Preprints
https://doi.org/10.5194/nhess-2021-160
https://doi.org/10.5194/nhess-2021-160

  08 Jun 2021

08 Jun 2021

Review status: a revised version of this preprint is currently under review for the journal NHESS.

How is avalanche danger described in public avalanche forecasts? Analyzing textual descriptions of avalanche forecasts in Switzerland

Veronika Hutter1,2,, Frank Techel2,3, and Ross S. Purves3 Veronika Hutter et al.
  • 1School of Life Sciences, Technical University of Munich, Germany
  • 2WSL Institute for Snow and Avalanche Research SLF, Davos, Switzerland
  • 3Department of Geography, University of Zurich, Switzerland
  • affiliation at time of writing thesis

Abstract. Efficient communication in public avalanche forecasts is of great importance to clearly inform and warn the public about expected avalanche conditions. In Europe, avalanche danger is communicated using a pyramid, starting with ordinal categories of avalanche danger, and progressing through avalanche-prone locations and avalanche problems to a danger description. In many forecast products, information relating to the trigger required to release an avalanche, the frequency or number of potential triggering locations, and the expected avalanche size, are described exclusively in the danger description. These danger descriptions are, however, the least standardized part of avalanche forecasts. Taking the perspective of the avalanche forecaster, and focusing particularly on terms describing these three characterizing elements of avalanche danger, we investigate firstly which text symbols are used to describe these elements, and secondly how these descriptions relate to the forecast danger level. We do so through the perspective of the semiotic triangle, relating a referent (the avalanche situation) through thought (the processing process) to symbols (the textual danger description). We analyzed almost 6000 danger descriptions in avalanche forecasts published in Switzerland and written using a structured catalog of phrases with a limited number of words. Text symbols representing information describing these three elements were labeled and assigned to ordinal classes by Swiss avalanche forecasters. These classes were then related to avalanche danger. Forecasters were relatively consistent in assigning labels to words and phrases with Cohen's Kappa values ranging from 0.67 to 0.87. Nonetheless, even experts were not in complete agreement about the labeling of terms and were less likely to agree on terms not used in official definitions. Avalanche danger levels were categorized relatively consistently using words and phrases, with for example avalanche size classes increasingly monotonically with avalanche danger. However, especially for danger level 2-Moderate, information about key elements was often missing in danger descriptions. In general, the analysis of the danger descriptions showed that extreme conditions are more frequently described in detail than intermediate values, highlighting the difficulty of communicating conditions that are neither rare nor frequent, or neither small nor large. Our results provide data-driven insights that could be used to refine the ways in which avalanche danger could and should be communicated, especially to recreationalists, and provide a starting point for future studies of how users interpret avalanche forecasts.

Veronika Hutter et al.

Status: final response (author comments only)

Comment types: AC – author | RC – referee | CC – community | EC – editor | CEC – chief editor | : Report abuse
  • RC1: 'Comment on nhess-2021-160', Anonymous Referee #1, 20 Jul 2021
    • AC1: 'Reply on RC1', Frank Techel, 28 Aug 2021
  • RC2: 'Comment on nhess-2021-160', Anonymous Referee #2, 08 Aug 2021
    • AC2: 'Reply on RC2', Frank Techel, 28 Aug 2021

Veronika Hutter et al.

Veronika Hutter et al.

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Short summary
How is avalanche danger described in public avalanche forecasts? We analyzed 6000 textual descriptions of avalanche danger in Switzerland, taking the perspective of the forecaster. Avalanche danger was described rather consistently, although the results highlight the difficulty of communicating conditions that are neither rare nor frequent, neither small nor large. The study may help to refine the ways in which avalanche danger could and should be communicated to the public.
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