WJTV News Channel 12 - Social Media Forecasts: Buyer Beware

Choosing Weather Sources Wisely

Social Media Forecasts: Buyer Beware

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GREENVILLE, N.C. - Social media is a great tool to not only reconnect with friends and family but is now a second medium to disseminate news, weather and sports information in a flash and during those times we are not on television.

Back in the golden years of television, most Americans sat down and took the time out the day to get their information during the 6 PM news. Now, we are constantly on the go and constantly need to feed our appetites in this information saturated world.

From a weather standpoint, it's also been a blessing to get warnings and other pertinent weather information out to everyone and allows us to delve deeper into the forecast that the two minutes and 45 seconds we are on TV won't allow. But that is only a snippet of what is going on behind the scenes before the show, which includes hours of forecasting, graphics preparation, radio forecasts all for that small amount of time to explain 7 days of weather. Social media has allowed us to explain these, at times, complex systems in greater detail with our ENC Weather Update videos. But with the beacon of light social media has shone, there is a dark side to it as well, something that isn't avoidable and does need to be discussed.

We love answering your questions about the weather and during severe weather coverage, talking to you directly on TV when you ask questions. Every now and then, we'll get questions about "When is the next big snow?" or "When are going to get severe weather next?" Here lately, we've seen a big influx of questions about posts that have been circulating the Internet that come out of the dark abyss and into the spotlight and there have been a few references back to similar Facebook pages and websites.

The darkness of social media is that at times, you have no clue who is on the other side of these Facebook pages and most times it is not a trained or degreed meteorologist. That means anyone who can push a button on Facebook or Twitter can become an "insta-meteorologist." You know us, you see us on TV and we are held personally accountable for good and bad forecasts. There is a good side of this; it's a way to allow for aspiring meteorologists to practice and show their interests with the world. The thing about that is, all it takes is an authoritative name to make that hobby seem like someone with little to no training seem like the end all, be all authority on weather.

These enthusiast pages flirt a very fine line of being innocent and harmless to overhyping and dangerous; here lately, many of these pages have been crossing that line into the overhype and dangerous category; causing this huge influx of messages from the general public seeking second verification on if it true or not. A few particular sites have been throwing out graphics with big red blobs on a map saying things like..."SIGNIFICANT STORM SYSTEM 100+ MILLION PEOPLE! THIS COULD BE THE BIGGEST STORM OF THE YEAR" with multiple threats such as flooding, ice, snow, blizzard that can't given to specific location nor a specific time frame. Words like those would get any ones attention because they do have a big impact that comes with them.

How do these pages get these thoughts to toss out there for general consumption? All it takes is one extreme run of one model to set someone off on a social media posting spree. Trust me, we see some stuff on the models, especially out past seven days, that for the trained eye piques your interest, but you want to see consistency before making a call on it. We do that every day in the forecast center; the computer models can out as far as 16 days ahead in time, but the further you get away from the initialization point of a model, the data gets blurry. This is why don't go further than 7 days in advance; there is no skill that far out. But taking one run of one models with deteriorated data and telling everyone on Facebook or Twitter to "SHARE or RETWEET" can be dangerous because things change daily, especially that far out. At that point, we are looking for trends, not making calls on the forecast. To make things worse, some of these pages have even gone as far as issuing their own watches and warnings for various things, such a severe thunderstorms, tornadoes and blizzards. The ONLY authority that is able to do that is National Weather Service. What we try to do here is alert you to storms that look dangerous from a radar perspective or from ground truth observations, we cannot issue our own watches and warnings; that confuses people and can lead to bigger problems.

We've learned from social science that even with severe weather warnings and watches, people will get it from one source and search for a second source for validation and this may very well be why we seeing so many questions about it. If you see an ominous, doom and gloom forecast, yet Storm Team 9 nor the National Weather Service offices have not made mention of it, this may very well be a red flag. It may look believable or exciting and catches your attention in your feeds, but it may not be accurate and the spread of that information causes widespread confusion. Take what you read from an untrusted source with a very large grain of salt and make your decision from there.

Our goal at WNCT and Storm Team 9 is to provide Eastern North Carolina with accurate and reliable forecasts; we admit when things go wrong because that is the nature of our business, we work in a changeable and imperfect field of science with many variables that if one of them off by just a little can throw a forecast down the road. We encourage our friends in Eastern North Carolina to stay informed with good sources of information; you can "LIKE" our Facebook pages and follow our Twitter accounts to get this information.

Chief Meteorologist David Sawyer: FACEBOOK | TWITTER
Meteorologist Dontae Jones: FACEBOOK
Meteorologist Patrick Ellis : FACEBOOK | TWITTER
Storm Team 9: FACEBOOK | TWITTER
National Weather Service-Morehead City/Newport: FACEBOOK | TWITTER
National Weather Service-Raleigh: FACEBOOK | TWITTER
National Weather Service-Wakefield: FACEBOOK | TWITTER
National Weather Service-Wilmington: FACEBOOK | TWITTER







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