Weather literacy in times of climate change


As climate change unfolds, extreme weather events are on the rise worldwide. According to experts, extreme weather risks already outrank those of terrorism and migration in likelihood and impact. But how well does the public understand weather risks and forecast uncertainty and thus grasp the amplified weather risks that climate change poses for the future? In a nationally representative survey (N = 1004; Germany), we tested the public’s weather literacy and awareness of climate change using 62 factual questions. Many respondents misjudged important weather risks (e.g., they were unaware that UV radiation can be higher under patchy cloud cover than on a cloudless day) and struggled to connect weather conditions to their impacts (e.g., they overestimated the distance to a thunderstorm). Most misinterpreted a probabilistic forecast deterministically, yet they strongly underestimated the uncertainty of deterministic forecasts. Respondents with higher weather literacy obtained weather information more often and spent more time outside but were not more educated. Those better informed about climate change were only slightly more weather literate. Overall, the public does not seem well equipped to anticipate weather risks in the here and now and may thus also fail to fully grasp what climate change implies for the future. These deficits in weather literacy highlight the need for impact forecasts that translate what the weather may be into what the weather may do and for transparent communication of uncertainty to the public. Boosting weather literacy may help to improve the public’s understanding of weather and climate change risks, thereby fostering informed decisions and mitigation support.

Weather, Climate, and Society