National Weather Service United States Department of Commerce

Severe weather can occur anytime of the year, day or night, across the United States, causing billions of dollars in damage and possibly numerous injuries or fatalities.  The primary mission of the National Weather Service (NWS) is to protect lives and property through the timely issuance of watches and warnings when hazardous weather is impending or imminent.

“The National Weather Service in (insert city/town name here) has issued a Severe Thunderstorm Warning for the following counties until 5:00 PM.”

Whether the threat is from a severe thunderstorm, a flash flood, or a tornado, the quick dissemination and retrieval of warning information for these hazards is vital to the public. As mobile and smartphone technology has improved over the past several years, it has become another useful method to receive life-saving information from these alerts. Watch and warning information can still be heard on  NOAA All Hazards Weather Radio and local radio, or seen scrolling across the bottom of the television screen from local broadcast stations. As technology continues to improve, the list of resources for instant communication will continue to grow.  

Today, social networking platforms such as Facebook and Twitter have made their way towards the top of the list of widely used news resources.  

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NWS offices across the country utilize these popular media platforms on a daily basis for not only raising awareness of life-threatening weather, but also for weather forecasts, weather-related education and outreach. “Social media is one of our most powerful tools when it comes to talking about severe weather with the public”, said Rick Smith, the Warning Coordination Meteorologist at the National Weather Service office in Norman, Oklahoma. “Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and other platforms give us a direct link to the people that we serve, and allow us to not only share information to help people prepare for and deal with severe weather, but also to gather storm reports from the public.” 

One of the most important elements of the forecasts and warnings from the NWS is the call to action for the recipients of the message. Knowing what to do and how to react swiftly, safely, and responsibly are a large part of the education and outreach of the NWS when it comes to severe weather alerts.   Throughout the year on quiet, fair-weather days or before a severe weather event, NWS meteorologists educate the public on what societal impacts can be expected from severe weather and what safety precautions should be taken. If a Tornado Warning is issued for your area and you are in your vehicle, what action should you take to protect you or your family? If you are outside at a youth soccer game or any other outdoor sporting event and a severe thunderstorm warning has been issued, where should you take shelter? Knowing the answers to these questions and being able to react quickly and responsibly could make the difference between life and death.

The NWS utilizes social media as an additional resource to quickly disseminate information about severe weather watches or warnings. Social media outlets  are also great for retrieving reports of severe weather information from the public. This information can be extremely useful to meteorologists both during and after an event to verify the existence of the hazard.

This is where ground truth information is crucial, whether it comes from emergency managers, first responders, local media or the public. “Reports come from a variety of sources during severe weather” said Smith. “Those reports are used to help us make critical warning decisions, and to let people in the path of the storm know what they can expect. And with severe storms, each minute and second of warning is precious time to allow people to get ready.”

Social Media platforms like  Facebook or Twitter have the ability to share and retrieve weather information via photos and videos. NWS forecasters can see storm damage and pictures of hail, which can lead to not only verification of the severe weather hazard but aide forecasters is warning people upstream of any potential ongoing severe weather threat

Leveraging social media during severe weather can have its drawbacks. False or purposely inaccurate severe weather reports inevitably make it into the fold. On many occasions, pictures or videos are shared from events that happened months to a few years ago. Smith says, “False reports can cause delays in the flow of information, and may cause us to release inaccurate, conflicting or confusing information, all of which reduce the effectiveness of those life-saving warnings.” Contributing weather information is most appreciated and useful, but only when it’s truth.

While storm reports are an important piece to the success of the mission of the NWS, when severe weather is imminent or occurring, it is more important to seek shelter until storms pass, than it is to take and transmit reports to the NWS. Although the NWS is extremely appreciative of storm photos and videos, safety is the first and only priority when storm clouds threaten.

To follow your local NWS office on Facebook and Twitter, visit and by searching for your local forecast, your local office will be displayed and from there you can visit their webpage and follow the links to their social media.