On SOPA and PIPA Blackout Day: Weather and Social Media

January 19, 2012; 1:00 PM ET
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On the SOPA and PIPA internet-wide blackout day, AccuWeather.com meteorologists took a look at how the social media has made it easier to share weather information.

"In order to be useful, weather forecasts need to be both timely and local. Social media offers unbeatable immediacy," according to AccuWeather.com's Social Media Coordinator and Meteorologist Jesse Ferrell. "Citizens worldwide can obtain critical, breaking weather information through mobile devices and transmit photos or videos of severe weather events on the Internet in real-time to platforms like Facebook."

"The weather is very visual," said Michael Sylvie, the AccuWeather.com director of user experience and interactive media, about why sharing about the weather comes naturally in social media.

Sending out real-time information and pictures on breaking severe weather helps to inform the public faster than ever before that there may be a weather danger.

SEE ALSO: The White House's Statement on SOPA and PIPA

During the April 25-27, 2011, tornado outbreak across the Southeast, meteorologists were able to send out the location of dangerous storms and give people advanced notice and time to find shelter.

Pictures and videos of the large and destructive Tuscaloosa, Ala., tornado were all over Twitter and Facebook, letting the public know of the seriousness of the severe weather risk.

In situations where power outages would have made it very difficult to get information out quickly in the past, crucial warnings can now be sent using social media platforms and can be viewed on mobile devices or tablets.

During the historic late-October snowstorm in the Northeast, thousands were without power for more than a week in Connecticut and New York. Many Twitter users from the Northeast told AccuWeather.com that they were checking weather forecasts and news on their mobile devices.

"After 7 straight days w/o for Irene and NOW into 5th for Snowtober, we here in the backwoods of Bedford, N.Y. are experts at coping," Twitter user EOSRedux wrote to AccuWeather. "No land lines, no internet, no cable - only link to outside world is Twitter on my Blackberry. Send help - or bourbon!"

A tree split then crashed down, causing damage to two or three homes in Berks County, Pa. Photo submitted by AccuWeather.com Facebook Fan Steve K.

One of the first times AccuWeather.com recognized how powerful Twitter could be as a tool for getting weather information out was during the landing of the plane in the Hudson River. There was an explosion of information coming out of New York City on Twitter, while no major news outlets were reporting about the plane's landing in the Hudson.

AccuWeather.com meteorologists were able to investigate the weather conditions at the time of the plane landing and get information out to the public quickly before other news outlets covered the story.

Flooding in Monterrey, Mexico, during Hurricane Alex in July of 2010. Photo submitted by AccuWeather.com Facebook fan Arturo Salinas.

Ferrell points out that finding breaking weather information internationally is also aided by the use of social media.

The AccuWeather.com news team was made aware of a severe flooding situation in Monterrey, Mexico, during Hurricane Alex in July of 2010 by Arturo Salinas, an AccuWeather.com Facebook fan. There was limited news reports coming from Mexico into the U.S. due to the language barrier.

"Salinas provided first-hand accounts, photos and video of the flooding that AccuWeather.com integrated into news stories and videos for the Local AccuWeather Channel," explained Ferrell.

Social media has drastically improved fast dissemination of weather news, reaching audiences such as those experiencing power outages that would not easily find the information otherwise.

The process of gathering weather information and interaction with fans for a very personal weather news experience will never be the same.

Follow AccuWeather.com on Twitter, @breakingweather, and on Facebook.

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