Environment Canada is constantly monitoring social media to check on severe weather, according to Terri Lang, a warning preparedness meteorologist.
“Social media has helped us quite a bit,” Lang told CBC Saskatchewan’s Blue Sky. “It’s helped us get better reports from all our storm spotters.”
She says including a picture is helpful because meteorologists can look at it and determine if it’s a run-of-the-mill storm or something nasty. She says including a date, time and location is also a good idea, because old pictures are often circulated.
She says a specific example where twitter helped warn people was in Outlook last year when a series of tornadoes touched down. Lang says all the action on twitter helped Environment Canada pinpoint where the tornadoes were popping up.
Lang says the traffic has really picked up in the last two years, and she credits storm chasers with getting people interested in tweeting their own storm photos. She says the phenomenon of people tweeting weather photos and posting to Facebook seems to have gotten its start on the Prairies, where it’s easier to see storms rolling in and people love talking about the weather.
Lang also teaches a kind of storm spotting 101 course to volunteers. Lang says some are volunteers for emergency measures in their communities and some are “weather nuts”. She says the information from people who are informed about what’s dangerous and what’s not is especially useful.
How to stay safe in a storm
Lang also teaches storm safety in her storm spotting class. Some tips include:
- Pay attention. “When thunder roars, go indoors,” Lang said.
- Don’t wear ear buds for two reasons: You need to pay attention to the storm and the ear buds can act as a conduit for electricity if there’s a lightning strike.
- Don’t drive into flooded roads. “It only takes a foot and a half of water to float a car,” Lang said.
- Don’t watch severe storms from windows. The windows can shatter and injure you.
- Wait 30 minutes after the last rumble of thunder. Two-thirds of lightning strikes happen before or after the storm. One-third occur during the storm.
- Lighting can strike 15 to 20 km from a storm cloud. Lang says there have even been documented cases of lightning striking up to 100 km away.