Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, Department of


Date of this Version



A THESIS Presented to the Faculty of The Graduate College at the University of Nebraska In Partial Fulfillment of Requirements For the Degree of Master of Science, Major: Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, Under the Supervision of Professor Matthew Van Den Broeke. Lincoln, Nebraska: November 2015

Copyright (c) 2015 Sabrina Twyla Jauernic


Few studies show how university students perceive and respond to tornado warnings, or how they gain tornado-related knowledge. Lacking in the literature are investigations of how perceptions of tornado risk may influence actions. Using two separate surveys and two large samples of undergraduates enrolled in the University of Nebraska, the author determined significant relationships between student demographics, perceptions, and response actions. Incorrect perceptions were found, such as overpasses and southwest corners of buildings being safe, and cities being invulnerable to tornadoes. International students, especially, assumed cities were safe from tornadoes. Students had a tendency to confirm their risk instead of initially sheltering. Females and international students sheltered relatively often, but chose unsafe locations. Those who used traditional auditory warning sources and perceived lower false alarm rates sheltered more often. Prior experience did not significantly influence actions, but it did influence risk perception. Parents and school were the most popular knowledge sources for domestic students, while friends were popular for international students. Parents may establish better knowledge and safety habits, while friends and popular culture as knowledge sources may result in students sheltering less often and perceiving a higher false alarm rate. Most domestic students correctly identified safe areas in which to shelter, and correctly knew warnings were issued by meteorologists, but less knew who was responsible for sounding sirens or the precise meaning of a warning polygon. International students who reported having some tornado education made safer sheltering decisions and were more likely to have safety plans. These results, combined with students themselves claiming a need for better tornado information, implies more thorough tornado education on university campuses is warranted. Personalization of risk, dispelling local myths, and education of those new to tornado-prone locations should be emphasized.