How much do Gawker readers trust meteorologists? What do they think of The Weather Channel? We asked, and you answered. Thousands of readers clicked through to take our survey aimed at studying your habits and opinions when it comes to the weather. Let's take a look at the results.
An incredible 4,873 readers clicked through to the survey, bringing a response rate of around 60% (4,873 submissions divided by ~8,000 hits on the post). Almost all of the responses came from readers in the United States, with about 200 folks chiming in from 21 other countries around the world.
The top six states from which submissions were recorded (NY, CA, IL, PA, MA, TX) meshed pretty darn well with the six states that send the most traffic come to The Vane (NY, CA, IL, TX, PA, MA). We received submissions from all 50 states, including one from someone who lives in the U.S. Virgin Islands. If you're the person who submitted from the U.S.V.I. and need a roommate, let me know! I clean and cook and tell jokes on demand.
188 of the 190 folks who live abroad elected to tell us which country they're from: Argentina, Australia, Austria, Brazil, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Guatemala, Hungary, India, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Mexico, The Netherlands, New Zealand, Portugal, Spain, and the United Kingdom. The most international responses came from Canada (145), with the United Kingdom placing second (11) and Australia, France, and Japan tying for a distant third place with three responses each.
A supermajority of readers (75%) check their local weather forecast (home, work, or school) at least once per day. 21% of readers check the forecast several times or at least once per week, while 3% indicate that they rarely ever check their upcoming weather. If you're in the 1% who chose "never," you were sent on down the survey and not allowed to answer any other questions pertaining to forecasts. Sorry!
As expected, just over half of the people who responded to the survey and check their weather forecasts use apps on their smartphones or tablets. Another 39% usually use websites (like weather.gov or weather.com) to get weather information. 5% still rely on television broadcasts to see what the weather is going to be like, which was surprising—I expected that number to be a little bit higher, even in the smartphone era.
The results are even more interesting when you compare the frequency of forecast checking by those who use apps versus those who watch television. Even though the sample sizes are wildly different (2,429 for apps, 229 for television), the same percentage of people check the forecast at least once per day—75%. It meshes perfectly with the overall percentage. As expected, folks who usually use apps check the weather more frequently throughout the day than those who get their information from the airwaves.
No real surprises on the media front—a small plurality of people get their weather forecasts from The Weather Channel or its website, with runners-up in Weather Underground, the National Weather Service, and AccuWeather. If you take into account the fact that The Weather Company (TWC's parent company) actually owns Weather Underground (note: the forecasts for the latter are not produced by the former), you're looking at 48% of our readers getting their information from The Blue Behemoth down there in Atlanta.
Not that there's anything wrong with that, of course. I've always been forceful in pointing out that The Weather Channel is excellent at the weather when it wants to talk about it, and The Vane hosted a study back in April (headed by former Deadspin data guru Reuben Fischer-Baum) that showed that TWC's forecasts are the best of the bunch.
The most surprising result is that even though The Weather Channel placed so highly overall, they only lead their competitors in smartphone app users. People who predominately use websites for weather information prefer the National Weather Service by a few points over weather dot com, while the 230 or so television users overwhelmingly tune in to local news stations.
When asked what other outlets people use aside from the ones listed above, the most common answers included iPhone's default weather app (which is powered by TWC or Yahoo!, depending on which iOS you have), the Washington Post's Capital Weather Gang, the Dark Sky app, and a flurry of other local sites like Minnesota Public Radio's Updraft blog.
Trust in Forecasts
Whom do you trust? That was one of the biggest questions I wanted to answer with this survey, and you guys came through pretty darn well. Overall, respondents rank weather forecasts in general with a trust rating of 7.0 on a scale from 1 (no trust) to 10 (complete trust). That counts as solid B in my book, which means that the old "you can be wrong half the time and still get paid" meme is quickly dying off, at least with our readers. (Thanks!)
The National Weather Service is far and away the most trustworthy source for weather information according to readers who took the survey, clocking in with an average trust rating of 8.0. Weather Underground comes in second with an average rating of 7.1, with AccuWeather and local news tied for third at an almost-evil average of 6.6, and The Weather Channel close behind in fourth place with an average trust rating of 6.3.
However, the vast majority of users answered "Don't Know/No Answer" when asked about almost all of the outlets, as the respondent had either never heard of the company or didn't know enough about the outlet to form an opinion. The largest number of "DK/NA" answers was for WeatherNation, at 3,336 (74%), followed by Intellicast at 3,239 (72%).
Speaking of media outlets...
Winter Storm Names
The Weather Channel embarked on its third winter of naming winter storms this year, much to the chagrin of much of social media (but mostly me). The network's winter weather expert Tom Niziol even chimed in via the comments to "educate me on the facts."
I wanted to see if I was all alone out here, so I asked you to share your opinion on winter storm names. Out of 4,653 people who answered the question, 65% disagree with the network's decision to assign names to winter storms. Nearly a quarter of respondents considered themselves "neutral," 7% agreed with the naming scheme, and another 4% chose the out ("don't know/no answer").
I broke down the results even further and found that regular Weather Channel viewers are a little more sympathetic and apathetic to the names than those who indicated that they don't usually use The Weather Channel for weather information. Among TWC viewers, only 55% disagreed or strongly disagreed with the network's campaign, while 68% of non-TWC viewers disagreed with it. Nearly twice as many respondents who watch TWC (11%) agreed with the decision versus non-watchers (6%). The results also indicate that people who regularly watch the network are slightly more neutral about the decision than those who obtain their information elsewhere.
Agree or Disagree?
We got some pretty interesting results on the other opinion questions asked on the survey. A huge majority of respondents—87%—agree that the media loves to hype them up some weather, but nearly three-quarters of survey-takers also agree that not all severe weather coverage is hype. This fits well with the general tone we see after an inch of snow in D.C. versus a tornado outbreak in the south, for instance. The media is blasted for sending reporters to grind their boots on dry pavement, but they're praised for their fine reporting during an actual emergency.
When asked about the reliability of weather information on social media, readers were a little less in lock-step about the ordeal. A plurality of respondents say that social media is not reliable for weather information, while one-third disagree with the sentiment. The question does require a little bit of nuance that would be hard to gauge in a multiple-choice test (which is why they require essay questions in school, kids). If you're getting your weather information from James Spann or Brad Panovich via Facebook or Twitter, of course that information is reliable! If you're getting it from some twerp...not so much.
Last but not least, it's satisfying to see that nearly three-quarters of respondents disagree with the sentiment that meteorologists are usually wrong. Forecasts have gotten much better over the past couple of decades, so much so that our three-day forecasts today are as good as a one-day forecast was back in the 1980s.
The survey asked several questions about winter storms, but the one that was the most interesting had to do with your perception of safely driving during winter weather. The question asked how much snow had to accumulate on local roadways before you felt it was unsafe to drive. The purpose of this question was to see the differences between different regions, and the exercise produced some great results.
As one would expect, residents in the Upper Midwest (in this case, centered near/around the Great Lakes) are basically snow cowboys, with half willing to drive in at least four inches of snow, and a quarter willing to venture out when there's at least half a foot of snow on the ground.
Respondents from the Northeast are a little less adventurous when it comes to the white stuff, with just over half indicating that two to four inches of snow on the roads is the limit to what they'll drive in. The results also reflect something we've seen time and time again: southerners are neither physically nor skillfully equipped to drive in the snow. More than half of people who live in the south said that if there's more than an inch or two of snow on the roads, nothing doing, they're not going anywhere.
No weather survey is complete without questions about tornadoes, especially here on The Vane, which basically turns into The Tornado from March to August. The three biggest questions on the survey regarding tornadoes had to do with what you do when a tornado warning is issued for your location and how (mainly rural) residents deal with tornado sirens.
Most respondents check Doppler weather radar or turn on the news when a tornado warning is issued for their location. Most meteorologists would tell you to "seek shelter immediately" when a tornado warning is issued, but to be honest, even weather nerds like myself check the radar before doing anything. If you're in the polygon, you have to act—if not, you're okay for now.
35% of respondents indicated that they have tornado sirens where they live; if you answered "yes," you were taken to another page to answer some questions about the repurposed air raid sirens. Of the thousand-and-a-half people who answered the question, 17% said that they always rely on tornado sirens for warning of impending danger, while 37% said that they "sometimes" rely on them.
I don't mean to lecture you, but for the love of Beyoncé, please don't rely on tornado sirens for tornado warnings. They are unreliable! They are meant as outdoor warning systems to alert people working in the fields that it's time to get underground. You are not meant to hear them indoors, and most municipalities use their sirens irresponsibly (or not at all) when residents need them the most. Use a smartphone app, NOAA weather radio, or watch the news for warnings instead of relying on the sirens. It's a hard habit to break, but your life and the lives of your family members could depend on it one day.
The questions about hurricanes were simple and geared towards the respondent's opinion of evacuations. This system used a filter to ask if the respondent lived within 50 miles of the Atlantic Ocean or on Hawaii—about 1,200 said yes, and their responses are above.
60% of respondents indicated that they will evacuate their home and go elsewhere if told to do so by authorities ahead of a tropical system making landfall. 18% said no, and nearly a quarter indicated that they didn't know—presumably, that kind of decision would be on a case-by-case basis.
The next question asked how strong a storm would have to be for the respondent to consider evacuating. 65% of those who answered said that the storm would have to be a category three or higher on the Saffir-Simpson Scale—in other words, a solid majority wouldn't leave unless it was a major hurricane. 10% said that they wouldn't go anywhere unless the storm is a top-of-the-scale category five.
What is surprising is the amount of people who said that they wouldn't consider evacuating until a hurricane reached category three status or higher. 65% of New Yorkers (210 out of 347) who indicated they live within 50 miles of the coast said that it would take a major hurricane to get them to leave, while 75% of Floridians (94 out of 126) answered the same. The results play into the stereotype that Floridians would conduct business as usual in 100 MPH winds, but I expected a much lower grade of hurricane to prompt New Yorkers to leave given the damage and lingering mental impact left behind by Hurricane Sandy.
I would be remiss if I conducted a survey on Gawker and failed to ask a couple of meta questions for our readers to tear into. The survey only appeared on Gawker's front page—no other verticals shared it to their sites, unfortunately—so nearly 90% of the respondents in this survey are Gawker readers. Deadspin and Jalopnik ranked highly, and my running theory is that it's a result of a link to the survey appearing on the sidebar ("Written by Dennis Mersereau") of a couple of The Vane's posts being shared over to each respective site during the week the survey was open.
When asked which site they read most often, 46% of respondents said that Gawker is their main squeeze; Deadspin and Jezebel also came in above 10% as reader favorites.
Out of pure curiosity, I threw in a question asking if the respondent had ever heard of The Vane. It gives us a good idea of how skewed the results could be—if respondents read my stuff regularly, they could be biased in favor of criticizing The Weather Channel, for instance. Surprisingly, 27% of respondents indicated that this survey was the first time they had ever clicked into the site. Welcome! Come around more often. It's fun. And ranty.
One of the more popular questions with the readers was about Kinja. Many people indicated in the survey or privately that they have no idea what Kinja is. You're on it right now! Kinja is the blogging platform through which all of Gawker Media's websites are run, and it's the platform on which you comment on those posts. Given the loud criticism often leveled against Kinja by many commenters, I figured that such a question would yield a definitive result.
Nope! You guys basically served up a big ol' ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ in multiple-choice form. The question resulted in equal parts approve and disapprove, with around 65% of respondents staying neutral or choosing the out.
However, I included two open-ended questions at the end of the survey. The first asked the respondent what they would like to see the higher-ups do to improve Kinja, while the second asked what they would like to see more of on any Gawker Media site. The questions resulted in a huge turnout—1,850 answers in all—which turns into 78 pages spread out over two PDF files.
If you'd like to peruse all of the open-ended answers, here they are for your reading pleasure. Each PDF is unedited except for one asterisking (is that a word? Chrome says it's a word.) of a gentleman's email address.
PDF #1: Answers to "In your opinion, what can the higher-ups do to improve Kinja?" (1,002 responses, 43 pages)
PDF #2: Answers to "What topics would you like to see covered more often on any of the Gawker Media sites (core and sub-blogs)?" (848 responses, 35 pages)
There are some pretty good suggestions in both of those PDFs, both critical and additive.
No survey is complete without demographics, but before I get into it, I freely admit that I botched the gender question. The question asked "male" and "female" with a box for "other" where non-binary folks could freely identify themselves if they chose to do so, and I do apologize for that. After it was brought to my attention, I had a productive exchange with Gawker Media's resident LGBT expert Kat Callahan about what I could do in the future to better ask a question like this and more accurately (and sensitively) represent future audiences.
With regard to the gender question, 2,754 respondents selected "male" while 2,044 chose "female." 22 respondents filled in the "other" box, for a total of 4,820 responses. The age and education results sync up pretty well with what Quantcast tells us about the audiences for both The Vane and Gawker itself. The only "surprise" result is that the survey had quite a few more female respondents (43%) than what The Vane usually sees according to Quantcast (32%).
The "Great Gawker Weather Survey of 2014," as I cheesily titled it, was a great success. The survey garnered so many responses that it comes pretty close to giving us a representative view of Gawker's readership as a whole.
I'm blown away by how engaged our readers are—the fact that nearly 5,000 people clicked into a sub-blog and took a lengthy survey about the weather of all things—and all the way to the last question!—really speaks to the dedication and loyalty of our readers. I'm especially impressed with the quantity and quality of the open-ended questions at the end of the survey.
Once again, thank you for your outstanding participation.
If you have any questions or suggestions, feel free to ask in the comments or shoot me an email. If you would like to see the full results of the survey in its original form on Google Docs, here is a link to the spreadsheet that hosts all 4,873 survey submissions.