Addressing All of the Phony Facebook Meteorologists
Facebook is all abuzz about an epic blizzard hitting our area next week... if you're getting your weather information from Facebook, I have a bridge you can buy in Brooklyn.
Weather is one of those things that everyone on the planet has to deal with. It's capable of giving you an amazing day at the beach, or as we saw with Sandy, it can also move your house a block and a half away from the ocean. Because weather is such a common denominator of life, everyone pays attention to it. And since everyone pays attention to it, weather forecasting, sadly, has now become a poorly officiated game to see how much of a tizzy you can be put into every time a storm (or a potential storm or even just the thought of a storm) is headed our way.
While TV news broadcasts have been hyping weather for years, the internet has made the situation immeasurably worse. Real meteorologists make weather forecasts based on computer models -- basically, a bunch of big, fancy computers give their best guess as to what will happen over the next several days; meteorologists look at all of the models and they put together the five or seven-day forecast you see on TV. Most of the time, their forecasts are correct. However, we all know forecasts are subject to change because weather forecasting models are not perfect. When we're supposed to get snow and we don't see snowflake number one, that means the models were wrong.
I'm telling you all of this because -- without knowing the source -- Facebook can be a horrifically bad way to get weather information. There are so many phony weather people on Facebook, it's not even funny anymore. Any wanna-be pseudo-meteorologist can start a Facebook page, post some raw weather maps with their hyped-up "in-depth analysis," that map gets shared a bunch of times, and, like today, everyone on Facebook is talking about a mega-blizzard happening days and days from now. Did a meteorologist -- who studied everything from atmospheric thermodynamics to calculus in college -- make that original post or was it some kid in their parent's basement?
There might be a snow storm next week and there might not be a snow storm next week -- we'll have to wait and see. This far in advance, there is no way to know. What was posted on Facebook is one of many raw computer models that need to be interpreted by professional meteorologists over the next week and a half.
How bad is the hype? One meteorologist at the National Weather Service office in Mount Holly tweeted this today -- and bravo for saying it:
Preying on public fears to drive up Facebook likes and web site hits is irresponsible.
Dan Skeldon, who does a great job at NBC 40, said this yesterday on Facebook about the blizzard hype:
Since this Facebook site posted this map, it has gone viral, which is the original posters main goal I presume. I won't even identify the poster, as I don't want to give him any additional publicity. There's absolutely no meteorological validity to this idea at this point. It's 10 days out...and we all have seen how computer models struggle one day in advance of a storm...let alone 10 days. The past two storms have showed us that.
Kate Bilo, meteorologist at CBS-3 in Philadelphia says almost the same thing:
There is a map drifting around Facebook and Twitter showing over 30″ of snow in some areas. Please do not mistake this map for an actual weather prediction. The map is inaccurate, and frankly irresponsible. Not only is there no way to forecast snowfall amounts for a storm that is a full 10 days out, but predicting a crippling, historic storm like that in the long-range period only serves to feed on fear.
Like anything else, you have to know the source of the information. Don't buy into the hype simply because someone shared a picture of something on Facebook.