To find out about weather warnings, people until recently relied mostly on radio and TV broadcasts. Today, they can use smartphones to get alerts through Twitter and Facebook.
And the flow of information has become a two-way street, with the public using social media to give forecasters with real-time storm information.
"We still have the old methods and still use them," said Darin Figurskey, meteorologist-in-charge at the National Weather Service's office in Raleigh. "But there have been big changes to the way we collect and distribute information."
Meteorologists say trained spotters, part of the Skywarn network, remain a key source for their information, along with emergency services officials. But they say the general public is having an increasing role in the reporting of weather.
Besides social media, the Community Collaborative Rain, Hail and Snow Network allows registered observers to submit weather reports. That program started at Colorado State University following a deadly 1998 flood in the Rockies. The program is open to the public, but training is required.
"We access the information that is supplied by volunteers, and it gives us a denser rainfall network," said Larry Lee, science officer at the National Weather Service office in Greer, S.C.
Lee says the volunteers provide good information even though they're amateurs.
The National Weather Service generally looks first at the information supplied by the CocoRaHS volunteers, the Skywarn spotters, and county officials. But they also use reports from the public.
On Friday afternoon, a man sent the National Weather Service's Greer office news of a thunderstorm in northern Alexander County that had blown part of a tree on a house. The man included a photo, the Weather Service used the information in its official storm report.
The information collected by the public can have other benefits.
Justin Tomczak, a spokesman for State Farm Insurance, told The (Columbia) State newspaper that CoCoRaHS reports from a July 1 hail storm helped prepare his company for more than 2,100 hail damage claims it received in the following week.
While meteorologists say they appreciate getting information from the public, they're careful about how they disseminate that information.
Figurskey says meteorologists "don't want to inundate the public" with warnings, watches and reports, so they are going easy with the Facebook posts and their use of Twitter.
Charlotte fire Capt. Rob Brisley says his department also is making use of Twitter during severe weather events.
"When we get a warning or an indication that flooding is taking place, we try to get that information to the public as fast as possible," Brisley said.
The latest communication breakthrough is Wireless Emergency Alerts, or WEA. People with smartphones and other wireless devices with the proper hardware can register with NOAA and receive a variety of warnings -- include blizzard, ice storm, hurricane, flash flood and tornado -- on their devices.
"The newer cellphones all have the technology for that," Figurskey says. "We didn't include severe thunderstorm warnings in that, because we didn't want to overdo the warnings. We had to decide what the threshold should be."
Figurskey says the new information systems could get a workout later this summer if the Carolinas are threatened by a tropical storm or hurricane.
"There will be the potential for a lot of information to be passed along," he said.
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