Excerpt: Using Social Media to Spread Vital Information

As some may know, I am currently in the finishing stages of my IDC (Interdisciplinary Course of Knowledge) Honors Contract. For this contract, I had to construct an 8-10 page research paper, including interviews from professionals in the fields of journalism, meteorology, and civil service (although all of my respondents so far are meteorologists). Additionally, I conducted an online public survey that was used in comparison to the research used within the paper. Since I have yet to present this project in its entirety to my classmates and professors, I must refrain from divulging all of the secrets. However, a little “teaser,” paraphrased from the main ideals within the paper, has never hurt anyone!

With the use of social media escalating, many news and other information sources are making the transition to social networking platforms. The concept of getting the information out to a large amount of people in a small time frame has become attractive to many media outlets. Additionally, social media platforms can also be used to make reports or information updates from those in the affected areas. However, many remain skeptical of the use of social media due to problems associated with the viral spread of misinformation, commonly attributed to citizen journalists. With the use of professional interviews, current research done by the Pew Research Center, and an online public survey, this paper will analyze the advantages and disadvantages of using social networking platforms to disperse and obtain vital information.

My favorite part of this research project so far has been the interviews. Being able to connect with professionals I have looked up to for years has been such an amazing experience. The insight they provided has shown how those media fields, specifically meteorology, are making the transition from the television to social media. The harder portion of the project would be gaining the responses for the survey. However, with some help from wonderful professors, friends, and fellow weather-enthusiasts, the response goal is realistic and I am optimistic about the results.

This will likely be the last time I reach out for responses through my blog. Please, if you haven’t done so already, take the time to complete this short survey. The responses will be closed on Saturday evening (12/7). Following the completion of the survey, please also share the link with those who follow you! Thank you once again for those who have participated so far with this project. It has been an amazing experience and I am beyond enthusiastic to attain the results!

Take the survey here!


Derecho: Becoming the Most Widely Used Meteorological Term

Before the North American Derecho of June 2012, very few outside of the meteorological world knew what the term “derecho” meant. However, after the night of June 29th, “derecho” would quickly become one of the most used meteorological terms thrown at any kind of storm system. The reasoning for the constant use of the term could very well be attributed to fear caused by the initial occurrence of the June derecho. However, I’ve also seen the term thrown around to give ratings a healthy bump over the past year.

First of all, let’s classify a derecho. According to the Storm Prediction Center’s Facts about Derechos page, a derecho (pronounced “deh-REY-cho”) is a “widespread, long-lived wind storm” known for producing severe straight-line wind damage. In order to be classified as a derecho, there must be wind damage over a swath of at least 240 miles, include wind gusts of at least 58mph along most of its length, and have several 75mph or higher wind gusts within the swath. By reading down further on the SPC’s Facts about Derechos page, there is much more information regarding derechos than I’ll be posting here.

Derechos are not uncommon in the United States as shown by the SPC’s Derecho Climatology map. They are most common in the Midwest and Mississippi River Valley and mainly occur during the peak severe weather season (May-July) as shown by this graph. Regarding the occurrence of derechos throughout history, we can see just from a small compilation from SPC’s Derecho Facts page that there are many other derechos that have affected the Mid-Atlantic region just in the past 45 years. With proof that other derechos have occurred in the same area, why is there such a reaction following a single occurrence? Quoting the infamous Tootsie Pop commercial, “The world may never know.”

Let’s go back to the day of June 29th, 2012 by looking at some of the following images (via. hyperlinks). As shown by the SPC’s Surface Analysis map issued 1pm CDT on June 29th, it was a hot and humid mess throughout most of the Eastern half of the US. However, what caught many off guard was the failure of forecasting the event. As shown on the NWS’ assessment of the event (p.10-12), there was inadequate model data capable of forecasting more than a day out. The inadequacy of the model data is portrayed through the Convective Outlooks (p.12-15). By looking through the rest of the assessment, the discussion about the overriding of warning systems and the issuance of severe weather watches and other texts unfold as the derecho powers through the Appalachians. Even though the mountains weaken the derecho, it does not completely “kill” the storm as meteorologists and forecasters assumed. As shown in the radar loop, the derecho flares back to almost full strength as it moves into the DC/Baltimore area, leaving behind it massive amounts of damage.

Now let’s tie in the title of this post to the content. Ever since the June 2012 derecho, I have heard the term smeared and slathered onto everything that even looks the slightest bit similar. Amateur forecasters, along with those who love the publicity on social media, clamored at the term the very second a model run showed the possibility for thunderstorm development. Although I understand that such events help with the ratings (or amount of “likes” in current situations), instilling a fear in your followers that such an event is coming four days to a week out is NOT acceptable. Hyping up the public because one model run showed something that looked the slightest bit similar to a derecho is not good forecasting. If the slight possibility must be mentioned, do so in a manner and tone that portrays the inaccuracy and variability of a single model run.

Meteorological technology is not even coming close to the pinpoint accuracy we so desperately desire, so it should never be treated as such.  However, it is the responsibility of meteorologists, forecasters, and the general public to monitor each plausible situation that may threaten their areas. Even though there was poor forecasting in advance of the Mid-Atlantic derecho, as that afternoon and evening of June 29th, progressed, it became clear that those in the Mid-Atlantic were going to have an *electrifying* night.

Links for further reading:

“The Ohio Valley/Mid-Atlantic Derecho of June 2012” (SPC)

“Derecho of June 29, 2012” (Capital Weather Gang, The Washington Post)

Service Assessment of “The Historic Derecho of June 29, 2012” (NWS)

Event summary of “The Derecho of June 29, 2012” (NWS Baltimore/Washington, KLWX)

“Ring of Fire Derecho (Ref + Velocity Two Panel)” (Daryl Herzmann, YouTube)

“About Derechos” (SPC)

“Satellites Examine a Powerful Summer Storm” (NASA)


Radar Review: SimuAWIPS

As a weather enthusiast, trained Skywarn storm spotter, and a meteorology student, I need a radar system to satisfy my needs of monitoring the weather. For this review, I would like to focus on the SimuAWIPS meteorological workstation. SimuAWIPS, known as “Simmy” in my household, is one of the best radar systems I’ve come across. SimuAWIPS is a FREE, donation-run, meteorological workstation that satisfies the basic needs of a radar system. I’ll go into further detail on the many tools that are within SimuAWIPS, including my personal favorites, later on in this post.

I came across SimuAWIPS in January of 2012 while searching for a decent radar system. I had been using Intellicast, but due to that system’s constant bugs while going through updates, I needed something more reliable. I first found the Gibson Ridge (GR) radar software, but I knew I couldn’t afford to drop $80-$250 on radar software. After spending a bit of time practically drooling over GR2Analyst, I pressed on in my search. Not long afterwards, I came across SimuAWIPS, and our geek-relationship was born.

SimuAWIPS requires users to make an account, however, this is for personalization purposes only (once again, SimuAWIPS is funded through donations). At first, all the settings and options can be very overwhelming, and it’s not the most user-friendly to brand new users. Once you get past all the setup and basic personalization for your closest weather station and get some time to play with the settings, it will become much easier to use. I’ve had my SimuAWIPS account since January 11th, 2012; even though I’m still a fairly new user, I’ve played around enough to know most of the workings of the system. If you have any questions regarding the setup or settings of your account, leave a comment regarding your question (please be specific, I cannot read minds) and I’ll try to help you out as soon as possible!

SimuAWIPS is Nexrad-radar fed and has layers that include watches, warnings, mesoscale discussions, base velocity, base reflectivity (main radar), satellite (visible, infrared, and water vapor), models, analysis, observations, dew points, frontal positions, convective outlooks, and more. Loops can be set from a 1hr to 24hr frame (although the 3hr and 1hr loops are much easier to load). Multiple radars and layers can be added on easily-accessible tabs, and local radars specific to your area can be added to a quick drop-down list. However, one of my favorite features is the personalized warning system, which can be set to receive specific products from chosen NWS offices. Whenever a product is issued, an alarm is set off, making SimuAWIPS your personal weather radio.

Now that you’ve heard all about the amazing features SimuAWIPS has to offer, I’ll do a quick walk-through of setting up your own account. Once you’ve arrived at the SimuAWIPS website, begin by clicking on the “Register” button on the toolbar of the page. This will direct you to another page that asks you to create a unique user name, and fill out a form that asks for your name, valid email address, a password for the account, and a secret question with an answer in the event you forget your login information. Fill out the spam verification field at the bottom of this page, then click “Next” to continue. Afterwards, you will be sent an email to activate the account (do NOT give an old email address for this reason and make sure to check your spam filters). You may be asked to select a default NWS office (choose the office that serves your area) or a zip code. This will customize the console to your local NWS office. You can add more NWS offices (I recommend your surrounding NWS offices) by going into the user options menu under the “Offices” and “Radar” tabs. In that same menu, you can choose specific products you wish to receive, set a default panel layout, set a default region and map background (I prefer black), set default loop settings, and choose alarm settings.

Yes, it may be very confusing at first, but if you play around on your console, you will learn how to use SimuAWIPS in ways that are helpful to you. As stated earlier, if you have any questions regarding SimuAWIPS, please leave a comment (be specific about the question) below this post. If you have any suggestions for other online weather sites you want me to review, you can also leave those in the comments section. I hope that you’ve enjoyed this post and take the time to explore SimuAWIPS!

A Girl and Her Radar

Hello, fellow bloggers and internet dwellers, I’m Shae. If you haven’t figured out the theme for this blog yet, it’ll become mighty evident throughout this first blog post. I am currently a sophomore in college working on my Associates degree (this blog is actually meant to be an assignment for one of my classes) and planning to eventually transfer to a four-year university for a Bachelor of Science degree in Atmospheric Science/Meteorology. I wish to specialize in convective meteorology (derechos, tornadoes, and hail, oh my!) and eventually end up in Norman, Oklahoma for my career.

As for the back-story of my passion for meteorology, I must first thank my mother for sparking the interest in the field. I’ve been interested in meteorology since Hurricane Floyd developed and moved up the East Coast. It was September of 1999 and it was my mother’s first year of homeschooling me (I was about five at the time). My mother had the idea of creating a very easy science project by printing out maps of the East Coast and having me sketch Floyd’s track onto the printings. Little did she know at the time, by having me stationed in front of our television watching Jim Cantore get blown around, she created a “little monster” who would clamor for anything weather-related.

Growing up, I was TERRIFIED of thunderstorms (ironic, isn’t it?) I would refuse to go to bed if it was forecasted to storm at night and The Weather Channel was always on in our house. Due to my fear of thunderstorms, I learned how to read radar images and figure out how much time it would take a storm to get near my house by considering the movement of the storm(s) within the radar frames. This, plus hours upon hours of personal research (because I WANTED to) on convective weather has placed me where I am today.

This is about it for an introductory post. Just to clarify, this blog is going to be focused more on issues than forecasts.  If you have a really cool idea for a blog post you want to see from me (please keep it weather-based), need clarification on some big word, or just have a general question or some feedback, just leave me a comment! Don’t forget to follow me as I embark on this blogging journey ☺