NWS sez 'Hi' to Fort Worth on Facebook

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.

4 thoughts on “NWS sez 'Hi' to Fort Worth on Facebook”

  1. First, thanks for the AMS blog! I enjoy reading it. You have part of your “Fort Worth on Facebook” post right, but I want to correct a misconception you have repeated from another blog.
    Part 1: The National Weather Service does see value with social media. As you pointed out, our national Facebook page is among the top federal pages and we are preparing to prototype a new local use for Facebook. The Ft. Worth Facebook page is the first prototype of a modest experiment to test operations of local office and national center Facebook pages. Once the experiment gets underway we will open it for public comment and review. The experiment will provide outreach/event information and automated posts with hydrometeorological information of interest to users of that office.
    Part 2: It was unfortunate to read that you had picked up on the spin posted on the knowthenetwork blog that the NWS was “banning social media.” Clearly we haven’t. We are being methodical and thoughtful about how we proceed, as the Nation should expect from a science and service agency where lives are in the balance.
    Curtis Carey, Ph.D.
    NWS Director of Communications

  2. Thank you for that clarification. Indeed, we pointed out the success of NWS on Facebook at the national level to show that social media has already been a part of NWS’s activities, and that social media at the local level serves a separate function, with separate issues, and not surprisingly is being developed at a different pace.

  3. This general subject came up at the National Weather Association Annual Meeting this week in Tucson, AZ both during the meeting and in conversations among attendees.
    The increase in communication outlets is great to get weather information out to as many people as possible. However, many weather offices: public, private and academic, may spread themselves too thin in keeping up with providing the most accurate and timely information over numerous media outlets. Attendees remarked that the Weather and Climate Enterprise we are proud of in the US also requires each partner to do their best at their core responsibilites. Those core products/services could suffer if priorities on them are lessened and hurt the entire Enterprise in giving the best total support for the public good.
    What we hope won’t happen is for non-NWS suppliers to go far beyond their core products and services and get into public warnings and advisories as has happened (thankfully rarely) in the past.
    Another subject that came up that relates to this is Decision Support Services. If weather units delve more into decision support with minimal to no increase in resources especially manning, then core responsibilities could be affected.
    I don’t believe any of us want to stop progress and innovation, but in going forward we should think about the entire enterprise working together to support the public good.
    Thanks for this opportunity. No doubt this will be talked about at the AMS Annual Meeting as well.
    PS Could use everyone’s help in policing social media outlets. When you read weather information that is not correct or definitive, add comments to hopefully turn readers to the official information. Young aspiring meteorologists are still adding Web sites, FB entries and Tweets about weather and I’ve found they appreciate our concern that they could easily provide information that would place readers in harm’s way.

  4. Thanks for the comments. For those who missed his presentation at the NWA meeting this week, Michael Hudson of NWS is slated to address the AMS Symposium on Policy and Socio-Economic Research in January in Seattle: “Utilizing Emerging Technologies to Better Address the Societal Impacts Focus of NWS Warnings.” Among other talks touching on social media during the Seattle Annual Meeting, Michael Gerber of NWS will address the CCM Forum on “Embracing Social Media.”

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