4.3 #tSpotter: SKYWARN in the Social Media Age

Friday, 28 June 2013: 2:00 PM
Two Rivers (Sheraton Music City Hotel)
Thomas Johnstone, NOAA/NWSFO, Old Hickory, TN

Traditionally, Skywarn Spotter groups were trained by the National Weather Service (NWS) to visually identify various weather phenomena and then report their observations to their local NWS office via Amateur Radio or telephone. This model was been tremendously successful and has helped the NWS save lives for many years. Recent technological changes, especially the widespread use of smartphones, along with rapid growth in the use of Social Media, have dramatically changed the way many people interact with each other and receive critical information. The NWS in Nashville has leveraged these technological changes to create a new kind of Skywarn Spotter group: #Spotter.

The #tSpotter concept began with a Twitter account, @NashSevereWx, formed by a Nashville area Skywarn Spotter named David Drobny. David initially used Twitter to provide “hyper-local” weather forecasts and warnings to a few friends and family. His service quickly caught on however, and soon he had hundreds of followers. In 2011, David approached the Weather Forecast Office (WFO) office in Nashville with an idea for a partnership wherein a spotter group would be formed using Twitter as the communication medium. After a robust marketing campaign in 2012, and a few major weather events, @NashSevereWx grew quickly and has exceeded 13,000 followers by early 2013.

The #tSpotter Skywarn program uses highly trained volunteers to provide localized weather impact and warning information to their community via their own Twitter accounts. The coordinators solicit real time weather reports and geo-tagged photographs from their followers who use the hashtag #tSpotter in their reports. If a report or photograph meets predefined criteria, it is immediately entered into WFO Nashville's NWSChat room where local media and Emergency Managers have instant access to it. As of early 2013, there were nine Middle Tennessee counties with organized Twitter based Skywarn groups.

#tSpotter has resulted in hundreds of additional real-time weather reports available via WFO Nashville's NWSChat room. This has greatly aided situational awareness for NWS meteorologists and their partners while reducing storm verification workload. More importantly, highly localized, trusted, and potentially life-saving weather impact information is reaching more people than ever through their smartphones and social media pages. This session will discuss the #tSpotter program in detail and provide a roadmap for similar programs across the nation.

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