Emergency Management & Public Administration

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The National Weather Service has adopted warning polygons that more specifically indicate the risk area than its previous county-wide warnings. However, these polygons are not defined in terms of numerical strike probabilities (ps). To better understand people’s interpretations of warning polygons, 167 participants were shown 23 hypothetical scenarios in one of three information conditions—polygon-only (Condition A), polygon + tornadic storm cell (Condition B), and polygon + tornadic storm cell + flanking nontornadic storm cells (Condition C). Participants judged each polygon’s ps and reported the likelihood of taking nine different response actions. The polygon-only condition replicated the results of previous studies; ps was highest at the polygon’s centroid and declined in all directions from there. The two conditions displaying storm cells differed from the polygon-only condition only in having ps just as high at the polygon’s edge nearest the storm cell as at its centroid. Overall, ps values were positively correlated with expectations of continuing normal activities, seeking information from social sources, seeking shelter, and evacuating by car. These results indicate that participants make more appropriate ps judgments when polygons are presented in their natural context of radar displays than when they are presented in isolation. However, the fact that ps judgments had moderately positive correlations with both sheltering (a generally appropriate response) and evacuation (a generally inappropriate response) suggests that experiment participants experience the same ambivalence about these two protective actions as people threatened by actual tornadoes.

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Risk Analysis: An International Journal, 2019, 39(1), 274–290.



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