816 An Effective Means of Integrating Twitter-based Reports to the National Weather Service while Enhancing Public Severe Weather Awareness

Thursday, 10 January 2013
Exhibit Hall 3 (Austin Convention Center)
Thomas Johnstone, NOAA/NWSFO Nashville, Old Hickory, TN; and T. Boucher, D. Drobny, and S. W. Shamburger

Handout (769.6 kB)

When severe weather approaches, people typically turn to broadcast meteorologists for information. This traditional means of receiving weather information can reach a large audience quickly as they cover severe weather for millions of people over dozens of counties simultaneously. However, only those in front of a TV or radio benefit. In an era of personalization and customization, as well as exponential technological growth, the public still has to wait for the media to get to the storm directly impacting them or their friends and family for a desired personalized service.

In 2011, WFO Nashville established a relationship with a SKYWARN Spotter who was delivering hyperlocal, real-time severe weather information, or “nowcasts," to Internet-capable devices (i.e., smartphones) of people living in metropolitan Nashville and its southern suburbs via Twitter. The Twitter account, @NashSevereWx, has grown from 100 followers in February 2011 to 7,800 in May 2012, while recruiting and establishing volunteers to run similar accounts for surrounding counties.

From the @NashSevereWx/WFO Nashville relationship sprang #tSpotter, a means of delivering severe weather reports to NWSChat from the Twitter public. Geo-tagged and time-stamped photographs and videos of hail, wind damage, possible tornadoes, and flash flooding are gathered by #tSpotter, filtered by a NWS-trained, volunteer #tSpotter coordinator, and inserted into NWSChat in real time, while requiring no additional NWS resources. The resulting huge increase in spotter reports provides ground truth to assist the NWS in deciding whether to issue a warning, furthering its mission to protect life and property.

Since its implementation in the Spring of 2011, the #tSpotter experiment has been successful in retrieving relevant and usable reports from the Twitter community during severe weather operations with almost no added workload. The forecaster responsible for fielding reports simply monitors NWSChat for the #tSpotter coordinator's reports. By granting the approved #tSpotter coordinators (those that have been trained by NWS meteorologists) access to NWSChat, we are enhancing the visibility of our products, reports, and life-saving information. Additionally, #tSpotter addresses one of the key findings of the NWS Service Assessment of the Joplin, MO, tornado by providing a fast and effective way to obtain the “second verification” frequently sought by the public, by stimulating discussion of the ongoing severe weather situation among the #tSpotter and broader Twitter community. A brief overview of #tSpotter's success from an operational point of view will be discussed as well as a proposed model for replication across the U.S

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