NWS sez ‘Hi’ to Fort Worth on Facebook

October 7, 2010 · 4 comments

The National Weather Service is on Facebook (so is AMS, actually). But you knew that already. What’s new is that now the NWS is trying out Facebook as a local-level communications tool. The Fort Worth, Texas, office has a new page to raise weather awareness locally. If weather turns ugly, it might become an important additional channel between meteorologists and the public.

Writes one commenter, “About time you guys got on here.” But actually, social media and government weather services have had a somewhat tempestuous relationship so far, even with the undeniable popularity of the national NWS fan page.

At least one NWS employee already had tested the waters on his own: in an April 30 severe weather outbreak one local forecaster in Arkansas was posting weather updates on a private Twitter account, minutes before the same information made it to TV screens. In response the Weather Service reiterated its policy against employees using unofficial communication channels for official business, effectively prohibiting social media for local weather communications.

More recently, the head of forecasting at Taiwan’s Central Weather Bureau, Ming-Dean Chen, used his personal Facebook page to distribute typhoon information hours in advance of the official notices from his own office. He expounded on possibilities that weren’t discussed in the official forecasts. Chen ended up apologizing to superiors, but pointed out that he was merely repeating information that had already been posted on the Japan Meteorological Agency web site anyway.

Renegade incidents seem less likely now that NWS is cautiously dipping an official toe in Facebook waters for local purposes. They could start a tidal wave, however, if they don’t proceed judiciously. Digital Meteorologist blog points out that a strong social media presence by local NWS offices might rapidly erode the long-held niche broadcast meteorologists have enjoyed by combining local weather knowledge with direct access to the public.

Sure, the US government is slow, but what happens when it finally catches up?  #NWS could be a pretty powerful hashtag….Poke the bear if you want.  Just make sure you are ready to run when he wakes up.