WICHITA FALLS, TX - Over the last couple of years, social media has had a huge impact on our society. Many people can't even go a few minutes without checking their Facebook timeline or Twitter feed. Social media has even changed the way we get local news and weather forecasts. But like most things in life, there are pros and cons. Social media is no exception.
"Social media has really revolutionized the way we share information, especially weather information. Weather information is well suited for social media," said The Warning Coordination Meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Norman, OK Rick Smith.
Social media has given people another platform to talk about weather and meteorologists another way to get important weather information out.
"We can reach people now that we could never reach before. We can reach people that never knew the National Weather Service existed or don't watch TV very much. It's a very powerful tool to help get information out days in advance, hours in advance, even minutes in advance... Although we don't have any hard statistics, there is no doubt in my mind that it has helped save lives over the most recent years," said Smith.
The same things that make social media a good tool for sharing information on Blizzards and Tornadoes can also make it a bad tool. People can knowingly or unknowingly share bad weather information. Smith said it could be as simple as sharing computer model data that they happen to run across on the internet.
Any meteorologist will tell you that looking at only one computer model is not a forecast. Meteorologists analyze different computer models and compare them to each other. They also look at them a few times a day and watch for trends.
"A lot of people don't understand the interpretation that it takes to figure out if that computer model is showing anything close to what may really happen three or five days from now. [They are] just putting it out from questionable sources and intentionally sharing bad information," said Smith.
Spreading misinformation goes way beyond forecasts too. People have altered pictures from previous severe weather events to make it look like it's currently happening.
"For some people, they are into social media for clicks and likes and attention. And nothing gets attention sometimes more than sharing a dramatic weather image," said Smith.
If you don't know where that piece of information or picture came from, then think twice before sharing it. Do some research on the person or organization that first posted it. See if their Facebook Page or Twitter account is verified.
Smith said "I think one of the best things an average person could do is find a good, reliable source of information. Their local TV stations or National Weather Service office is a good start."
You can start with Newschannel 6. Newschannel 6 has a Facebook page and verified Twitter account. Every member of the Skywarn 6 weather team also has their own Twitter account.