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Category: Hodgepodge

The “Social Media-rologist” Dilemma

| 7:22 am January 4, 2016

Operational meteorologists are dealing with an issue that won’t go away, and seems to be more problematic every year. It usually begins with a flood of Facebook private messages and posts asking “is this true”. And, they share a link to a social media post with an eye opening headline about a big winter storm coming in two to three weeks for the southern U.S. Or, if not a winter storm, severe cold, ice, or a tornado outbreak. We all know these are the “sexy” parts of weather that gets the attention of people. And usually there is a really cool map with vivid colors that show the 2 to 3 week threat.

Snow-Panic

The truth is most weather professionals were drawn into the business by their experience with some banner event in their young life, like a snow storm or tornado outbreak. It was the case with me, and with others I know that forecast the weather for a living. Nothing wrong with being interested or fascinated with events like this. It is the core of who we are.

WHY A PROBLEM? So, what’s the harm of forecasting snow, ice, or tornadoes more than two weeks in advance?

*There is very little skill in a SPECIFIC forecast beyond seven days. Yes, we can forecast trends and the overall pattern sometimes, but even that ability is limited. I love looking at pattern recognition and teleconnections, attempting to resolve what the overall conditions might be like in 15-30 days, but there is no way I can tell you detailed weather information that far in advance. And, I have yet to find anyone who can.

The greatest thing missing in meteorology is humility. There are many things we don’t know, and many things we can’t do.

*Most of the 2-3 week “forecasts” are done by people not qualified to forecast the weather 2-3 days in advance. Most are young weather enthusiasts that, in their love for ice, snow, or severe weather, just “wishcast” by throwing out model maps they have pulled down on various sites promoting the weather they love and desire without understanding the limitations of using those products, or the science behind them.

In no way do I want to discourage young people learning about meteorology; they have a treasure trove at their fingertips with their phone, tablet, or computer. I could only dream about this when I was 13 years old. Nothing should be allowed to dampen their enthusiasm, and encouragement is what they need from older guys like me. Every Friday, I have a young person and their family in our studio for the sole reason of encouraging them, and opening the door for a potential future career in meteorology. Many incredible scientists have come out of those Friday sessions going back 37 years. And, most of them are sure smarter than I am.

But, young people need to understand a banner headline about a snow storm in three weeks in the southern U.S. can create a societal impact they don’t understand. More about that later.

*Let me point out there are some that are really good at developing long range ideas. Joe Bastardi is one of them; I have learned much from Joe over the years and love reading his products and hearing his ideas. Sure, he gets it wrong sometimes, but we all do. And, Joe understands how to issue his products without causing human weeping and gnashing of teeth.

On social media this weekend, after dealing with dozens of questions about a big southern snow next week, I posted a note on Facebook encouraging people to “think before they share”. I had a screen grab of a “clickbait” headline with the post; turns out that article was pretty well done, and by a college student majoring in meteorology. His followers came over in masses attacking me and my integrity/character; I have no problem with that since “if you dish it out, you have to take it”. That is just part of being in weather these days. And, please don’t go to his site attacking him or his character. His intentions are good, and this has nothing to do with character or integrity, it is about ethics.

His headline read “SOUTHERN WINTER STORM THREAT INCREASING SECOND AND THIRD WEEKS OF JANUARY”. He even draws a rain-snow line in the discussion… “The rain/snow line will probably be somewhere extending from Birmingham to Atlanta into Upstate SC and central NC.”

I clearly should not have used that guys headline since he is pretty qualified and his work was good. My bad. But, there is still an issue.

*Most weather enthusiasts don’t understand societal impacts of what they write. Write a good clickbait headline, and you can get thousands and thousands of shares. It will spread across Facebook like wildfire. Good for them getting all those likes and clicks, but do they think about the real human impact?

A mother with a child suffering from chronic kidney disease is scheduled for peritoneal dialysis in 2 weeks. After seeing the Facebook headlines, she begins to call wanting to reschedule for before or after the “snow storm” coming her way. A delay in dialysis could bring health complications.

A family has a long planned camping trip in two weeks; they cancel and due to the approaching “snow storm”. Desperately needed time away vanishes.

A rural county with very limited funding spends a significant amount of money on snow chains for police cars and rock salt and sand for road treatment for the coming winter storm.

A trip is cancelled to see an aging parent, who doesn’t have long to live, due to the potential for a big snow storm in 2 weeks.

These are actual examples of the cases I heard about this weekend from social media questions to me. No, dialysis isn’t being delayed, the camping trip isn’t being cancelled, money isn’t being spent, and the elderly parent will be seen. But there was serious consideration in each circumstance due to reading Facebook headlines on their newsfeed.

Could we have a snow storm in 2-3 weeks? SURE. But with the skill set we have now, nobody knows if the snow will come at all, or if it will be in Louisville, Nashville, Birmingham, Jackson, or Atlanta. The one thing we can tell is that the pattern looks cold next week (scroll down for the morning discussion and video).

The followers of social “media-rologists” become fiercely loyal since they hear what they want to hear, and use the stereotypical argument of “the weatherman on TV is always wrong”. And unlike those of us in the mass media, when the armchair forecaster is wrong they simply disappear for a while, or hang on to the few long-range forecasts that were correct as proof they’re the real deal.

Is the “TV weatherman” always wrong? Read this essay from Brad Panovich, chief meteorologist for the NBC affiliate in Charlotte. Of course we get it wrong sometimes. And, on occasional, we miss a high impact event. But long time readers know I bring it to the table and take full responsibility for when that happens.

I am asking three things here…

*For those that are qualified to write long range thoughts, please communicate uncertainty with clarity, and avoid “clickbait headlines”.

*If you are young person that loves weather, go for it. Write a discussion, tell a good story. But please don’t ramble into a territory that can cause a negative human impact with crazy 2-3-4 week snow storms and tornado outbreaks. You can learn responsibility at a very young age, that will carry you far in life. If you are local, send me an email and come see me. We will help get you started.

*For the masses, “think before you share”. I know this problem isn’t going away, but you can help by not sharing outrageous long range forecasts.

Happy New Year from the Alabama News Center!

| 1:06 pm January 1, 2016

Christmas storms, football and economic development news made for an interesting week and our partners at Alabama NewsCenter found and highlighted the good in all of it. Here is a look back at the last week of 2015 as we start the new year.

Business Facilities names Alabama ‘State of the Year’ for 2015

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Moonpies, blueberries and music: New Year’s Eve celebrations pack a delightful surprise in Can’t Miss Alabama

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Honda plans Super Bowl push for Alabama-built Ridgeline

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Mobile leaders express optimism for 2016 in ‘State of the Economy’

Port of Mobile: APM Terminals Dec. 9, 2015

Airbus hiring in Mobile tops 300 with more being added

Airbus  Inauguration Sept. 14, 2015

Crimson Tide fit in Cotton Bowl practice between press conferences, children’s hospital visit

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Alabama Crimson Tide looks for better outcome in College Football Playoff this year

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Rain doesn’t dampen enthusiasm of Auburn, Memphis fans at Birmingham Bowl

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Birmingham Bowl’s 10th year may be its most successful

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Birmingham Bowl: Auburn, Memphis players visit Children’s of Alabama

Shon Coleman (72) Auburn football practice at Sports Blast Shelby County Monday, Dec. 28, 2015, in Birmingham, Ala. Photo by Wade Rackley/Auburn Athletics

Birmingham Bowl: Auburn defense faces challenge with Memphis quarterback

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Birmingham Bowl: Tigers will win at Legion Field, but which ones?

Coach Gus Malzahn celebrates a touchdown.  San Jose State vs Auburn in Auburn, Ala. on Saturday, Oct. 3, 2015. Zach Bland/Auburn Athletics

Alabama Launchpad boosted high-tech startups with nearly $650,000 in 2015

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Expert assesses Christmas day tornado damage in Birmingham

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Alabama Power crews converge on Birmingham following Christmas tornado, storms

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Alabama Power restores service as tornado victims pick up pieces in Birmingham

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Gov. Robert Bentley visits tornado-torn Birmingham, praises Alabama Power

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Alabama Power hydro teams work to soften blow of major rain events

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Heavy rains pushing up Alabama Power lakes to well above summer levels

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Alabama Power opens spillway gates at dams following huge rains, storms

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Alabama Power continues operating spillway gates at Coosa River dams

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Storm damage, flooding cancels Oak Mountain Festival of Lights

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Still time to enjoy some Birmingham drive-through Christmas lights

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Mountain Brook church’s Christmas cheer reaches Birmingham’s inner city

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See why tomato pie at Carlile’s is on 100 Dishes to Eat in Alabama Before You Die

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Alabama preschoolers’ parents get help to grow their little learners

UAB researchers look for relationship between eye movement and the brain to help diagnose and treat concussions

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Alabama homeowners spent around $2 billion home improvements during 2015

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New FHA rules could give boost to condo sales

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FHLBank gives boost to six Alabama affordable housing projects

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November home sales in Montgomery increase 8 percent over last year

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Huntsville
November home sales rocket up 19 percent over 2014

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Tuscaloosa November year-to-date home sales up 9 percent over last year

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Gulf Coast condo sales enjoy rare November uptick in 2015

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November home sales in Lee County up 29 percent over last year

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Shoals November home sales up 5 percent over last year

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November home sales in Morgan County up 20 percent over last year

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November home sales in Alabama’s Wiregrass unchanged from last year

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Baldwin County November year-to-date home sales up 12 percent over 2014

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Gadsden November year-to-date sales up 19 percent from last year

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Marshall County November home sales up 14 percent over last year

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Cullman November home sales up 10 percent over last year

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Lake Martin November home sales up 7 percent over last year

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Lake Martin ‘waterfront’ home sales up 19 percent over last year in November

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Merry Christmas from the Alabama News Center!

| 1:40 pm December 25, 2015

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Christmas lights aren’t the only thing making life brighter these days. Sharing some of our favorite good news stories from around the state this past week from our friends at Alabama NewsCenter seems like a perfect way to wish you a Merry Christmas!

We are putting our weekly roundup of stories from the Alabama News Center on a dedicated page today because the blog is in high traffic mode in anticipation of severe weather.

Click here to read all the good news!

Good News From the Alabama News Center!

| 9:31 am December 25, 2015

Christmas lights aren’t the only thing making life brighter these days. Sharing some of our favorite good news stories from around the state this past week from our friends at Alabama NewsCenter seems like a perfect way to wish you a Merry Christmas!

Regions Center is Birmingham’s most visible sign of the holidays

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Christmas story brings light to the dark depths of DeSoto Caverns

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See 110,000 twinkling holiday lights at winter wonderland in Trussville

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Christmas on the River: A community labor of love and light

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A football game, dancing stars and holiday lights highlight Can’t Miss Alabama

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Todd family takes Alabama syrup-making tradition to the seventh degree

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Raise your vote for the MoonPie drop in Mobile

Moonpie over Mobile - 2010

Moonpie over Mobile – 2010

‘Grease’ is the word for Birmingham’s Jordan Fisher

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2015 was blockbuster year for Alabama economic development

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NASA’s Alabama hub moves closer to 3-D printed rocket engine

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Mobile-based Austal USA to christen future USS Omaha Saturday amid chatter of LCS cuts

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Mobile’s Austal USA awarded Navy ship support contract worth up to $198 million

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Alabama Bright Lights: Nancy and Tony Kurre’s Bright House shines in many ways

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2015 Alabama Professor of the Year Michael Flowers not done yet at Birmingham-Southern

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UAB School of Dentistry gives Mykiria Mitchell reason to smile

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UAB Women and Infants Center celebrates anniversary with lifesaving scrubs repurposed as art

\Close-up of Lillis Taylor (Artist-In-Residence, Alys Robinson Stephens Center) is teaching quilting to patients and families in UAB's Women and Infants Center as part of UAB's Institute for Arts in Medicine (AIM), 2014.

The House Special from Cosmo’s Pizza rates as one of the 100 Dishes to Eat in Alabama Before You Die

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Montgomery’s Camellia Bowl matches experience of Ohio against new arrival Appalachian State

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GoDaddy Bowl pits Georgia Southern against Bowling Green in Mobile

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New coal ash and water rules could cost Alabama Power customers plenty

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Be prepared for possible severe storms Wednesday through Thursday morning

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Alabama Power prepared for today’s severe weather

WorkingCrewVisualsforNewsCenter-P-5059-MegMcKinney: Mountain Brook, AL: Alabama Power crews remove and replace utility poles, clear broken cables, and replace, in wooded area of 18 Eden Circle.

ACRE Corporate Cabinet headlines 2015 subcontractor awards

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Birmingham November year-to-date residential sales up 6 percent over last year

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Mobile area home sales during November rose 6.3 percent over last year

Avenue of Oaks - Spring Hill College

November home sales in Montgomery increase 8 percent over last year

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Athens area November home sales up 7 percent over last year

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Calhoun County November area home sales up 20 percent over last year

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Phenix City November year-to-date home sales up 3 percent over last year

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The Social Media Dilemma

| 8:41 am December 24, 2015

Times have changed; prior to any significant severe weather or winter storm threat, I spend long hours working social media, posting updates on what people can expect, and answering questions. Countless hundreds of questions. I am glad to do it; that is why I am here. And, I am honored people ask me.

My Facebook page “post reach” has exceeded 12 million over the past five days. Remarkable.

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So here is the problem… when the event is taking place, after I post an update, pointing people to this blog where the posts have deep detail and information you won’t find anywhere else, immediately the comments go like this…

“What about”… followed by the name of a community. Jasper, Cullman, Wedowee, Reform, Northport, Greensboro, Oneonta, Heflin, Sylacauga, Fayette, Rockford, Haleyville, Brent, Millport, Eutaw, Talladega, Pell City, Centre… and I could go on and on and on.

People basically are asking for an individual briefing just for them as opposed to reading the blog. The problem with that… if I did individual briefings, I would spend 24 hours a day updating a few hundred people, not allowing me time for TV, the Internet, or commercial radio, where I reach literally hundreds of thousands. It makes no sense, and it can’t happen.

We work extremely hard to make our blog posts easy to read, relatively short, very descriptive, and with easy to use maps where anyone can see their community and understand what to expect. I spend way, way too much time pasting in links to blog posts in response to the individual briefing requests across all social media platforms.

If you are reading this, of course, this message isn’t for you. But, please be our ambassador and remind people to “READ THE BLOG”!