Lifesaving Broadcasts: The Value of Disseminating Weather Information


Extreme weather events cause huge economic damages. Communication technologies can facilitate the rapid dissemination of weather forecast information to the public, which plays a key role in guiding behavioral responses. This paper provides novel evidence on how improvements in the access to weather forecast information, through TV weather broadcasting, mitigates weather-related damages. The identification relies on the expansion of cable TV systems throughout US communities, enabling greater access to weather forecast information with better broadcast signals and more program options. Using data on the universe of mortality events in the continental U.S. over a twenty-year period, I document a substantial decline in excess deaths in weather extremes after local access to cable TV systems. The mitigation effect is larger among the elderly and exhibits heterogeneity across climate regions. On average, cable TV access can lead to more than 4,000 lives saved per year, corresponding to $41 billion economic benefits. I further examine the moderating effect of weather broadcasting on traffic-related mortality triggered by cold weather. Estimating the mortality-precipitation gradient under different temperature bins reveals a jump when the daily average temperature is below the freezing point (i.e., 0 degree centigrade). After access to cable TV, this discontinuity around the freezing point disappears. The results shed light on how weather broadcasts can help people adjust their outdoor activities to avoid weather-related damage.

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Zhenxuan Wang
Zhenxuan Wang

My research interests lie at the intersection of environmental and energy economics, climate policy, development economics, and public economics.