Weather Forecast Semiotics: Public Interpretation of Common Weather Icons


Jake Reed, Susan Jasko and Jason Senkbeil



Weather icons are some of the most frequently used visual tools meteorologists employ to communicate weather information. Previous research has shown a tendency for the public to make inferences about weather forecast information based on the icon shown. For example, people may infer a higher likelihood of precipitation, assume a higher intensity of precipitation, or determine the duration of expected precipitation if the weather icon appears to show heavy rain. It is unknown to what extent these inferences align with what the meteorologist who chose the icon intended to convey. However, previous studies have used simulated weather icons rather than ones currently in use. The goal of our study was to explore how members of the public interpret actual weather icons they see on television or in mobile applications. An online survey distributed by broadcast meteorologists through social media was used to collect 6,253 responses between August and September of 2020. Eleven weather icons currently used by broadcast meteorologists were included in the study. We also tested eight common weather phrases and asked people whether they thought the icons were good illustrators of those phrases. Additionally, people were asked to assign a probability of precipitation (PoP) to the icons. The findings of our study offer new and unique insights that will improve the communication of weather information by giving meteorologists information about how their audiences interpret weather icons.



Reed, J. R., Jasko, S. A., & Senkbeil, J. C. (2021). Weather Forecast Semiotics: Public Interpretation of Common Weather Icons, Weather, Climate, and Society (published online ahead of print 2021). Retrieved Jan 7, 2022, from