(Inside Science) -- Where do you go for severe weather information? Do you turn to social media? Now meteorologists and social scientists are looking at the role social media plays in communicating severe weather information to the public.
Rick Smith, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service said, "Social media to me is really any tool or any mechanism that we have to communicate directly with the public. In our case, it’s mostly Twitter and Facebook.
"Social media has opened up a lot of new doors when it comes to the public getting weather information. It used to be that you had to be glued to your television at 5 or 6 o’clock in the evening if you wanted to see the weather forecast. Now, everybody that has a smartphone has at least one weather app on their phone and a lot of us have apps that will push warnings to us or push critical information to us. That’s a big change than from just 10 years ago where we were desperately trying to find ways to reach people in their cars or when they’re not at home watching television.
"Now with smartphones and with social media, we can reach people in ways we never had before. Plus, social media gives us more ways to communicate. People are able to talk to us about the weather. We’re able to talk to more people about the weather, and people are able to talk about the weather amongst themselves.
"Another benefit of social media is we can sometimes identify the misunderstandings as they’re going on, and we can interject and provide information to help them. If there’s a misunderstanding about a watch or a warning for example, we’re able now to offer in real time a clarification on things or an explanation of things that might help people better understand their threat.
"We get people prepared for May by talking to them about tornadoes in February and March. Some people just can’t get into the mindset of being prepared until they’re living in the moment. So, social media lets us get to them in that moment and when they’re thinking about it and we hope it’s more effective at that time.
"I think one of the areas that needs a lot more attention, and is getting a lot more attention, is the social and behavioral science side of things. How do people respond? What are key words? Is there a word that we could give to people or a group of people that would convey to them the fear and the seriousness I have about the severe weather that’s about to happen? How do people really get warnings? How do they respond? How do they communicate with the families, with their families about the impending severe weather?"
Smith offers tips for using social media as a primary source of information during severe weather events.
"If you’re looking at social media for weather information, one of the things you always have to watch for is, is this current information? When was this original post made? We see that time and time again we’ll post a tornado warning on our National Weather Service Twitter account and people will continue to retweet that hours and sometimes even days afterwards. And that’s not just a nuisance in some cases -- that could be detrimental to people’s decision-making and create confusion and things like that that we never want to happen. So, yeah, it’s critical to know that -- to check that the information that you’re looking at is timely. Just take a few seconds before you hit retweet or share or like or something and be sure that it’s current."