For years, the National Weather Service has looked at new and innovative ways to inform people of imminent danger from severe weather. A large network of sirens was developed to warn of tornadoes and has saved thousands of lives. NOAA weather radio was developed to give details of severe weather and other natural disasters. Now, social media sites like Twitter and Facebook are serving a purpose in the weather community.
When severe weather hits, Twitter posts that include videos, pictures and pertinent information are helping forecasters and meteorologists pinpoint where the violent weather is heading and just how severe the weather is. In essence, anyone with a smart phone can now be an on-the-ground storm reporter.
The Weather Channel is one weather entity that is taking the lead on the social weather revolution. They’ve recently created over 220 custom Twitter feeds that provide real-time information to residents of the biggest communities in the U.S. According to TWC, a significant weather event like a tornado can spawn over two million tweets in a day. The new network gives people an organized outlet for information sharing.
Although social media isn’t as important of a weather tool as Doppler radar or satellite imagery, it does have a big impact on a local level when severe weather strikes. This was seen in full force when major earthquakes struck Japan, Haiti and Chile over the past few years. As telephone communication was down, Facebook and Twitter became the only way many could communicate and find out information about loved ones.
Twitter and Facebook also played an important role in last year’s violent tornado outbreak across the United States. In Alabama, the Tuscaloosa News won a Pulitzer Prize for its post-tornado Twitter coverage that helped victims of the devastating tornado that ravaged the city. Real-time videos of the twister posted on Youtube, Twitter and Facebook showed just how dangerous the storm was as it destroyed the city.
If you see severe weather, safely snapping a picture, taking a video or just tweeting about the danger can help warn people in the path of the storm. Although I haven’t saved any lives with my postings about severe weather, I did send out a Tweet pic after violent storms rolled through my hometown of Canton last summer. There were hailstones the size of golf balls and I wanted to let people to the east of me know just how serious the weather was. You never know when sharing this type of information could save a life.