Watch out for FAKE (weather) NEWS!

So “fake news” is a popular thing now-a-day’s, so I thought I’d be appropriate here? All comedy aside, there is an important issue that needs to be discussed. In the age of social media, it is very easy for anyone (with any background) to create a page and reach out to the public with weather information. Unfortunately, there are some people that abuse this privilege and create a dangerous online environment, and wreak havoc for those of us who are serious weather hobbyists or who are actual meteorologists & whose job it is to communicate the forecast & uncertainty associated with it properly. You may have seen trending on Facebook today that the NWS is warning people to watch out for fake forecasts, specifically regarding Hurricane Irma’s future. (article https://www.buzzfeed.com/janelytvynenko/fake-weather-irma?utm_term=.rkbewM83r#.jdDD8ryX7)

If you read the article, they issue that warning because someone issued a forecast that looks very similar to what the National Hurricane Center uses, drawing a track that would land fall Irma over SE Texas. With Harvey still a hot topic, you can see how a forecast like this will create confusion & mass panic.  See below. The image on the left is the fake forecast, and the one on the right is what an official NHC forecast looks like. (I blocked the name out because I am against giving people the spotlight when they don’t deserve it)

In the United States, it is illegal to post information in this manner. You can make your own forecasts, but you cannot make it look like it is an official NWS product

“Whoever knowingly issues or publishes any counterfeit weather forecast or warning of weather conditions falsely representing such forecast or warning to have been issued or published by the Weather Bureau, United States Signal Service, or other branch of the Government service, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than ninety days, or both.”
18 U.S. Code § 2074 – False weather reports

Also note, you may know when I share tropical system forecasts, I don’t typically share a map that looks like that. I do however, get the raw data from the NHC, which has the same information that image has, and make a map of my own to match my graphics. So yes, different look, but is still the official NHC forecast (same thing on TV).

These people are also the ones that post model maps for storms 10 days in the future and incite panic. The early Friday morning GFS (American) model brought Irma to the Mid-Atlantic and sits it over Delmarva as a Category 4 hurricane. Yes that sounds terrifying, and if that were ever to happen the effects would be devastating. HOWEVER, it is extremely unlikely that a category 4 hurricane would make it to the Mid-Atlantic with the ocean temperatures cooling below what a Hurricane needs by the time you get to our latitude. A giant land mass to the west of a hurricane also won’t be a great support mechanism either. The GFS is, and always has been, an atrocious weather model. For comparison, the European, didn’t have a solution like the GFS.

Now is it possible that Irma could end up over Delmarva as a Tropical Storm or Hurricane? Absolutely, it’s happened before! Anything is possible, but we need to get much closer to the event and know the upper level pattern to determine if that would happen. So yes, in theory, the GFS could have the location correct, but will be dead wrong about the intensity.

Staying Safe on Social Media

So there are a couple things you can do to make sure you don’t fall victim to one of these misleading weather pages.

First, ONLY the National Weather Service can issue watches, warnings, advisories and alerts regarding the weather. We do this to eliminate confusion, imagine if anyone could issue a warning or watch) and how many conflicting alerts you’d probably receive. For general weather information & alerts, visit www.weather.gov. A lot of very useful information is available there. You can also type in your location, and it will tell you if any weather alerts are active where you are. The Storm Prediction Center, who issues Severe Thunderstorm & Fire Outlooks, and is also responsible for Severe Thunderstorm & Tornado Watches can be found at www.spc.noaa.gov. And the National Hurricane Center can be found at www.nhc.noaa.gov.

Second, KNOW YOUR FORECASTER. If you stumble across their page/site, see if you can find a ‘bio’ or ‘about’ page and see their background (contact them if they don’t). You cannot be a meteorologist (or pass yourself off as one) if you do not have a degree in Meteorology or Atmospheric Science.

And, if you don’t know me, I’ve been forecasting for over 7 years now when I first really found my weather interest. I have a degree in Geography with a focus in Atmospheric Science from Salisbury University. I am also currently pursing my masters in Broadcast Meteorology at Mississippi State University. I take weather & weather communication seriously, and if you follow me, you know I always provide analysis & avoid hype.

Also, look at the content they post. Does it look like serious analysis or does it look like hype. Any meteorologist/serious weather hobbyist won’t post these types of things and will provide insightful analysis into forecasts. Do they just post random model images, or do they provide descriptions & analysis to allow you to easily understand what is being conveyed.

 

With all that being said, I, nor most in the weather community are opposed to those who want to create & post weather information on social media, regardless of there education background. It’s what I did 3 1/2 years ago when I created Weather Maryland. It’s a great way to start building skills for those interested in meteorology. So long as they don’t abuse the privilege, there is absolutely nothing wrong with it!

-Andrew