The Ottumwa Courier

Community News Network

January 17, 2013

NWS adds photo link for storm images

OTTUMWA — For a profession that relies on technology, Jeff Johnson admits forecasters haven't quite kept pace with changes.

It used to take hours or days for word to spread of weather events. Accurate descriptions of events were comparatively rare. Getting a photo of a tornado or flash flood depended on professional storm chasers being in the right place or pure luck if someone happened to have a camera.

Now, virtually everyone has a camera capable of getting pictures and video clips on their cell phones. The amount of information available has increased exponentially. And the National Weather Service is moving to take advantage.

Johnson, a warning coordination meteorologist with the National Weather Service, said storm spotters trained last year were encouraged to submit photos or reports using text messages and Twitter.

"We weren't really sure how it would be received," Johnson said.

The response was stronger than anyone expected. The next step seemed obvious: Put a link so people can submit storm photos directly to the Des Moines office through its website.

The National Weather Service still depends on storm spotters. A good spotter can give detailed, accurate information quickly. But there's no substitute for a meteorologist being able to see the scene for himself.

Photos allow that to happen and, if they're sent from a smartphone, can be in almost real time. And it allows the meteorologist to examine small details, things that may be missed in the adrenaline of a chase.

"It adds confidence from what we receive from the spotter," said Johnson. And the metadata, details like where and when a photo is taken by a digital camera, can be just as valuable. "Basically, with storms, as long as a photo has a location and time, a picture can be worth a thousand words."

Digital uploads as part of the response to emerging severe weather is still, as Johnson says, "in its infancy." But the initial results are encouraging. And benefits go beyond the immediate need for weather warnings, since the photos and video clips can be used in training sessions to show new spotters what to look for in the field.

While most people are more concerned with snow right now, the National Weather Service is starting to gear up for severe weather season. Last year was an abnormally quiet season, but that means little for 2013. Training for storm spotters begins next month.

And this year they'll have a new tool for keeping forecasters informed.

1
Text Only
Community News Network
  • Why a see-through mouse is a big deal for scientists

    A group of Caltech researchers announced in Cell Thursday their success in making an entire organism transparent. Unfortunately, this isn't any kind of "Invisible Man" scenario: The organism in question is a mouse, and the mouse in question is quite dead.

    July 31, 2014

  • Screen Shot 2014-07-31 at 2.12.55 PM.png VIDEO: Five-year-old doesn't want her brother to grow up

    Sadie, an adorable 5-year-old from Phoenix, wants her brother to stay young forever, so much so that her emotional reaction to the thought of him getting older has drawn more than 10 million views on YouTube.

    July 31, 2014 1 Photo

  • lockport-police.jpg Police department turns to Facebook for guidance on use of 'negro'

    What seems to be a data entry mistake by a small town police department in western New York has turned into a social media firestorm centered around the word "negro" and whether it's acceptable to use in modern society.

    July 31, 2014 3 Photos

  • The virtues of lying

    Two computational scientists set out recently to simulate the effects of lying in a virtual human population. Their results, published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B, show that lying is essential for the growth of a cohesive social network.

    July 31, 2014

  • Survey results in legislation to battle sexual assault on campus

    Missouri U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill joined a bipartisan group of senators Wednesday to announce legislation that aims to reduce the number of sexual assaults on college campuses.

    July 30, 2014

  • An alarming threat to airlines that no one's talking about

    It's been an abysmal year for the flying public. Planes have crashed in bad weather, disappeared over the Indian Ocean and tragically crossed paths with anti-aircraft missiles over Ukraine.

    July 30, 2014

  • Sharknado.jpg Sharknado 2 set to attack viewers tonight

    In the face of another "Sharknado" TV movie (the even-more-inane "Sharknado 2: The Second One," premiering Wednesday night on Syfy), there isn't much for a critic to say except to echo what the characters themselves so frequently scream when confronted by a great white shark spinning toward them in a funnel cloud:
    "LOOK OUT!!"

    July 30, 2014 1 Photo

  • 20140729-AMX-GIVHAN292.jpg Spanx stretches into new territory with jeans, but promised magic is elusive

    The Spanx empire of stomach-flattening, thigh-slimming, jiggle-reducing foundation garments has expanded to include what the brand promises is the mother of all body-shaping miracles: Spanx jeans.

    July 29, 2014 1 Photo

  • Medical marijuana opponents' most powerful argument is at odds with a mountain of research

    Opponents of marijuana legalization are rapidly losing the battle for hearts and minds. Simply put, the public understands that however you measure the consequences of marijuana use, the drug is significantly less harmful to users and society than tobacco or alcohol.

    July 29, 2014

  • linda-ronstadt.jpg Obama had crush on First Lady of Rock

    Linda Ronstadt remained composed as she walked up to claim her National Medal of Arts at a White House ceremony Monday afternoon.

    July 29, 2014 1 Photo

Obituaries
Record
Facebook
AP National