Saturday, March 31, 2012

#mSpotter program allows Mid-South residents to submit storm reports via Twitter

On Monday night, March 19, at the Agricenter in East Memphis, about 150 people turned out to learn how to be volunteer storm spotters for the National Weather Service.  Following the two-hour training session, during which NWS personnel described what to look for in a severe storm and how to report it back to the NWS office, meteorologist Erik Proseus invited those who had Twitter accounts to stay for a "bonus" training session on the brand-new #mSpotter storm reporting program.  About 40 individuals listened as Erik described how social media can be used to further the mission of the NWS, that is to "protect life and property."  While conventional methods of submitting storm reports to the NWS consist primarily of a phone call to the local office or submitting the report via a web form, #mSpotter allows those with Twitter accounts to send in their reports using their social media accounts.

The new program was designed to mirror a similar program (#tSpotter) in middle TN that has been highly-successful in the few months since it commenced under the oversight of Nashville attorney David Drobny, himself an avid weather enthusiast.  The program works by having a "middle man" - in the case of #mSpotter that role is filled by - monitor incoming storm reports from the Twitter-sphere around Memphis that are tagged with the #mSpotter hashtag and then pass them on to NWS-Memphis via a chat function utilized by all NWS offices across the country.  #mSpotter encourages reports that are geo-tagged by the submitter's smartphone to allow for exact location information, as well as a picture of the event (i.e., hail, wind damage, flooding). This allows the "tweeted report" to contain exact information on the location and type of severe event that sometimes can be subjective or unclear (for instance an intersection that is not well-known).

#mSpotter reports will use primarily the same severe weather reporting criteria as traditional storm reporting: tornado/funnel clouds, 1/2" of larger hail, 50 mph wind or stronger, very heavy rain or flooding, weather-related structural damage, downed trees or power lines, and winter precipitation. In addition to the type of event, location, and time, as well as a geo-tag and picture if available, tweets should include the #mSpotter hashtag so that they are easily retrieved by MWN and can be relayed quickly to the NWS.  The goal of #mSpotter is to provide the National Weather Service with reliable reports of severe weather more quickly than conventional means, thereby allowing meteorologists to more efficiently and quickly warn those ahead of the storm what severe weather threats the storm contains.

Anyone with a Twitter account in the 8-county Memphis metro area is welcome to submit storm reports via #mSpotter.  We encourage you to read over the #mSpotter page on prior to submitting any reports so that you are comfortable with how and what to send.  Thanks for being a part of this community-based public service!

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