Social Media Spreads the Word about Severe Weather

By by Bo Zhang, Staff Writer
April 21, 2011, 1:31:45 AM EDT

With severe weather assaulting the United States, historic tornadoes, springtime snow and wildfires have wreaked havoc nationwide. Along with radio and television, social media is playing a more significant role in providing the public with up-to-the-minute weather information during the severe weather.

For many people today, Twitter and Facebook have already become their primary sources for local weather information. Indeed, just do a simple Twitter search like "tornado," and you'll be greeted instantly by something like "In the past three days, there were 241 #tornado reports across 14 states." You can find important information during your morning coffee or while you are waiting for the bus.

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Many social media posts are quick shots of information or a photo. Although character limits and space can reduce the amount of information that can be communicated, typing a quick tweet or Facebook post is the fastest way to get the most important information out quickly, especially during time-sensitive severe weather events.

Television and radio are both useful and important means of communication, but location, timing and sometimes electricity can sometimes render them useless. When severe weather strikes, sometimes you have only minutes to act.

"Oftentimes power is lost, leaving your TV and radio useless," Staff Writer Gina Cherundolo said, "but for many people, your cell phone may still work. Checking social media for warnings can save lives."

For example,'s Facebook page issues updates on severe weather outbreaks, warning people about locations of tornadoes and other dangerous conditions. Social media has become a very instrumental medium for weather authorities in releasing weather advisories, especially during the severe weather season.

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Such uses of social media are very important. "People would get aware of the potential danger ahead of severe weather such as tornadoes and blizzards," Senior Meteorologist Henry Margusity said. And as the trend keeps growing, people share information with friends on social media constantly, which also helps spread the word of weather warnings, Margusity added.

In addition, social media creates two-way communication between weather experts and the public. Professional meteorologists are not the only group of people who provide weather information through social networks such as Facebook, Twitter and blogs. As brutal weather kicks in, many tech-savvy people have also taken to the social media highway to share pictures of floods, snowstorms and tornadoes, as well as their firsthand tales with the whole digital world, warning the general public. has been letting fans ask questions and submit news tips on the Facebook page. It also takes polls on Facebook to incorporate the results into news stories.

Apart from news sources, another useful feature of social media during severe weather conditions is that it could become the primary communication tool for people to keep in touch with family and friends who may be in danger. During the Japan earthquake and tsunami outbreak, some people were able to contact their families on the other side of the globe through YouTube videos.

Here are some tips on how you can make use of social media during a severe weather -

• Sign up for accounts on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Tumblr, etc. • Invite your family and friends to join your networks. • Search for and follow (or become friends with) users who are reporting on tornadoes/storms/wildfires or who live within your area. • Check in daily for weather updates. • Post or repost information and pictures about severe weather. Use hashtags. • Post an all clear for your family and friends to know you are okay during a severe weather condition.

Don't forget to share your thoughts on incorporating social media to your severe weather plans with us!

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