Monday, April 27, 2015

Weather forecasters say social networks enhance warnings

(When I come across a news item I would like to link to but it forces the reader to watch a commercial or take a survey, I will copy and paste the text here. Stop text blocking!)
Whenever storm systems build over Arkansas skies and threats of inclement weather rise, activity increases on Facebook, Twitter and other social media sites about what residents are seeing outside.
The National Weather Service is now taking advantage of that to enhance agencies' forecasts and warnings, officials say. Several weather bureaus have created positions in which meteorologists monitor social media during storms so they can confirm dangerous weather, pinpoint warning locations and corroborate the images seen on radar with what actually is happening.
"It's a great way to know what a storm is doing," said National Weather Service meteorologist Julie Lesko of North Little Rock. "The response is quick [on social media]. If we know what is occurring at that exact moment, we can get a better idea of what it will do at the next town and we can issue better warnings.
"We can follow the life cycle of a storm in real time," Lesko said.
The Wichita, Kan., weather service station was able to issue a detailed warning last week after seeing a picture of a tornado that a storm chaser posted on his Twitter feed. The service's Doppler radar had picked up the twister's rotation, but meteorologists were able to confirm that the tornado touched down by viewing the photograph.
Meteorologists in North Little Rock also tracked a violent storm system as it passed through Lawrence County earlier this month through the pictures of hailstones that residents posted on their Facebook pages. Pea-sized hail fell in Lynn, but increased to baseball-sized hail as the storm crossed the Black River and intensified over Portia.
"Social media makes everyone a citizen scientist," said Tim Brice, a senior meteorologist at the El Paso, Texas, National Weather Service bureau. "Everyone talks about the weather. Now they can post pictures and information about it."
Brice is a member of the National Weather Service's Southern Regional social media team, which teaches weather bureaus how to use Facebook, Twitter, Meerkat and other media sites. The Southern Region includes 10 states from New Mexico to Florida.
"It's where the people are," Brice said. "We can get information from them, and it's a good way to get our own information out."
Since creating its own Facebook pages, the weather service has seen rapid growth in the number of "followers" of the pages. The Norman, Okla., service's page has the most followers in the Southern Region with 137,000, Brice said.
"It's because Norman is the center for weather with the University of Oklahoma, and it has a lot of active weather," he said.
With nearly 60,000 followers, the North Little Rock service's Facebook page is the fourth-most popular in the region, he said.
The weather service in Tulsa began using a meteorologist to monitor social media sites a year ago, meteorologist Dave Jankowski said.
"We check to see what's going on," he said. "We're watching headlines, television sites, any social media site. We're looking for any information that can help us."
Jankowski said meteorologists once saw reports of a hazardous chemical spill near Tulsa and were able to provide weather forecasts, along with wind speeds and directions, to emergency workers who were cleaning the spill.
The Arkansas Storm Report Facebook page uses social media to post warnings to its followers during inclement weather and weather-related information during calm days. The page, created by Luke Matheson of White Hall, has almost 47,000 followers.
In addition to presenting safety tips, information about storm formations and other weather tidbits, the Arkansas Storm Report administrators also filter through photographs sent in by followers -- some of which are fake.
After the weather service issued a tornado warning for Desha and Arkansas counties on April 2, Matheson said he received a picture of a tornado from a woman claiming her son photographed it near Pendleton.
Others in the area said they didn't see the tornado, and Matheson realized the picture was not real.
"I did a little research and found the image was one of a tornado in Tulsa in 2012," he said. "I ended up sending a message to the lady, who said her son did it to 'freak' people out."
Matheson said his Facebook page receives scores of "funnel-like" pictures and videos when storms rear up. However, Matheson, who is a trained weather spotter, can determine if they are real upon examination.
"It's getting to the point where everyone with a cellphone camera wants to shoot tornadoes," he said. "You can't always trust it anymore.
"Some people do it just to get a rise out of people. They want to stir it up and see if their pictures go viral. We have to be very careful, especially this time of year."
Brice said he trains meteorologists to check pictures submitted to weather services for their authenticity. If a picture is altered with Photoshop, a digital imaging program designed to modify or enhance photographs, the electronically sent image will contain a code revealing the software's use.
He also instructs meteorologists to use Google image searches to find photographs that are often reused as fakes.
One of the most popular fictitious pictures, he said, is of a rotating supercell taken over the Plains. The photo was altered during superstorm Sandy in October 2o12 to show the cell over the Statue of Liberty in New York.
Another picture, taken in Orchard, Iowa, in 2008, shows a large wall cloud behind a metal farm building and train crossing. The wall cloud, which looks like an ominous tornado, has since appeared in other fake photographs.
Yet another fake shot that makes the rounds, Brice said, is of a lightning-illuminated tornado near an oil rig. The actual tornado picture was taken by a weather service meteorologist in 1991. The oil rig was later added to the photograph.
"These are circulated every weather season," Lesko said. "We start to recognize the ones that are used over and over. Credibility is a big thing with us."
Brice said he checks each photograph he sees to ensure it is real.
"We can use social media for that," he said. "If we get 20 photos on Twitter or Facebook of nickel-sized hail in some area and one baseball-sized hail shot, we'd know something was up.
"We can use the same tools to dispel the [fake] photographs that the people are using to show them," he said.
Brice said the weather service is considering integrating Meerkat, an application that puts live-streaming video onto social media, into its webpages. Meteorologists can watch the formation of storms live online and tailor their forecasts based on their observations.
The service is also using meteorologists at different stations to monitor social media sites in areas that are experiencing storms.
Recently, Brice in El Paso and another meteorologist in Fort Worth checked Facebook posts from people near Memphis when heavy storms raked the area.
"It was a sunny, quiet day here," Brice said. "But we could watch the storms and see the posts from Memphis and help them."
Forecasters no longer just gaze at radars, he said.
"People have always talked about the weather," Brice said. "We started noticing people posting things like, 'It's raining here,' on their Facebook pages. Weather affects everybody. It's a commonality that we all discuss.
"Social media has helped us do a better job of discussing the weather ourselves."
State Desk on 04/27/2015

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Greatest Tornado Potential on Friday?

As of right now, it appears the greatest tornado probability is in the shaded area. Yeah, yeah, I overlaid that onto an STP map which I'll catch flack for but when looking at all parameters, this is the area that sticks out the most to me. The ECM puts things a little further north. I look forward to seeing how this plays out.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Natural Disasters Overlay Map

Here's an eye opener regarding disruptive disasters including fire, earthquakes, tornadoes & hurricanes. With each overlaid on the same map, things really come into perspective when you consider the impact of these natural disasters on infrastructure and interruption of business.

Monday, April 20, 2015

A few ECMWF Maps Concerning Friday

So the SPC said" hey, we're watching Day5 pretty closely and if the GFS verifies, there will be severe weather in the east and if the Euro verifies, there could be an outbreak in the plains. Since we like the prospect of chasing severe weather, weather geeks like myself have flocked to our favorite source of ECMWF data and started to talk about the Friday potential as if the event was only 24 hours out.
So here are a few I pulled and before you turn me into the Euro police, I have a redistribution license. All maps are from the 12z run today.

Surface winds per today's 12z run

Surface winds per last night's 00z run

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Forecast Images - Wednesday 4/8/15

These stunning images are from the guys over at AllisonHouse who are quietly building what will be the next big model website attraction. Allisonhouse Maps has the interactivity of HazWX with easy-on-the-eyes color tables of WeatherBell. I uploaded a few images for 00z on Wednesday based upon the 00z tonight (Sunday) so you too can see how nice they look. 

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Color Tables and Modeling

Neat features like interactive mapping, layers, special views and model run completion status are included in many model sites but color tables and smoothing is what ultimately sells the goods; above and beyond the featureset.

It's clear that some maps are more appealing than others even though they display nearly the exact same information. Until higher resolution layers can be rendered more quickly, we are stuck with smoothing to make up for wider gradients. Smoothing is nice and all, but an eye for color and contrast is where the rubber truly meets the road.

There are plenty of guides available for color usage on maps. None of them make great model color tables and it's those who have thought outside the box who have the most stunning layer outputs.
So, get creative and try some different color concepts and see what pops. Find several of these appealing color schemes and make them interchangeable options for layers (yes, it can be done) and the users will flock to your site. No one wants to stare at ugly maps and they sure as hell don't want to share them.

The maps below all depict the same information: GFS Total Precip at 18z on Tuesday. What appeals most to you?
(COD is missing due to their site not working this morning) 




Friday, March 27, 2015

Weather company flips shit over its own ability to predict the weather

With a blatant disregard for their peers in the industry, the meteorology profession, and the government agency responsible for supplying them with raw data at no cost to them, AccuWeather released this promotional piece slamming the ability of NOAA's SPC to accurately predict tornadoes. The piece outlines Oklahoma severe weather events of March 25, 2015. They state:
The NOAA’s Storm Prediction Center, located just
9 miles south of the tornado’s path, judged the risk
of tornadoes in the region to be “low” and issued
a severe thunderstorm, rather than a tornado watch.
Further, the potential for “significant” tornadoes was
forecasted by NOAA to be “very low.” 
They go on to say:
This isn’t the first time AccuWeather has provided its clients
with a superior service in the backyard of the NOAA Storm
Prediction Center. On April 13, 2012, a tornado cut through
Norman, Oklahoma, causing considerable damage.
AccuWeather issued its tornado warning at 3:29 P.M.
The NWS didn’t issue its tornado warning until 3:59 P.M
NOAA is the ultimate supplier of 80% of the raw data private U.S. weather companies utilize to make forecasts. In addition, NOAA is a federally-funded entity that is in no way a competitor to private weather companies. Furthermore, weather agencies under the NOAA umbrella have zero recourse for scandalmongering. There are more tactful ways to boast one's product - without ultimately biting the hand that feeds you. There is no way a business-person wrote this piece.

On a positive note:
One thing that NOAA's NWS and AccuWeather can agree on is that WDT's RadarScope is the best app with which to deliver weather radar information to the public:

 Thanks for the recognition, guys!