Skywarn 6 Storm Week 2012: Social Media in Storms

Twenty-five years ago, there were only a few options available to monitor the weather. TV, commercial radio, newspaper and N.O.A.A. weather radio were the most common information sources . Then along came the Internet to completely change the game. Now, in order to meet the demand of a instant information culture, every TV and radio station and every newspaper has a website, and probably a Facebook page and Twitter feed.

The Internet is now second only to television as the preferred source for local news. The results of a Pew American Life project study from 2010 show that over sixty percent of Americans get at least some of their news online. Over eighty percent of those surveyed stated they go to the Internet for weather information. A more recent study showed that of all the smart phone apps used by adults, seventy four percent downloaded apps that provided updates on news and weather.

The national weather service, an agency of N.O.A.A, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration only recently made an across-the-board effort to have a presence on Facebook and Twitter. In years past a few of the one hundred twenty-two forecast offices set up Facebook pages, but it was just last year that the weather service decided all of its offices will have a Facebook page.

"Our philosophy is to get the information out in as many different ways as we can to as many different people as we can, " says Rick Smith.

Smith, who is the warning coordination meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Norman says forecasters now see the value in using social media to reach people who may not routinely monitor severe weather through traditional methods.

He says, "One of the real values of social media is giving people information before the storm, or before the winter storm comes."

Smith also says that social media is a great way to keep people alert to big weather events a few hours, or even a few days before they happen. So, when that next round of tornadic thunderstorms is forecast, they can encourage customers to prepare for bad weather while the sun is shining.

"From a weather perspective, a dangerous weather perspective social media plays a role, but we don't want people to depend on that as their source of warnings"

This statement is very important The National Weather Service is not using social media to broadcast warnings of any kind. So, while you can use Facebook and Twitter to get updates on upcoming weather events, when the storm clouds roll in, its time to tune into Newschannel 6.

"We were also able to go in after the fact and ask people questions about what they did and we gathered some really interesting facts and details about how people behaved in response to the warnings," says Smith.

A great thing about the weather service's use of Facebook, is that users can give feedback on how they respond to weather alerts, report the damage done by the storm and even send a picture or video of that damage.

The first big weather event that the Norman forecast office prepared people for using social media was last spring, when violent tornadoes ripped through suburban Oklahoma City. Rick Smith feels its realistic to assume at least one life was saved.

"We realize not everyone is using traditional weather radio or media, but if we can get to one person on Facebook who can relay that message to their friends and family, then it makes it all worth it."

John Cameron, Skywarn 6 weather