Twitter – The New Age Storm Analysis Service

11 08 2009

Twitter. If it’s not the biggest thing next to duct tape. Seems like everyone nowadays is getting on the bandwagon from educational institutions to science researchers sharing knowledge. As for the genre I’ve always been most interested in, storm chasing & spotting, I believe Twitter has some “untapped potential”. I’ve experienced some use in the site – mixing ever so slightly with local meteorologists and scientists at the NSSTC in Huntsville, AL. Most people use the service as just a way to keep track of their friends and relatives but I see a more professional use for it. I just keep thinking, “what if?”

Storm spotters have been using radios and phone calls for so long now (not that it’s ineffective…it’s quite effective) but some of us are trailing off into a more digital presence. With the advent of portable (and small) computer systems and email services (such as that found in the iPhone, Blackberry and other PDA devices – services such as Twitter can expotentially become a great asset in field storm analysis.

So what makes Twitter great? First off, it permits instant transaction of message data into an online database which can be read by anyone with access to the internet. This includes meteorologists, news media (for damage and the like), emergency management officials, national weather service and NOAA, FEMA, storm observers and spotters as well as chasers in the field. If a tornado strikes a given location, EMA can see the message instantly without it having to be relayed. This means precious minutes or even seconds would be shaved off of the response time. Also, storm observers and chasers in the area would get a heads up on whats going on – meteorologists have an opportunity to pinpoint an exact location of the most dangerous part of the storm. NWS and NOAA, on the other hand, obtains the most valuable information – the information that often depicts whether or not a warning is issued.

Estimated Average Delay in Data Distribution using Twitter

Yes, all of this data can be used and transmitted via amateur radio or by the phone – but what’s faster? Amateur radio most might say – but 4/5 spotters don’t use it. Isn’t the spotter one of the greatest assets to warning coordinators? Other than amateur radio, digital transmission of data seems to be the best answer – Twitter has all of the aforementioned qualities plus the ability to create custom hash categories with each report such as what I and others have been using, #stormywx. Is there no expandability to it? I think so. Each storm cell is given a unique ID – “#stormywx #stormid 1.25” hail and 67mph wind @ so and so location”. The given example would be instantly sent to anyone watching the feed on Twitter. If more information was needed, a warning coordinator or whoever else needed the information critically could respond, “@originalposter #stormid Is there a funnel cloud near you? Approx. 1.5nm NE of your location.”

Estimated Average Delay in Data Distribution using Ares or Telephone

Overall, I believe a full-fledged acceptance as a great form of communication for storm analysis would be an enormous asset to all areas of severe weather response.

Please let me know what you think of this article. You may follow my tweets @skywarn256 or contact me via email at dwales@hunspot.org.

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