Life and death decisions made at National Weather Service Operations Center

Social media opens new ways to communicate weather to public
Life and death decisions made at National Weather Service Operations Center
National Weather Service meteorologist Paul Collar

The decisions made at the National Weather Service Operations Center can save lives and this week the meteorologists there have had a lot of decisions to make.

A series of severe thunderstorms started rolling through Wisconsin on Monday night and brought with them a danger to the public.

“Everyone knows that what we do is life and death, but we need to get the warnings out because that gets the ball rolling,” said Paul Collar, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service.

How those warning are issued has changed over the years. Social media now allows the NWS to communicate quickly with a large number of people. That communication flows both ways as the community is now able to communicate with the meteorologists on what the weather is doing.

“We have the meteorology, the atmosphere, we have the radar data and then there is the outside world, what is actually happening, the ground truth. We have ham radio operators that are out there and people that are storm chasers and spotters, but social media opens it up to everybody,” Collar said.

While social media is an effective way to communicate with the community, Collar said the weather radio is still the best way to warn the community. When severe weather hits in the middle of the night the weather radio can alert people. Collar believes a weather radio is as essential to a home as smoke and carbon monoxide detectors.

June is a very active month for severe weather in Wisconsin and the meteorologists understand issuing warnings to the public is central to their mission.

“Oh, absolutely, there is no question about that. We know our No. 1 responsibility is to issue warnings and to protect life and property. That gets to the core of our mission,” Collar said.