The proliferation of weather information across the internet has been remarkable the past 15+ years. The first 5 years I spent in meteorology (the early-mid 1990s) you couldn’t find any weather models/maps online and little/no weather information except for a few satellite pictures via subscriber services. For that matter almost nobody had email either. And to add to the “horror” for those of you under 25? Cell phones were rare to nonexistent and Facebook, Twitter, and the term social media didn’t exist either. You just watched a TV weather forecast, read it in the paper, or listened to radio and/or NOAA weather radio.
Of course nowadays you can find a forecast just about anywhere, including through online apps and weather pages from reputable forecasting companies, media companies, or the National Weather Service official pages. This is great of course!
But there is a dark side to the explosion of weather information. Just about all the weather information we use to make a forecast is now available to anyone with an internet connection. That means ANYONE can take screen grabs of models, make a forecast (whether it includes reality or not), dress it up a little and put it onto social media (usually Facebook or Twitter). There has been an explosion of this stuff the past couple of years. Many of the people doing it are young kids just like I was…fascinated by weather and ready to share that with family and friends. That’s just a bit of youthful exuberance!
But others have found ways to make money off weather hype, even if it involves purposely deceiving the public. I saw a good example this week. Did you see this graphic?
It comes from a person that is well-known to the meteorological community. Take a closer look…to any normal person who sees this on Facebook it appears that A HURRICANE IS HEADED FOR THE PACIFIC NORTHWEST!. Heck, I’d click on a link showing this too! Only somewhere down in the 2nd paragraph did the forecast mention that the strong wind wouldn’t make it to the coastline. A reputable news/weather organization with never put a headline like this onto a graphic, especially since it was a regular ol’ Pacific storm for late September. There weren’t even high/damaging winds expected ON the coast!
There were several incidents last winter when posters/groups would grab one run of one computer model then proclaim a big snow storm was on the way (along the East Coast). The Capital Weather Gang had a nice posting about one of these earlier in the year. Here’s another blog from Dan Satterfield about THE GREAT FACEBOOK BLIZZARD last winter.
How do you avoid misleading/false info?
1. Only use forecasts from the National Weather Service, media sites that employ forecasters, or private weather companies that forecast for clients.
2. Don’t get forecast information off of Facebook. That is especially important with breaking weather info (severe storms & tornadoes). The first issue is that there’s a decent chance a person is just making up a forecast. The 2nd issue, even for all the sources listed on #1 (including FOX12), is the filtering of news feeds. Facebook decides what is important to you, not me or you. So if I put out a forecast there, it’s possible you won’t even see it on your feed! Twitter doesn’t filter so that’s a bit better.
3. Ignore any weather sites that are not in one of those 3 categories above.
Chief Meteorologist Mark Nelsen