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November-December 2012

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Letter to the Editor

Social Media and Meterology—Still a Ways to Go

I know—quicker, more local, one-on-one dialogue; social media is improving meteorology! More and more people are talking, tweeting, and posting videos. But what exactly are they saying? Is it really of any value? And is there any tangible evidence that the important stuff, like the ability to forecast severe weather more than 12 hours in advance, has improved as a result?

Just two weeks ago, on June 29, 2012, a derecho “snuck up” on the Washington, D.C., Metro area. Social media provided lots of spectacular real-time pictures; unfortunately the professionals were caught by surprise with the intensity of this low-probability, high-consequence phenomenon, just like everyone else. And anyone interested in a serious discussion of significant weather phenomena can't escape the blizzard of “useless information.” For instance, Weather.com has an app called “Trending Key Words” that provides an astonishingly unimportant set of bar graphs with data that no one could possibly need to know about, nor do anything with. And how about recent examples of Weather.com's “Local Tweets,” like “a drought is an ugly thing” and “kiss me in the rain”? Who is writing these inane comments, and, worse yet, who is reading them? The use of social media in meteorology still has some growing up to do.

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