OK, I admit it, I’m a weather geek. Meteorology fascinates me, and living in my area of the Pacific Northwest affords ample opportunity to study weather patterns. Up here, the complex influences of the Pacific Ocean, Cascade and Olympic Mountain Ranges and other unique terrain features often give our forecasters fits during the winter. With that said, our weather is really benign compared to the weather in other parts of the country, like let’s say Indiana, Tennessee and Alabama. Man, did they get clobbered last Thursday and Friday.
As a geek, I closely followed the severe weather models and predictions coming out of the NOAA/ National Weather Service. Man, these guys are good. Take a look at this mashup map of the predictive models and the reported tornado/severe weather locations. Not too shabby.
Arriving at work Friday, I figured it would be an intense weather day for our emergency responders in the southeast. Precursor storms hit Harveysville, Tennessee and Branson, Missouri on Wednesday and Thursday’s Twitter traffic was announcing that some schools were planning on closing early because of the predicted storms. Television weather personalities and storm chasers were already identifying short hashtags they were going to use to talk about the severe weather in states predicted to be hit. #INWX #TNWX and #ALWX are short tags that maximize the 140 character space limit and made it easier to track tweets from the multiple simultaneous storms.
It appeared the storms hit early, often and hard. As my workday started, tornado warnings were already popping up on my Hootsuite feed. Within minutes, folks were sharing their own weather observations, warnings and damage reports. Kim Stephens( @kim26stephens) cut and pasted some of the more interesting tweets and how people gathered and shared information in real time.
Every time I monitor large scale events on social media, I learn a ton. Friday was no exception. During the 2+ hours I followed the storms I noted;
- Citizens, news organizations and local weather spotters consistently warned those in the path of the storms to take shelter. Often these warnings came with short descriptors of damage experienced to make the danger real.
- False information being spread mostly related to reports of trapped survivors. These reports persisted for some time, even after accurate information was provided (“Retwecho”).
- Areas that suffered significant damage became quickly apparent, and hashtags specific to those geographical areas became prevalent.
- It is amazing how fast you can connect to local news channels and emergency services radio frequencies via streaming. Within a few minutes of the first tornadoes touching the ground, links to local news and television stations were posted. One of the most useful tools for monitoring real time fire/EMS/law enforcement activities is RadioReference.com. The interface makes it fast and easy to drill down to specific counties and select the emergency channels that are stream enabled.
- When it comes to survivor and body counts, the initial information is almost always wrong. We should not be repeating this type of information until confirmed by multiple sources. The Fog Of War is especially thick when it comes to accounting for people.
- Gaining situational awareness takes time, and the later you arrive-literally and virtually- the longer it will take you to get up to speed. Time + Information + Experience = Context
- There has been a lot of talk in the #SMEM world about the idea of using live SM platforms for messaging and intelligence exercises. I’ve stated before, I’m not a proponent of this approach. With that said, Friday offered the perfect opportunity to “exercise” our social media skills in ways no exercise can replicate. For example, mid-afternoon I received the following mention
I took a quick look at her tweets, noting she sent the same message to others who had been monitoring the events in Henryville. I RT’d the plea, along with some of our other #SMEM stalwarts, and a couple hours later the same person followed up;
The visceral reaction I had to both of these tweets cannot be replicated in an exercise.Rather, I suggest forecast significant weather events offer invaluable opportunities for real intelligence gathering, engagement and assistance. We should be exploiting these chances, as you just can’t replicate the feeling in the pit of your stomach.