Social media storms are growing weather trend

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) — Most people use social media every day, whether seeking information or posting a photo, and it has changed the way people spend their downtime.

It also has changed the way people get information, which could be a bad thing if you are in the business of predicting the weather.

WKBN 27 First News meteorologist Ryan Halicki recently tackled the growing issue with social media and storms. Our station’s team of meteorologists have recently noticed a trend of forecast models being shared on social media sites.

The data is being pushed out days before the storm would arrive, when models don’t always have a good handle on a developing storm system. The problem is that once these extremes are posted, they are at the world’s fingertips. And after a few hours, shares of the story continue even though the models have changed.

“Computer models change by the hour when they get new information. That may be better or worse for the particular model, but it is always changing,” said WYTV meteorologist Paul Wetzl.

Recently, the National Weather Service branch in Indianapolis had to squash false rumors of 20 to 30 inches of snow, which was a rumor that spread on social media. Another incident occurred in New England, where a model showing heavy snow 10 days out was shared.

These situations are being referred to as social media storms.

“People are going to see these extreme solutions posted on social media whether they are realistic or not,” said Mike Fries with the National Weather Service in Pittsburgh.

“And it’s shared and shared and shared and the comments continue with it and the bad part of it is it’s just one solution of many solutions by a particular model,” Wetzl said.

Fries said it’s important to pay attention to where weather information is coming from.

“They don’t know what the source for these things are half the time because the things get shared down the line and the original source gets lost in the muddle of social media,” Fries said. “You don’t have to be a meteorologist to post on Facebook and Twitter. You don’t have to be a meteorologist to take a graphic off the web and post it. But you also don’t know how to interpret a graphic you’re taking off the web unless you know the inner workings of the models and the ensemble systems.”

It is also important to pay attention to the time a post was made, making sure the data is current.

“Go back to that source and see what the updated information is. Don’t just take for granted that a 12-inch snow storm is going to happen just by looking at one picture,” Wetzl said.

To get the latest weather forecast and see interactive radar, click here.

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