April 15, 2013
EXCLUSIVE: Earth Networks – Communicating Weather
Part 5 of redOrbit´s exclusive 6-part series
Alan McStravick for redOrbit.com - Your Universe OnlineThe last part of this exclusive series focused on the technologies behind the Earth Networks Total Lightning Network (ENTLN) and their computer and mobile-based platforms for delivery of weather information to the general public. For part 5, I sat down with the company´s senior meteorologist James West to discuss the important role played by humans in weather prediction for their contracted private clients who rely on accurate and location-specific weather analysis.
In addition to producing forecasts and reporting on breaking weather events, West is also editor of both their website and social media outreach platforms. In this capacity, West oversees the production of a daily national weather outlook that is then communicated through both their website and the WeatherBug app as well as via the company´s twitter and Facebook accounts. The editorial section will also highlight types of weather that are typically unique to a particular season. And West takes this responsibility seriously.
“We like to be the calm voice in the storm,” said West. “We don´t hype it. We communicate it.” He continued, “We always have to be sure we answer the question: Why is this important for our readers?”
West also emphasized the importance of keeping a level head in the dissemination of weather information.
“Weather has a huge economic impact,” he explained. “And that goes back to our not wanting to editorialize. As a meteorologist, you never want to editorialize in the sense of what is good and what is bad.” West explained, “A nice sunny day or a week of sunny day´s means, for example, there is no rain for the cattle farmers.”
A very recent example of the weather community going overboard in hyping its predictions was a large snow storm that never quite happened. The “Snowquester” was supposed to pass through the Washington, DC area just a week before our interview.
“Meteorologists always get lambasted. The fact is, it´s hard to communicate and to communicate on certainty because weather is uncertain,” he said. “The recent “Snowquester” is an example of a communication failure,” he continued. “Part of that was that we hadn´t had a lot of snow. The hype machine kind of got out of control.”
Lastly, I wanted to ask West about the recent spate of severe storms seen this year that spawned devastating tornadoes, and whether we were witnessing a shift in the time of year that these storms typically occur.
“We´ve seen tornadoes this early in the year,” he answered. “But are we seeing the F5s, like the one that went through Joplin, more frequently? In the old days, a farmhouse would get hit and the sheriff would know and the insurance company would know, but that´s it.” He then commented how it is uncertain if the number of severe storms was increasing or just our awareness of them thanks to the rise of internet and social media.
West and his colleagues are another important component of Earth Networks and of their mission to get clear, concise and usable information into the hands of the public prior to severe weather events.