The primary job of the National Weather Service is to issue severe weather warnings to protect lives and property. Since most of the public relies heavily on television or radio stations to get their weather information, the NWS offices at Birmingham and Huntsville, Alabama and local media have formed a partnership to improve severe weather related communications. This partnership involves the use of Instant Messaging (IM). This two-way communication between the NWS and local media has helped to bridge the gap in the severe weather warning process and has proven several times during significant severe weather events to be a huge success, which has undoubtedly resulted in lives being saved.
In Alabama and southern middle Tennessee, all NWS offices routinely communicate with local county emergency management agencies (EMAs) via the use of the 800 megahertz radio system. This constant communication link is vital during a developing winter weather or severe weather event. The 800 megahertz system is also used as a weather briefing tool to provide the EMAs with the most updated forecast within the next 24 to 36 hours.
The NWS offices at Birmingham and Huntsville now provide the EMAs with heads-up paging to notify them of upcoming 800 MHz briefings. The briefings allow the EMAs to effectively place severe storm spotters in key locations and to make emergency contingency plans. Both NWS Birmingham and Huntsville provide daily graphical hazardous weather outlooks and will be soon implementing a graphicast product that will be a short term graphical forecast tool. With technology continually changing, it is vital to develop new communication avenues and partnerships to provide the best possible watch and warning information to the public.