Forecasters see social media changing patterns of weather coverage
When big, rumbling thunderstorms fire up across North Texas, so do Twitter and Facebook.
Those and other social media sites deliver the latest weather information instantly to laptops, tablets and cellphones. And if you have a question, just ask.
“That’s the one thing that has really changed [through social media] — the interaction with the audience,” said David Finfrock, chief meteorologist for KXAS-TV (NBC5). “People ask, ‘When will the storm affect our area?’ And when we have the time, we strive to answer all the questions.
“Of course there are times in the heat of battle when we can’t do that.”
Still, social media are transforming the ways people get critical information. And through this stormy spring, that information is often about the weather.
At the National Weather Service office in north Fort Worth, meteorologists and other staff members work hard to get storm information to the public, “especially when there are situations when we’re issuing warnings,” said Jamie Gudmestad.
“Social media have become the big thing, not just for weather, but for everything,” she said. “It’s been a really good source for reaching people with the information they need.”
For people fascinated by weather, whether a storm is brewing or not, a follow or a friend request to forecasters in the know can bring that information home.
“We’re responding to society’s need for information,” said Tom Bradshaw, who supervises the Fort Worth office. “The challenge, especially with Facebook, is it’s hard to keep it up-to-date once the weather event starts. So we tend to rely more on Twitter, and then catch up on Facebook.”
In the old days, say four or five years ago, if a tornado blew through an area in the evening, “you might see footage of it the next morning,” he said. “Now you see the footage that night.”
And instead of taking much of the day completing a tornado report, “once we’ve looked at it and talked about it, we’ll tweet something out because we know basically people are going to be demanding something.
“Everyone’s attention span has gotten shorter,” Bradshaw said, “and they need to have something instantaneously.”
During storms, many people stay plugged in to the latest developments.
“I check my Twitter feed, my Facebook posts on my phone to see what’s going on,” said Ben Iglesia of Fort Worth, who sends plenty of weather-related questions to NBC5 meteorologists. .
“I can find out the things I want to know and what’s going to happen,” he said.
Finfrock remembers when weather information came during the noon newscast as well as on the morning and evening news. That was it. But even then, he’d get questions, often by phone, sometimes in the mail.
“We’d get letters like, ‘My daughter is going to get married in two weeks. What’s the weather going to be like?’ And we’d answer them.
“Social media have certainly changed the way we interact, and it’s made it a lot easier to interact, and on a real-time basis,” he said.
In the past, people didn’t have many options.
“You couldn’t check the radar or check an app to see what the weather was doing,” Finfrock said. “If the situation was really serious, we’d do cut-ins. Or people would listen to the radio for the latest forecast, where they had a little more in the way of updates.
“But now, the whole universe of broadcasting has changed, and the world of journalism,” he said.
Earlier this week, Finfrock sent a tweet with a link to a live news conference in Parker County, where people were being evacuated along the Brazos River.
“That doesn’t affect most people in North Texas,” Finfrock said, “but those that are affected can see a live broadcast. We aren’t going to cut into regular programming, but we can put it online with links so they can see it and access it.”
And people aren’t only interested when storms brew.
“There are a lot of people who are just concerned about the weather in general — some from an interest point of view, and some from a fear point of view,” he said.
“And we get questions from some people on almost a daily basis.”