Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Social media becomes leader in weather alerts

The days after the disaster may sound like something out of a doomsday novel: pitch-black darkness, eerie silence, all followed by frightened screams.

Sarah Jennings, a senior majoring in English, spent the moments before the storm in her bathtub, streaming ABC 33/40 weather updates from her laptop and frantically trying to stay in touch with loved ones.

At some point during the disaster, the power went out and Jennings sat in darkness listening to the sounds of the tornado.

“I remember hearing really loud, banging sounds,” she said. “The last I’d seen [on ABC 33/40] was that the tornado was hovering above the stadium. It was a little bit of a blessing and a little bit of a curse that I was able to know where [the tornado] was because that made it more terrifying; the whole time I was just picturing it leaving the stadium and coming to my apartment.”

When it was finally over, Jennings said she, like many others, desperately tried to contact her friends and family amidst the silence and darkness.

“About an hour later I started to get text messages in, but I couldn’t send any out,” Jennings said. “I didn’t have any cell phone reception. I remember going to Publix to find non-perishable food items later. Everyone was there charging their cell phones. There was a long line because they only had one or two plugs.”

Jennings made her way to the home of a friend who had electricity and a working Internet connection. There, she posted a Facebook status to let everyone know she was all right.

Stories like Jennings’ demonstrate the importance of social media. She used it both to track the tornado, and to communicate with her loved one afterward.

As use of social media has grown, so has its impact on severe weather coverage. James Spann, chief meteorologist for ABC 33/40, said tornado coverage has become more aggressive.

“During historic tornado outbreaks in the 1970s, most TV stations barely interrupted programming for a minute or so for warnings; now we stay on the air, in some cases for many hours, during severe weather events” Spann said. “And, with the multiple platforms available like streaming video and social media, it is only better.”

James Paul Dice, chief meteorologist for FOX 6 WBRC said social media is critical in the warning process.

“Many people live on Facebook and Twitter,” Dice said. “I have people who probably hardly ever watch me on television who get my weather information via social-media.  Plus – we’re not on-air 24/7.  Social-media allows us to push weather information to people all times of the day and night.  It also helps us target younger folks who might not watch scheduled newscasts as frequently.”

Social media has become an asset in maintaining contact with community members after a disaster. The Tuscaloosa Area Volunteer Reception Center, a non-profit organization working to relieve storm-affected zones, often uses social media sites like Facebook and Twitter to spread their message and attract community volunteers.

Meredith Lynch, the public relations coordinator of Incident Command for the City of Tuscaloosa, said appropriate use of social media has been a key component in getting messages across to members of the community.

Lynch worked in the Mayor’s office after last year’s tornado and actively used Facebook and Twitter to communicate with residents. Soon after, the office received an offer from Lamar Billboards that would allow them to tweet messages directly to electronic billboards.

“When we would type a message that was less than 80 characters with ‘#tus’ at the end and it would go directly to the billboards,” Lynch said. “We could directly tell the community where storm shelters were.”

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