Sunday, July 25, 2010

Pennsylvania Tornado (s) .... and Twitter

Those of you that know me, know that among my (way too many) hobbies over the years has been 'weather watching', more accurately storm chasing.  Non-computer geeky stuff? 

Not exactly.  Read on.

In the earlier days of this blog, I noted early web-based weather experiments with a variety of groups and companies and one of the best 'draws' to one of my first websites in the 1990's, then considered 'cool' (now rather mundane) .... a live weather camera and professional weather station in Northeast Pennsylvania which later became a multi-site experiment with a retired Microsoft executive and a weather professional.

We had a lot of fun .... and A LOT of hits ... and like today, it was VERY difficult to monetize :)

My 'cam', as I used to call it, brought e-mail from all over the US as people watched wildlife wander through our backyard, then located in Pike County, Pennsylvania (where New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania come together).  It became apparent that not only was there a HUGE community of weather fanatics but also many people in the cities just found some calm just watching a deer (or occasional bear .. ?!) wander around in front of the camera.

Yes, I was a long way from my long-time roots on Long Island :)

I became acquainted with a young guy (online) who was building what became the largest interactive community of weather watchers on the Internet ... WeatherMatrix.

The network, along with its founder Jesse Ferrell, was acquired by Accuweather (not necessarily in that order) and years later I  had the pleasure of touring their incredible facility in State College, Pennsylvania.

Now this was geek (and weather) heaven.  A weather 'war room' along with banks of computers analyzing weather models for analysis by then over 100 meteorologists.

Which brings us to this weekend's crazy (hot) weather and apparently some Tornado activity right here in Central Pennsylvania, An event crazy people (like me) still enjoy watching and, when possible, contributing to the documentation and early warnings.

I revisited the weather landscape for the first time in a while late Saturday night as a Tornado Watch was posted for our area.  The Weather Channel went on our TV ... and had (very) limited information ... but it was apparent that there were numerous warnings right here near Bloomsburg, PA.

It was also pretty apparent .. ugh ... outside :)

I also visited the new Weather Channel Beta website and (completely putting aside my possible bias towards AccuWeather) was somewhat horrified that I couldn't quickly zoom in to 'our' situation in two or three clicks.  Making a website clean and simple is one thing.  In this case (Note: It is marked 'beta') , it didn't deliver the value I was looking for.

Next was the AccuWeather website which let me easily zoom into our local radar in almost real-time as storms continued to pop up to our east then west then ... right over us .... then south. Incredible stuff.  (Note: This may be a situation where paywalls actually can work as going over to provided even more).

I found this post by Jesse on the night before's activity.  Searching the National Weather Service storm reports, I was able to confirm that there was 'some' significant activity on Friday, not only in State College, but a possible F1 Tornado just north of where we used to live near the Woodloch Pines resort in Pike County.

I'm guessing Jesse's on vacation because I remember him well enough to know he would have been all over Saturday night's stuff as well.  (Everyone needs a day off ... :).  The team and website continued to deliver Saturday nights activity.

Potential tornado activity in Bradford PA and numerous severe reports including road closures and trees down within 30 miles of our home ... in all four directions on Saturday night.

Then I stumbled across this.

Apparently (and how I missed this is beyond me), the National Weather Service is testing Twitter for storm reports from both professionally trained spotters ... and just regular everyday people.

The hashtag is #wxreport and when I back-traced those, it was pretty much all there. Pretty cool stuff.

While I was tempted to check-in to Foursquare at 'Thunderstorm in Danville' ... I kinda decided to kick back and watch a movie.  It was a long night :)

If you don't own a S.A.M.E. encoded weather receiver ... get one.  Severe weather, as evidenced above, can happen ANYWHERE and NOAA weather radio now covers almost the entire country.  It should be right up there on your list with smoke detectors.