Enhancing the operational value of snowpack models with visualization design principles

Horton, Simon; Nowak, Stan; Haegeli, Pascal

Forecasting snow avalanches requires a reliable stream of field observations, which are often difficult and expensive to collect. Despite the increasing capability of simulating snowpack conditions with physical models, models have seen limited adoption by avalanche forecasters. Feedback from forecasters suggests that model data are presented in ways that are difficult to interpret and irrelevant to operational needs. We apply a visualization design framework to enhance the value of snowpack models to avalanche forecasters. An established risk-based avalanche forecasting workflow is used to define the ways forecasters solve problems with snowpack data. We suggest that model data be visualized in ways that directly support common forecasting tasks such as identifying snowpack features related to avalanche problems and locating avalanche problems in terrain at relevant spatial scales. Examples of visualizations that support these tasks and follow established perceptual and cognitive principles from the field of information visualization are presented. Interactive designs play a critical role in understanding these complex datasets and are well suited for forecasting workflows. Although extensive user testing is still needed to evaluate the effectiveness of these designs, visualization design principles open the door to more relevant and interpretable applications of snowpack model for avalanche forecasters. This work sets the stage for implementing snowpack models into visualization tools where forecasters can test their operational value and learn their capabilities and deficiencies.

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Horton, Simon / Nowak, Stan / Haegeli, Pascal: Enhancing the operational value of snowpack models with visualization design principles. 2020. Copernicus Publications.

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