, Climate, and Society.
Abstract: Effective communication about severe weather requires that providers of weather information disseminate accurate and timely messages and that the intended recipients (i.e., the population at risk) receive and react to these messages. This article contributes to extant research on the second half of this equation by introducing a “real time” measure of public attention to severe weather risk communication based on the growing stream of data that individuals publish on social media platforms, in this case, Twitter. The authors develop a metric that tracks temporal fluctuations in tornado-related Twitter activity between 25 April 2012 and 11 November 2012 and assess the validity of the metric by systematically comparing fluctuations in Twitter activity to the issuance of tornado watches and warnings, which represent basic but important forms of communication designed to elicit, and therefore correlate with, public attention. The assessment finds that the measure demonstrates a high degree of convergent validity, suggesting that social media data can be used to advance our understanding of the relationship between risk communication, attention, and public reactions to severe weather.
Ripberger, Joseph T., Carol L. Silva, Hank C. Jenkins-Smith, and Mark James. Forthcoming. “The Impact of Consequence-Based Messages on Public Responses to Tornado Warnings.” Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society.
Abstract: The Central Region Headquarters of the National Weather Service (NWS) recently launched an experimental product that supplements traditional tornado and severe thunderstorm warning products with information about the potential “impact” of warned storms. As yet, however, we know relatively little about the influence of consequence-based messages on warning responsiveness. To address this gap, we fielded two surveys of US residents that live in tornado prone regions of the country. Both surveys contained an experiment wherein participants were randomly assigned a consequence-based tornado warning message and asked to indicate how they would respond if they were to receive such a warning. Respondents that were assigned to higher impact categories were more likely choose protective action than respondents assigned to lower impact categories. There was, however, a threshold beyond which escalating the projected consequences of the storm no longer increased the probability of protective action. To account for this, we show that the relationship between consequence-based messages and protective action depends on the type of action being considered. At lower levels of projected impact, increasing the expected consequences of the storm simultaneously increased the probability that respondents selected a “shelter in place” or “leave residence” option. At higher levels of projected impact, this relationship changed—increasing the projected consequences of the storm decreased the probability that respondents would shelter in place and increased the probability that they would leave their residence for what they perceived to be a safer location. In some severe storm situations, this behavior may increase rather than decrease the risks.

Substantive Focus:
Environmental Policy PRIMARY
Defense and Security
Science and Technology Policy SECONDARY

Theoretical Focus:
Policy Process Theory PRIMARY
Agenda-Setting, Adoption, and Implementation
Public Opinion SECONDARY