Iconic Confusion

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An interesting aspect of the communication of weather forecasts isthe use of weather icons, those little picture with clouds, raindrops, snowflakes and the like.   You have seen them often:

Weather icons are an attempt to quickly and intuitively communicate the type of weather expected, but as we will see, there are some issues.

The National Weather Service is a big user of icons and you will see them strewn across the top of the pages when you get a forecast at a location:

I asked my colleagues in the NWS where these icons came and I was told one of the offices developed them, without the aid of any social scientists or objective evaluations of efficacy.  Now, I am not saying I could do better, but let's say the distinctions between some of them have me scratching my head.    Now what IS the difference between mostly and partly sunny?   Even in graduate school they don't teach this.

Now the difference between showers likely and chance of showers is perhaps a bit subtle
 As are the rain icons, where 20% to 100% get the same treatment.
And the icon for a slight chance of freezing drizzle is enough to send icicle-size shivers down any spine! 
I can imagine what a good chance of heavy freezing rain would look like:

Now the private sector does not have bragging rights about better weather icons.  Here are the state-of-the-art icons used by the Weather Channel:

Not much of a distinction there!  And my friends on KING-5 weather are not exactly consistent in the use of  weather icons, with showers getting raindrops some times, but not during others.

Some media outlets try to communicate the probability of rain by how many raindrops are falling out of the icon clouds...but people confused that with intensity.

So is anyone examining in a scientific way the best approach to developing and testing weather icons?   I am proud to say that such work has been taking place at the University of Washington, under the leadership of psychology professor Susan Joslyn.  Many of you know about our probcast web page, where we present probabilistic weather predictions in an accessible way.   We wanted to have icons for precipitation and Dr. Joslyn created and tested a large number of  possibilities of what she termed Precipicons (a few shown below)

The winner was a pie chart type of presentation:

The probability of precipitation is shown by the raindrop portion, but the probability of not raining is shown explicitly by the solid color.    More work is necessary in such icon research.   The National Weather Service is also very much aware they need to entrain social scientists into their communication efforts and are putting resources in this direction.

Judge Judy and My Lost Dog

My family are still looking for our lost dog (and we continue to get some reports)--we so much appreciate your expressions of support and suggestions.  Recently, it all took an unexpected and somewhat humorous turn.   We got a letter from the producer of the Judge Judy cable show.  They had heard about our filing for damages in small claims court and wanted to fly us down to LA to have Judge Judy adjudicate the issue between us the the woman who lost our dog (Dede Harris, http://www.pet-nanny.biz/, located in North Seattle). Well, I am not going to miss class to fly down to LA for such a show, and do you know how much they would pay for the effort?  $ 250.00  You will not get rich going on Judge Judy.  But you might get on her DVD.

Yelp has again taken off the complaint I put on its web site about her.   You really can't trust Yelp--it appears that negative information is shifted into their "filtered" list---is this due to complaints from advertisers?   Lots of stories about that.  Example.

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