Photo credit: Flickr/Brandon Grasley
At times, meteorologists get a bad rap, especially those that work in media. For example, in the days leading up to a big weather event — like a blizzard, hurricane or tornado outbreak — meteorologists use every means necessary to get the word out and sometimes that rubs people the wrong way. And believe me, we see your discontent on social media, in emails and hear it in your phone calls. It’s a part of the business that every meteorologist grows to accept, because we love what we do.
That said, some people on the Internet have taken “weather hype” to an extreme level; they use fear-instilling tactics and non-scientific analyses to push people to their obscure social and digital media pages. As a result, we have the rise of the “weather troll.” Most of these people have no formal education or practical experience in meteorology; often times, they’re weather enthusiasts turned self-anointed experts. And the fact that many of them garner an intense and loyal following is problematic for the public at-large and legitimate meteorologists (see the above image for our collective reaction). We often find ourselves playing the role of soother and hand-holder, helping to calm the nerves of weather-weary viewers and that’s why we’re here.
But, whether it’s for financial gain, fulfilling a narcissistic predisposition or outright nefariousness, laypeople that pass themselves off as a reputable weather source don’t have your best interests at heart — they want to take advantage of your worries.
Just this week, the National Hurricane Center took to their Facebook page to refute an egregiously inaccurate forecast published by a particularly temperamental faux meteorologist. Here’s what they said:
“Now that we have entered the heart of the hurricane season, there is an increase in the Internet hype around disturbances that NHC is monitoring. Given the long lead times involved, the wide range of possible outcomes, and the historically poor and erratic performance of guidance models with weak disturbances, there is no reliable science to forecast potential impacts to specific locations that would be more than a week away.”
So how can you spot these meteorological scam artists?
Here are a few simple tips:
• NEVER trust unverified Internet sources: Despite what your crazy uncle tells you, not everything on the Internet is true.
• If their content seems outlandish and far-fetched, it probably is.
• Fake meteorologists often feed into conspiracy theories and junk science, never take those stories at face value.
• Ask them questions via email or social media: Ask about their background, education and how they formulate their forecasts; people with a real meteorology background will be happy to answer any questions you may have. Conversely, if the person becomes defensive or abusive, report them and move on.
• People that seem unstable on social media, probably are in real life. Do not engage.
• Go to your tried and true sources of weather information: The National Weather Service, local meteorologists and, of course, WeatherNation meteorologists.
Education is Key
Educating yourself on the type of meteorological information you consume, and the source from which that information is gleaned, is paramount. Part of the motto of the National Weather Service is “the protection of life and property,” and many non-NWS meteorologists also feel passionately that’s their main job function as well.
Education is also a key to reducing hyper-sensitivity to high-impact weather events. And while it’s important to remain weather-aware and prepared for the next big event, the more you know about weather the less you’ll be afraid of weather. And when you’re less afraid of weather, these “weather trolls” can’t capitalize on fear you don’t have.
We do our job because we love helping and interacting with people, it’s our passion. And if you ever have any questions — at all — WeatherNation meteorologists are happy to answer them on-air or online.