Understanding perceptions of changing hurricane strength along the US Gulf coast

Wanyun Shao, Siyuan Xian, Barry D. Keim, Kirby Goidel, Ning Lin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

30 Scopus citations


The scientific debate on the impact of climate change on hurricane intensity/strength continues. Regardless of its causes, the consequence of increasing hurricane intensity is undeniably immense among coastal residents. In this study, we investigate how various objective measures of hurricane strength affect people's perception of changing hurricane strength over time. We utilize original survey data to examine the relationship between perceived and actual shift in hurricane strength. In this article, hurricane strength is indicated as maximum wind speed at landfall, storm surge, and economic damage. We find that the characteristics of hurricane strength associated with the most recent landfall are much more closely associated with perceptions of changing hurricane strength than objectively measured trends. This result is consistent with availability bias, suggesting that perceptions are associated with most accessible and retrievable events. We also find that people's belief in climate change play a powerful role in one's perception of changing hurricane strength. Political predispositions are found to affect one's perceptions of changing hurricane strength. Compared to Democrats and Independents, Republicans are far less likely to believe that climate is changing and thus they tend to not believe that hurricanes are becoming stronger. Given that this study focuses on how physical characteristics of past hurricane events influence individual perceptions of hurricane strength shift, future research should focus on how expectations of future climate and weather-related events influence individual attitudes and behaviours.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1716-1727
Number of pages12
JournalInternational Journal of Climatology
Issue number4
StatePublished - Mar 30 2017

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Atmospheric Science


  • climate change
  • hurricane strength
  • maximum wind speed at hurricane land fall
  • perceptions of changing hurricane strength
  • political communication on natural hazards


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