National Weather Service to ‘tweet’ updates

Published 4:52 pm Tuesday, June 5, 2012

In a world where up-to-the minute information is available at the touch of a button, the National Weather Service in Calera is using social media to help people be more aware of the weather around them.

The NWS has now established its own Twitter page, which will provide information like tornado, thunderstorm and flash flood warnings.

Recently, the weather service has been putting out warnings through automated services, but it will take over its own feed on the Twitter page.

“When we [would] put out warnings, certain services pick them up and send them out automated,” said meteorologist Kevin Laws.

While the automated services served their purpose, Laws said the organization felt the need to get information to people quicker.

“It’s not been in the works too long,” he said. “Basically, the automated system was great, but we wanted to step up our game. We wanted to create our own page so you can see the warning for yourself with text.”

By subscribing to the feed, a person will be able to not only get a text update on severe weather, but also a picture that will display the area in question.

“We cover 39 counties,” Laws said. “From Hackleburg in Marion County all the way to Troy, and Livingston to Phenix City. Any warnings in those areas, people will be notified.”

Laws went on to say that while the Twitter page is an excellent way to stay “situationally aware” of the weather, it should not be people’s only means of weather updates.

The NWS encourages staying alert and paying attention to other means of tracking storms, such as TV and radio.

“It’s another way to confirm,” he said. “People can see the warning; it gives them a heads up.”

While the NWS hopes the Twitter page will help keep people informed about the weather, they also hope that citizens can help keep them informed as well. By using the technology, people in areas affected by severe weather can send updates back to meteorologists.

“We have a hashtag,” said Laws. “It’s #alwx. We’re encouraging reports on the weather. If you send it through the hashtag, we’re monitoring it.”

For those skeptical about the use of social media to possibly save lives, Laws offered up this story that came from the tornadoes that struck Verbena this past spring:

“There was a lady in Verbena whose son got our warning from Facebook, and it ended up saving their lives,” he said. “It wasn’t from radio or TV, they got it through social media. I thought that was cool; it was the first I heard of social media saving a life. You can’t discredit it.”

To subscribe to the National Weather Service on Twitter, simply follow their handle, @NWSBirmingham.