This material is based on work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. IIA-1301789.
The Oklahoma Weather, Society and Government survey measures Oklahomans' perceptions of weather in our state, and also asks about their views on government policies and societal issues, to help understand how those perceptions and views might shape how Oklahomans use water and energy.
Since winter 2014, at the end of each meteorological season (winter, spring, summer and fall) the University of Oklahoma’s Center for Risk and Crisis Management (CRCM) has surveyed thousands of people all over the state of Oklahoma. Our participants are selected randomly from all mailing addresses in the state; they are contacted by phone and are asked if they wish to be a survey respondent each season until mid-2018. Quite a number of our respondents have taken this survey each season for nearly 3 years, and the survey will continue for another 2 years until spring 2018.
Our respondents represent the diversity that makes Oklahoma great. We have at least one respondent from all 77 counties in the state. Roughly 20% of them live in urban portions of the state, 40% live in suburban parts, and 40% live in rural areas. Many of our respondents live and work on farms and ranches, whereas others work in classrooms, hospitals, banks, and restaurants throughout the state. Our youngest respondents started taking the survey when they were 18 and our oldest respondent just turned 98! We look forward to hearing from each one of them at the end of each season.
The blue dots on the map below represent the location of our survey respondents throughout the state of Oklahoma, and the changing map shows how the number of respondents has changed over time. The green dots on the map show the location of the 120 Oklahoma Mesonet stations as compared to the location of our survey respondents. To learn more about the Oklahoma Mesonet, a rich source of weather data in our state, scroll down and click on the button below.
There are 120 Oklahoma Mesonet stations across the state of Oklahoma. The Mesonet takes scientific measurements of a broad range of weather conditions every five minutes, creating a rich source of data about weather in our state.
At the end of each season, we ask Oklahomans to tell us about their perceptions of that season's precipitation. We ask them:
In the area around where you live (by this we mean within about ten miles of your residence), would you say that the amount of precipitation that fell this [season name] was more, less, or about the same amount as in previous [season name]?
The graph on the left below displays these perceptions of precipitation by season, and the map on the right shows the actual precipitation for each completed season as measured by the Oklahoma Mesonet. We compared the Mesonet data with the perceptions of our participants to better understand if Oklahomans accurately perceive the precipitation in their area.
The match between the colors in the bar graph and the colors on the map shows that in general, Oklahomans are doing a pretty good job in accurately perceiving the amount of precipitation in their area, season by season!
At the end of each season, we also ask Oklahomans to tell us what their perceptions of that season's temperatures were. We ask them:
In the area around where you live, would you say that this [season name] has been warmer, cooler, or about the same as previous [season name]?
We compared these perceptions of temperature in each season to the actual temperatures as measured by the Oklahoma Mesonet. Compare how Oklahomans' perceptions of temperature match up to the actual recorded temperature below. Each image has a graph of respondent perceptions for that season, along with a map of corresponding Mesonet temperature data.
As the color matches display, in general, Oklahomans are doing a pretty good job in accurately perceiving the temperature in their area, although the match between perceived temperature and actual temperature is not quite as strong as it was for precipitation.
We ask our respondents about their beliefs and perceptions related to timely and topical issues surrounding energy generation and use in Oklahoma. In Fall 2016, for example, we asked our respondents to tell us what they believe the best mix of energy sources for electricity generation in Oklahoma should be in the future.
First, we asked respondents:
Now think about the overall mix of all sources of electricity for Oklahoma. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, in Oklahoma we currently get about 76.5% of our electricity from fossil fuels, 23.5% from renewable sources (hydroelectric dams, wood, wind, biofuels, waste products, geothermal and solar), and 0% from nuclear energy. We want to know approximately what percentage of the total Oklahoma electricity supply over the next 20 years you would like to see come from each of these three primary sources. The percentages you indicate should sum to 100.
As shown in the graphic below, the mean response across our panelists was that in the next 20 years, they would like to see 46.6% of Oklahoma electricity come from fossil fuels, 8.3% of electricity come from nuclear energy, and 45.1% of electricity come from renewable sources.
Next, we asked our respondents to tell us what they think about a particular policy related to solar electricity generation in Oklahoma called net metering. Before that, we gave them some background information about solar energy and net metering. We told them:
Some homeowners in Oklahoma are exploring the possibility of installing solar panels to generate some or all of their electricity using solar energy. Most homeowners with solar panels also choose to connect their home to the traditional electricity grid because there may be times when the solar panels do not generate enough electricity to meet 100% of the home’s electricity needs, such as on cloudy days, or because the homeowner has only a limited number of panels installed. During these times, a customer can rely on the traditional power grid to meet the balance of their power needs. However, at other times, such as on sunny summer afternoons, the solar panels may generate more electricity than the home needs, and at those times, electricity can be “exported” from a customer to the electric grid and be used by nearby utility customers.
There is an ongoing debate about how homeowners with solar panels should be compensated for the solar electricity they generate and provide to the utility and electric grid.
A common term in this debate is net metering. Net metering is a billing program that credits solar energy system owners for the electricity they add to the grid. As mentioned above, during some points of the day, solar panels may generate more electricity than the home uses. This excess solar electricity is “exported” to the energy grid and can be used by nearby utility customers.
Then, we asked them if they had heard about net metering prior to the survey. The graphic below shows that slightly less than half of respondents had heard about net metering policies before this survey, half had not heard, and a small percentage were not sure.
After this, we presented respondents with “pro” and “con” arguments regarding net metering. Some respondents were shown the “con” block first, and others were shown the “pro” block first, but all respondents saw both blocks. We told them:
When considering how utility customers with solar panels should be compensated for the solar electricity they generate, some people say:
- These customers are helping utilities during high-demand hours such as hot sunny afternoons, relieving stress on the electric grid and exporting clean power to other customers.
- Allowing customers to use all the solar credits they generate will help these customers offset their electricity bills, pay back their costs of installing solar panels faster and benefit Oklahomans by having more renewable energy available to be used by utility consumers.
- Because of the benefits they provide to the grid, these customers should be allowed to roll their credits forward from one monthly bill to another so that they are fairly compensated by the utility for the all electricity they are generating and providing to the grid.
Other people say:
- Carrying solar credits forward across billing cycles creates subsidies for solar generating customers—if you generate solar energy during times of low prices, such as wintertime, you should not be able to “cash in” those credits later when prices may be higher, such as summertime.
- Utilities shouldn’t have to pay customers for excess solar generation because even when someone generates their own power from solar energy, the utility still has to assume all the costs that ensure that power is available to meet the full needs of the grid—you can’t count on solar energy, since some days are cloudy and the power might not be there when the utility needs it.
- Utilities shouldn’t have to pay consumers for energy that may take away from the utility’s revenues and lower the utility’s profits.
After reading these arguments, we asked respondents to tell us what they think the Oklahoma policy on net metering should be. The question appeared as:
When you think about what the Oklahoma policy on net metering should be, do you think:
- Oklahoma should not allow net metering at all; people who generate solar energy at their home should not be allowed to generate any credits beyond what they can use at the time of generation
- Oklahoma should allow net metering, but solar credits a homeowner generates from excess solar energy produced at his home should only be allowed to be used within the current month
- Oklahoma should allow net metering, but solar credits a homeowner generates from excess solar energy produced at his home should only be allowed to be rolled forward for a period of up to 1 year
- Oklahoma should allow net metering without time limits on solar credits a homeowner generates from excess solar energy produced at his home
As shown in the graphic above, 46 percent of respondents said that Oklahoma should allow net metering with no time limits on solar credits. Smaller groups said that Oklahoma should allow net metering with limits of up to one year (29%) or the current month (20%), respectively. Relatively few (less than 5%) said that Oklahoma should not allow net metering at all.
Oklahoma Weather, Society and Government respondents get their information about weather from a variety of sources. The graphic below shows the popularity of various sources of weather information for respondents that answered this question at the end of fall 2015. Respondents are allowed to select as many options as they like from among these choices. Nearly all survey participants get weather information from local TV news, but many other sources of information are also popular, including getting information from family and friends, from websites such as weather.com, the radio and others.
Not only do we ask our participants questions about the weather, but also about their perceptions of water availability, and about their personal water use. The graph below shows what people around the state of Oklahoma are saying about their perceptions of water availability in their region. Each season, we ask:
In your view, are the supplies of water in your region of Oklahoma adequate to meet the needs of your community over the next 25 years?
We also ask:
In your view, are the supplies of water in your region of Oklahoma adequate to meet the needs of farmers and ranchers over the next 25 years?
The following graphic shows that over time, just over 60% of our respondents each season tell us that they believe that water supplies in their region will be adequate to meet the needs of their community over the next 25 years. Consistently over time, our respondents are significantly less confident that water supplies in their region are adequate to meet the needs of farmers/ranchers over that same period.
Note: confidence in water availability in the future increased with the heavier-than-usual spring rains in the spring of 2015
Oklahoma experiences a significant number of wildfires in any given year. Through the Oklahoma Weather, Society and Government project, we sought to better understand Oklahomans’ knowledge and perceptions of wildfires, as well as their experiences with them.
We first wanted to know if our respondents have knowledge about the causes of wildfire. In survey waves 11 and 18 we asked our participants the following:
To the best of your knowledge, what causes most of the wildfires that we experience in Oklahoma?
1 - Arson
2 - Lightning or other natural causes
3 - Industrial accidents
4 - Prescribed burns that escape and spread
5 - Accidents starting from BBQs, campfires, cigarettes, car mufflers, etc.
The results show that our respondents do display knowledge about the most common causes of wildfire, which are human caused accidents.1 Approximately 60% of respondents knew that human accidents are a primary cause of wildfires, and 20% recognize that lightning is the most common natural cause of wildfire.
In addition, each season for nearly 5 years, we have asked our respondents whether they experienced any wildfire in that season, about their perceptions of wildfire frequency, and about their future expectations for wildfire frequency. We ask them:
This [season name], have you experienced any [wildfires] in the area around where you live?
In the area around where you live, would you say that [wildfires] have happened more frequently, less frequently, or with about the same frequency this [season name] as in previous [season names]?
Looking to the future and again thinking about the area around where you live, do you think that [wildfires] will happen more frequently, less frequently, or with about the same frequency over the next few [season names] as they have this [season name]?
After analyzing the responses to these questions over this nearly five-year period, our results show that respondents’ experiences with wildfire in any given season are variable, ranging from nearly none experiencing wildfires in seasons such as Summer 2015 (survey wave 7) to over 30 percent of respondents indicating in Winter 2017 (survey wave 13) that they experienced wildfire in the area around where they live. Notably, our respondents’ reports of experiencing wildfire show consistent spikes in conjunction with three major wildfires that occurred during the project period: the 350 Complex Fires, the Northwest Oklahoma Complex Fires, and the Rhea/34 Complex Fires.
Also notable, respondents’ seasonal experience with wildfire shows a close relationship to their future expectations for wildfire frequency. In seasons where a higher proportion of respondents reported experiencing wildfire in their area, a greater proportion also indicated a perception that wildfires are happening more frequently than in the past, and future expectations that wildfires will occur more frequently. Conversely, in seasons where few respondents reported experiencing wildfires in their area, fewer also reported perceptions that wildfires are happening more frequently, or a future expectation that will fires will happen more frequently. In sum, Oklahomans’ expectations for wildfire experiences in the future are variable depending on their experiences at any given season.
Lastly, we sought to understand how Oklahomans believe responsibility should be assigned as people recover from the impacts of wildfire. In Wave 18 (Spring 2018), after large wildfires (the Rhea and 34 Complex fires) affected western Oklahoma, we asked our respondents the following about how they would assign responsibility to pay for damages caused by the fire.
Estimates suggest that the Rhea Fire and the 34 Complex Fire have caused $26 million in damages to cattle operations. These damages include lost animals, damaged fencing, or loss of food sources such as grass and hay, as well as equipment and structures related to cattle ranching. Farmers and ranchers affected by these fires must now recover from this disaster by rebuilding or replacing lost property, structures, and animals. The recovery from these fires may require assistance/funding from a mix of sources.
We want to know what percentage of the assistance needed to fully recover from the Rhea Fire and the 34 Complex Fire you believe should come from each of these five primary sources. The percentages you indicate should sum to 100.
What percentage should come from federal agencies? [VERBATIM
What percentage should come from state agencies? [VERBATIM]
What percentage should come from local agencies? [VERBATIM]
What percentage should come from religious or charitable groups, such as Southern Baptist Disaster Relief or Red Cross? [VERBATIM]
What percentage should come from relief funding organized by industry groups, such as Oklahoma Cattlemen’s Foundation, Oklahoma Farming and Ranching Foundation, or Oklahoma Farmers Union Foundation? [VERBATIM]
What percentage should come from private insurance payments to the affected farmer or rancher? [VERBATIM]
What percentage should come from out-of-pocket costs paid by the farmer or rancher? [VERBATIM]
On average, respondents indicated that private insurance should be responsible for approximately 40% of the assistance needed to full recover from the effects of these fires, the largest share of responsibility by far as compared to other sources; respondents assigned significantly smaller percentages of responsibility for assistance to groups such as federal and state agencies, charities and local agencies.
These results are particularly interesting in light of the status quo in Oklahoma, where many farmers and ranchers do not carry enough private insurance to cover all losses from significant wildfires. For example, many do not insure their livestock (such as cattle), even though lost animals are a significant portion of wildfire expenses. More information about why cattle are not often insured can be found in the news article below: https://www.enidnews.com/news/local_news/......
Five years ago, as we began the Oklahoma Weather, Society and Government project, we were interested in many research questions. One of the primary sets of questions was: do Oklahomans perceive feedback from the climate system (e.g., signals of change)? Or, do underlying core beliefs overwhelm perceptions of feedback, making it difficult or impossible to recognize indications of change? As we note in the Perceptions of Precipitation and Perceptions of Temperature portions of this website, we began to answer this question by comparing Oklahomans’ perceptions of precipitation and temperatures (recorded via the Oklahoma Weather, Society and Government survey) to records from the Oklahoma Mesonet. The figure below provides more information on this comparison.
In this figure, panels (a) and (b) use data from the Oklahoma Mesonet to plot departures from average precipitation and temperature by season. The grey lines show the departures for each respondent, and the black lines show the averages across respondents, by season. Panels (c) and (d) use data from the Weather, Society and Government survey to plot perceptions of these departures. Again, the grey lines show perceptions for each respondent, and the black lines show the averages across respondents, by season. Overall, the figures show a fairly strong relationship between perceptions and reality — when a season was unusually wet/dry or hot/cold, respondents took notice.
These findings indicate that Oklahomans generally perceive climate feedback. But, are there differences across groups of people? Do underlying core beliefs cause some people to misperceive these signals? Previous research suggests that the answer to this question is “yes” — on average, liberals are more likely to say that a season is relatively hot and dry, whereas conservatives are more likely to say that is relatively cool and wet…even if they live in the same place and experience the same weather.1 While valuable previous research suffers from two important limitations: (1) the studies do not explore these relationships over time, allowing people to demonstrate changes in perception, and (2) they use relatively crude measures of precipitation and temperature. Thanks to the panelists who took the Oklahoma Weather, Society and Government survey multiple times and the invaluable work of scientists at the Oklahoma Mesonet, we overcome these limitations to study these relationships over time, in high resolution, allowing us to compare groups across the state. The figure below represents one such comparison.
This figure is the same as the figure above, but this time we include blue and red lines to indicate averages among Liberal Democrats (blue) and Conservative Republicans (red). Unsurprisingly, panels (a) and (b) show that Liberal Democrats and Conservative Republicans experience the same departures from average precipitation and temperature — changing weather patterns do not discriminate by party! Panels (c) and (d), however, show slight differences in perception between the two groups. On average, Conservative Republicans are likely to perceive more precipitation and cooler weather, whereas Liberal Democrats are more likely to perceive less precipitation and warmer weather, even when they experience the exact same variation. Nevertheless, it is important to note that the differences between the groups are small and that both groups generally perceive the same kinds of weather variations. We therefore conclude that underlying beliefs and values like partisanship and ideology can lead to slight gaps in perceptions of weather, but these differences do not overwhelm Oklahoma residents’ ability to identify significant changes in the broader climate they inhabit. This finding bodes well for policies that will require large-scale adaptation and resilience, as both will require that there is broad recognition of changing weather patterns in Oklahoma.
For more information on this project, click here!
1 Hamilton, Lawrence C., and Mary D. Stampone. “Blowin’ in the wind: Short-term weather and belief in anthropogenic climate change.” Weather, Climate, and Society 5.2 (2013): 112-119.
McCright, Aaron M., Riley E. Dunlap, and Chenyang Xiao. “The impacts of temperature anomalies and political orientation on perceived winter warming.” Nature Climate Change 4.12 (2014): 1077.
Goebbert, Kevin, et al. “Weather, climate, and worldviews: The sources and consequences of public perceptions of changes in local weather patterns.” Weather, Climate, and Society 4.2 (2012): 132-144.
In addition to exploring perceptions of weather and climate feedback, the Oklahoma Weather, Society and Government (the Oklahoma Survey) project tracked our participants’ beliefs and understandings about the issue of climate change. We began the project with this question: are beliefs about whether or not the climate is changing stable? Or do these beliefs vary over time as people receive new information?Previous research suggests conflicting possibilities. On the one hand, a great deal of research shows that climate change beliefs are strongly influenced by very stable partisan leanings and political ideologies (Hornsey et al. 2016; McCright et al. 2016), and that these connections make some people reluctant to “update” their beliefs about climate change even when they encounter new information. At the same time, public opinion researchers have observed a fair degree of variation in aggregate public opinion over time (Saad 2017; Leiserowitz et al. 2017), a clear indication that some members of the public do change their views about climate change. Unfortunately, these studies have relied on averaged opinions expressed by different groups at different times, so it has not been possible to identify the extent to which individuals change their views over time. Thanks to the panelists who took the Oklahoma Survey many times over the last four years, we now have the data we need to explore this important question.
We use a combination of two survey questions to address this question. First, we asked our panelists the following question:
As you may know, the issue of global climate change has been the subject of public discussion over the last few years. In your view, are greenhouse gases, such as those resulting from the combustion of coal, oil, natural gas, and other materials, causing average global temperatures to rise?
Then, we ask them to indicate how certain they are about their beliefs:
On a scale from zero to ten, where zero means not at all certain and ten means completely certain, how certain are you that greenhouse gases [are/are not] causing average global temperatures to rise?
This combination of questions allows us to measure climate change beliefs on a scale from -10 to +10, where -10 means that a person is completely certain that greenhouse gases are not causing average global temperatures to rise, and 10 means that a person is certain that greenhouses gases are causing global warming. When we first began the Oklahoma Survey (in February of 2014), 49.9% of our respondents said that they believed that anthropogenic climate change was taking place (placed a positive value on the -10 to 10 scale), and 43.6% said that they did not (placed a negative value on the -10 to 10 scale); the remaining 6.5% were a 0 on the scale, indicating that they were uncertain. On average, the panelists who believed in anthropogenic climate change were generally more certain about their beliefs than those who did not believe in it. These percentages, which are shown in the plot below, are similar to those measured by other surveys of Oklahomans’ climate change beliefs.1
Because we asked our respondents to answer these two questions every season for 4+ years, we are able to look at how these beliefs change over time — are they stable, or do they vary from season to season? To do this, we calculate the average change on the -10 to 10 scale for each panelist from season to season (Δq in the plot below). An average change of 0 indicates complete stability; a panelist gave the same response every season. When we do this, we see considerable differences among respondents; some respondents demonstrate extreme stability (average change scores of less than one) and others show high propensities to change their beliefs, with average season-to-season score changes of 3 or more. To add perspective, the figure below plots panelist responses on the -10 to 10 climate change scale for a random selection of groups of 25 panelists who exhibited average change scores of (a) less than 1, (b) between 1 and 2, (c) between 2 and 3, and (d) more than 3.
To interpret the plot, each of the 25 graphs in each quadrant (there are 100 in all) shows the expressed beliefs of an (anonymous) individual over the 18 seasons in which the Oklahoma Survey was administered. The graph at the extreme top and left shows an individual who believed that climate change was occurring and was reasonably sure over that whole period. The graph on the extreme lower right shows the responses of an anonymous individual who changed their beliefs over time, frequently shifting from moderate confidence that climate change is occurring to moderate confidence that is its not.
A comparison of the graphs in the four quadrants of the figure demonstrates that there are considerable differences in the stability and confidence of climate change beliefs across these groups of panelists. Among our panelists, 29.4% of demonstrate very stable beliefs; 21.5% somewhat stable beliefs; 15.8% somewhat unstable beliefs; and 31.5% of panelists exhibit unstable beliefs. A large proportion hold very consistent beliefs about the climate (about 30%) and change their views only slightly over time as reflected in the upper right quadrant of the figure. A similarly large proportion (over 30%) of Oklahomans update (change) their beliefs as they receive new information as shown in the lower left quadrant of the figure.
Why do some Oklahomans change their minds about climate change? Our preliminary analyses indicate that Oklahomans draw upon perceptions of changing weather patterns when formulating and updating beliefs about climate change. In ongoing research, we are analyzing when and why Oklahomans change their beliefs and their level of confidence that the climate is — or is not — changing. So keep an eye on this website for updates!
Because Oklahoma regularly experiences drought conditions, we also ask our respondents to tell us what they have done in the past season to conserve water. We ask:
Were any of the following steps taken to decrease the amount of water used at your residence this fall? [Please check all that apply]
- Installed a low-volume or low-flush toilet
- Installed a low-volume or low-flow showerhead
- Took shorter or less frequent baths or showers
- Watered lawn or garden less frequently
- Washed car less frequently
- Repaired leaks
- Did laundry less frequently
- Other (please specify) _________________
As shown in the graphic below, in fall 2015 the most popular way respondents conserved water was to water their lawn or garden less frequently.
If you are interested in seeing what Oklahomans are saying about other topics related to weather, climate, and water issues in this state, send us a suggestion to firstname.lastname@example.org.
A special thank you to all of our survey respondents for their participation in, and continuing support for the Oklahoma Weather, Society and Government survey. Please remember to watch for the next wave of the survey near the beginning of each new season.