NWS office calls chaser tornado reports false, social media feud ensues

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Tim Marquis

I think everyone covered most of the main points but I'll leave this caveat. If you're chasing I understand that social media can be an easier platform to submit a report but I've always found that if you are submitting a report to do the following: a) Physically pick up the phone and dial the NWS. You can refer a lot more information than a tweet and b) Talk to them calmly by stating who you are, your approximate location, your approximate distance and direction where you're looking and what you're seeing. I think this incident brought to a head a growing problem with social media reporting and the NWS. I know for a fact that there have been people several states away submitting reports and fake photos to the NWS during an event (alot more than you'd think). By calling, it doesnt mean you shouldnt submit a social media report as well. Normally a NWS office will take my report and then ask for me to send pictures as soon as I can.

Storing the NWS office number you're chasing in on your phone is always something I do before a chase so I dont have to google it while its ongoing. Also, it shocks me that there are people both in broadcasting and the chaser community that refuse to visit or get to know someone at the local NWS. Take the time to sit down and chat with them for 5 minutes so that they know you, even if you are a chaser who crosses state lines. Lastly, calling a NWS office that borders one that the event is taking place where they know who you are can go a long way too since they can then refer the report on as a credible source to the main office.

I think if more chasers followed the above advice, we'd mitigate this problem.
 
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Warren Faidley

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Social media is the worse possible severe weather reporting method unless the system incorporates a method of confirming the reliability and accuracy of the information and who is reporting it.

Social media is good for official agencies to distribute confirmed information, but using an open, uncontrolled reporting system is filled with danger. In addition, the NWS does not have time to be filtering through multiple social media sites and reports trying to determine what is real, or not. Mr. McGowan did the right thing, but the NWS was being cautious based on past experiences and maybe a lack of data to support such a report.

Social media is overrun with bogus forecasts and "fake" reports, many designed for publicity and "likes", not accuracy. Shame on the NWS and other authorities for not calling these individuals out by name when it happens. The lack of attention has lead to a untrustworthy system based more on entertainment and self-promotion than safety. Time and time again I've seen chasers post urgent warnings regarding major, deadly tornadoes.... but when you study the timeline, the reports came precious minutes after they took the time to post images and comments for publicity purposes. (This does not apply to this event).

The ONLY way to fix this is to go back to the spotter ID system used years ago where experienced spotters and chasers were issued an ID number. This worked extremely well with ham radio operators. There is no better feeling than to call in a tornado report and hear the warning tones seconds later.

W.
 
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May 25, 2014
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<-----Commercial radio technician here.

One of the most surefire ways to ensure the reports you are getting are from a trusted, trained, and reliable source will probably never be used.

The NWS, and by extension, the Skywarn program, is a Federal program. The Federal Government has multiple UHF P25 trunked networks that blanket large swaths of the nation, and have emergency power, failsoft, redundant backups, etc. How hard would it be to assign new talkgroups to every WFO on the existing system, install base radios on those talkgroups in every WFO, and have the system administrators greenlight any trained Skywarn spotter in the country to have a user ID on JUST those NWS talkgroups? The spotter would be responsible for buying their own radio, but could get access to the system.

No social media nonsense, no 7-minute delay in warning issuance, no need to study and take a test, no need to depend on ham radio clubs full of 70-year-old men who may or may not allow the use of their repeater for Skywarn, no questioning if the person giving the report is legit.

There is no down side. The spotters would only have access to the NWS talkgroups, and wouldn't be able to hear to talk on stuff like the military channels or the DEA or FBI, and you can't hack the system as an outsider.
 

rdale

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The Federal Government has multiple UHF P25 trunked networks that blanket large swaths of the nation, and have emergency power, failsoft, redundant backups, etc.
Ehh - no. There may be some in urban areas, but certainly not the AMA panhandle.

How hard would it be to assign new talkgroups to every WFO on the existing system, install base radios on those talkgroups in every WFO, and have the system administrators greenlight any trained Skywarn spotter in the country to have a user ID on JUST those NWS talkgroups? The spotter would be responsible for buying their own radio, but could get access to the system.
At $1500+ per radio, I don't see [m]any spotters let alone chasers popping this out on their Christmas list. Plus as mentioned, it doesn't cover most of Chaser Alley. SpotterNetwork is the way to go. This is 2015, not 2000 :)
 
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As long as Twitter doesn't try going the Facebook route with their feed, it's already a great platform that has potential for these types of reporting issues. Each NWS office can simply follow only the chasers they know to be reputable/trustworthy. Then bam, the reports are filtered. There again is the question of how does one get on that 'list' and/or how does each office know who to trust - but it seems that with the small number of chasers that are out there reporting often (or known locally) it shouldn't be too difficult to pull off.
 
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May 18, 2012
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when my cell phone does the same thing
Right on Ben. Last I checked, even in the local Skywarn talks they tell you to call the 800 number to give your reports. Has worked fine for me over the years. Heck, the NWS placefile in GR3 displays that number works great. In the end its whatever works best for you. If they decide to to issue a warning, that's on them.
 
May 25, 2014
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rdale said:
At $1500+ per radio, I don't see [m]any spotters let alone chasers popping this out on their Christmas list. Plus as mentioned, it doesn't cover most of Chaser Alley. SpotterNetwork is the way to go. This is 2015, not 2000 :)
I buy and sell used gear all day. I'm looking at a UHF XTS3000 with a Federal flash, capable of their systems, sitting right here on my desk. It cost me $120. As far as coverage, give it time. The Feds are currently working on building a nationwide 700MHz trunk. In any case, where there is coverage, it could be an excellent tool.

As much as people want to hold up cell phones and social media over radio these days, they all too often forget how fast those cell towers can be non-functional, especially if the tornado you are spotting just look out the power to that site, and there isn't a functioning redundant power system, or the site gets damaged or wiped. Also, social media creates the exact problem we are seeing that caused this little public scuffle. A modification of the old saying - "If you see something, say something, and we will promptly ignore it".

Turnaround time is important, too. Social media/internet reports come in, someone at a desk at the WFO looks at it, then has to try to verify it on radar, figure out who it is, etc. The warning comes 5-8 minutes later, if it comes at all. Under this solution, that I've been proposing for years, they wouldn't be on that segment of airtime if they weren't trained, checked, vetted, and granted. The WFO will know "Hey, it came in over Federal radio, it's probably the real deal" and issue the warning within a minute or two.

Radio. It's not the newest thing. It's not modern, digital, graphical sexiness with a computer in the palm of your hand. It doesn't have hashtags and trendy flair. It does, however, work when it's needed, and works well. It's reliable, and is it's own reason for why it still exists in this modern age. I don't discourage use of newer tech, for certain, but nothing will ever replace land mobile radio for what it does.
 

rdale

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I buy and sell used gear all day. I'm looking at a UHF XTS3000 with a Federal flash, capable of their systems, sitting right here on my desk. It cost me $120.
EBay is not an acceptable alternative in the grand scheme :) You aren't getting on FirstNet with a $120 radio.

As far as coverage, give it time. The Feds are currently working on building a nationwide 700MHz trunk. In any case, where there is coverage, it could be an excellent tool.
I expect that to come online in the next 10-20 years. In any case, I have not heard one peep of FirstNet being expanded outside of first responders.

Turnaround time is important, too. Social media/internet reports come in, someone at a desk at the WFO looks at it, then has to try to verify it on radar, figure out who it is, etc. The warning comes 5-8 minutes later, if it comes at all. Under this solution, that I've been proposing for years, they wouldn't be on that segment of airtime if they weren't trained, checked, vetted, and granted. The WFO will know "Hey, it came in over Federal radio, it's probably the real deal" and issue the warning within a minute or two.
1) They better not say "Hey, it came in over Federal radio, so let's not verify an just pop a TOR box." 2) Using the Internet puts the report directly ON the radar screen with an exact lat/long and direction the feature is from the reporter. You don't get any faster than that...

In any case, as Ben and others who do this far more than me have pointed out, adding another comm tool to the arsenal is a non-starter.
 
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And this type of thinking is exactly why I said "it will probably never happen". There are people who think that newer is always better, and people who absolutely fear any kind of change, and very few people that see both sides of the coin in between.

Voice seems to have taken a back seat to flashy internet whiz-bangs, and that probably won't change until it inexplicably fails one day. Unfortunately, that type of a failure will likely result in casualties, but we will see.

As far as FirstNet is concerned, I've already seen some talk of leasing talkgroups to corporations in exchange for funding, so providing talkgroups for one of it's own agencies sounds like something that could definitely be done.

In any case, I have always felt that the best balance of equipment for any industry or discipline to use the new tech that is available, and keep the old tech as a backup for when the new tech fails. WFO's in the Midwest seem to integrate both, fairly well. The problem I can see is with other WFO's centered in trendy cities, where they completely abandon everything old for social media, then get trolled by internetum ad infinitum, and don't trust the reports anymore.
 

rdale

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And this type of thinking is exactly why I said "it will probably never happen". There are people who think that newer is always better, and people who absolutely fear any kind of change, and very few people that see both sides of the coin in between.
No, when something you propose is not a good idea, that's why it'll never happen. It has nothing to do with people who think newer is always better. It has to do with reasons that everyone in this forum so far has supported - there is no need to invest in a radio platform.

The problem I can see is with other WFO's centered in trendy cities, where they completely abandon everything old for social media, then get trolled by internetum ad infinitum, and don't trust the reports anymore.
What the heck is a "trendy city"? I don't know of any WFO that doesn't have a ham radio in it. If you're going to suggest radios, instead of saying that in 20 years we can use FirstNet (which will probably be IP-based by then anyways :) ) why not push that aspect?
 
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I think the only one scared of change is you - Social Media is quite robust and one of the better ways to report in my opinion, and quite public. A radio network has a lot of downfalls including equipment cost, installation, coverage, and just generally voice is kind of annoying to me in the first place. Then you have to add in the extra time to relay your position. All of that can be done in a quick click of a button and a few strokes of a keyboard on Spotter Network. If Spotter Network goes down or even cell phones go down, there is always a HAM radio fall back. Adding another radio seems redundant, unnecessary and downright annoying honestly.
 
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If you can't see the problem with relying solely on social media for your spotter reports, even after longtime pro's like Mr. Faidley enunciate almost in bullet-point format exactly why it's a bad idea, then I don't know what to tell you. The original subject of this thread is a direct example of what happens when WFO's ask for intel via open social media platforms, where anyone can post a report, real or not. For the record, I am opposed to taking reports from the general public over such a platform, but not opposed to more controlled and closed internet platforms, like SN or NWSChat. As far as federal systems and FirstNet, it is an idea. A suggestion and nothing more.

As far as ham radio, it is very useful, in places where it is deployed properly. An example of proper deployment of a Skywarn ham radio network is the Wakefield WFO (AKQ). The Skywarn desk at AKQ, and it's coordinator, have set out Federal ICS205 forms, detailing specific areas of the CWA, which repeaters to use, complete programming info, and uses a wide area APRS system, which tracks and can pinpoint the exact location of a spotter calling a report as it happens. That is proper deployment that took many years to establish. It works so well that most reports during the spring/summer to AKQ come in over the radio as opposed to other methods.

Conversely, if you look at the Pittsburgh WFO (PBZ), you will find a ham radio at a desk that is always turned off. You'll find a ham radio coordinator who has a small group of aging buddies who refuse to go staff the desk during severe weather, refuse to let anyone else join, have not trained net control operators, and a very basic PDF of repeaters by county, many of which are no longer on the air, and the list hasn't been updated in years. As a result, the ham radio program basically collapsed, and is nearly useless. They turned to social media, and fake reports do abound, including a recent incident in which a photo of a factory smoke plume going into a dark cloud was reshared and reported as a tornado hundreds of times. Of course, a dedicated 800 number for Skywarn is used, and they gave it out on facebook to the general public, rendering it as useless as facebook.

It's a matter of finesse. Any tool in the box can be a gamechanger, provided that it's deployed properly and managed skillfully. If you have a coordinator or a WCM that sucks at managing available systems, anything you use to collect information will be worthless, no matter how new or old it is.
 

rdale

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I remember my early Skywarn days when the hams got upset when I used the phone to relay reports from our WSO to the WSFO. We needed to use a 10meter repeater in between Toledo and Cleveland to reach them via radio. As can happen - if a storm was between us, the 10m radio was nearly useless. So I'd call it in with my {gasp} landline from the op desk. From that point on I began to realize why people think hams can be a little.. well...
 
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I've submitted reports via twitter before and sometimes it's acknowledged, other times I'm ignored. I think it depends on the NWS office. Would including a spotter ID number add more validity to a report? There's only so much info you can put in a single tweet. For more urgent reports like a tornado I have always planned to make a phone call. I have all the nearby NWS office phone numbers stored in my phone but I have yet to use them.
 
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I used to run a Skywarn group from about 1997 to 2006, and had problems with the local hams. We'd not be able to place reports because they'd tie up the repeater, droning on and on about what they did that day, dialysis appointments, and (hehehehe hehe he) laughing while keying down for 4 minutes at a time. We were local, so we just rented space on an 800MHz analog Type II business trunk, and bought some radios on ebay. Our spotters would call in from the field, one guy at a desk would phone the NWS' landline, and pass the report. Worked great in the 90's/early 2000's.

I use NWS Chat right now. I might have to try SN.
 
You do not respond in the way McGowan did. You do not call an organization "***holes" and throw a tantrum in the public eye. If you have a problem with someone, handle it in private. Acting professional in the public eye is absolutely necessary, especially when you have such a large following like McGowan.

Second, you do not threaten to "boycott" storm reporting. Whatever happened to this "saving lives" attitude? Chasers are there to report ground truth and, even though there was a disagreement yesterday on the report, that is still your purpose.

Yes, the NWS office should not have called McGowan a liar. But, he has to know how to handle himself.

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I agree with your assessment for the most part, but I doubt this thread would even exist if Dick and his followers hadn't blown up on social media. I don't know Mr McGowan so I might be totally wrong about this, but I seriously doubt he's going to stop making reports. I think he will place public safety above his ego, or at least I hope so. Everything could have been handled better, but at least there is a very good conversation going on right now about how to improve the process.

I'm going to bow out now on this issue because I think people like me have beat the moral and ethical horse to death.
 
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calvinkaskey

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Previous posters have commented on the social media feud so I'll forgo that. What pissed me off was a chaser posted NWSChat logs directly onto social media. It was slightly amusing though that the individual who posted the chat log did so in a public forum almost assuring his quick removal from the program. Storm chasers are a part of the Integrated Warning Team along with broadcast media, emergency management, local spotter groups, and certain VOST elements. Leaking confidential chat logs puts a strain on the trust required for a IWT. As someone who has spent years building up trust with Texas NWS offices as part of my VOST duties I believe the 'leaking' of chat logs was probably the most damaging aspect of this conflict. I hope Dick and the Amarillo office can sit down together and make this a learning experience. I know both Amarillo and Dick have made amends on social media.
The guy that is in the NWS chat is fairly new to the Amarillo CWA, but what is surprising is that he is the WCM (Warning Coordination Meteorologist) for the office now (replaced the one that recently went to another office) meaning he isn't a newbie by any means in regards to being in the NWS.
Do you work for the NWS Bradey Kendrick in Norman? Sorry I've just been seeing your rating history.
 
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Now that things have settled down I'll put in my full thoughts...

Social media is a great way to share PHOTOS to follow up on your initial report. Spotter Network or a direct phone call to the local NWS office is the best way to get your initial report in quickly. Social media is generally used by VOST organizations and the NWS to collect reports from the general public. Generally hail reports, wind damage, flooding, and winter weather are what social media is best used for. When it comes to significant severe weather (tornadoes) usually I'll be much more cautious when passing those reports along with the Integrated Warning Team. There are plenty of morons who enjoy trying to trick folks by posting fake tornado pictures. Some offices are better equipped to handle social media during events. The NWS Fort Worth is one great example since I work with them on many of their events throughout the year. If you're going to use Twitter as a primary reporting platform you need to include the location of the event, time of the event, and if required the direction/distance. Facebook is useless unless you want your report seen hours later and well after the event.

My social media platforms have around 575,000 followers and it wasn't until this past year that I 'built' connections with some of the Texas offices out west. If you want a local office to automatically 'warn on report' you need to build a relationship with them. Whether that is by being a participating member in your local NWS office's activities or by reaching out on social media. There are so many blowdried boobheads out on social media claiming to be 'chasers' that I can understand why offices are skeptical with radical social media reports. Several social media reports came in back on 4/26/15 in North Texas of a 'large tornado' in the afternoon hours west of Stephenville. Turns out those reports were wrong and it was just a wet RFD wrapping around. On the other side of the spectrum you have March 8, 2010 Hammon Tornado incident that involved the OUN office not warning a rare significant cold-core tornado.

Use this event to learn and build a relationship with your local National Weather Service office - or even ones you tend to be in a lot during chase season. Those who participate in the WAS*IS group on Facebook should head over to their thread regarding this incident. There are many great perspectives from both sides of the table.
 
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Warren Faidley

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Over the years, I've went from cave drawings to ham radio to cell phone reports with an assortment of results. Years ago, I called 911 to report a tornado report west of OKC (I think I was the only chaser on the early-April storm - those were the days!), and the operator told me she would "Send someone (a LEO) out to take a look." So I totally understand McGowan's frustration and we should not be too critical of his anger, given the way he was blown off. I've had a great relationship with the AMA office for 20+ years and they have always been very friendly and cooperative with chasers. The Spotter Network has a lot of promise, but I don't believe it works with Apple? The other problem involves locals following you on the map. This has been a big problem during hurricanes. I'm sure there are ways to work around these issues - or they are simply unavoidable.

W.
 

calvinkaskey

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Wireless Emergency Alert (WEA) - The program was designed by the federal government in order to disseminate information quickly during a emergency - both national, regional, and local. Reverse 911 is a 'call' via a third-party system as a service by a local community.
Does this service use all available towers regardless of service provider?
 
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