On the predictableness of Snow Map Insanity

Bryan Wood
Jan 3, 2017 · 5 min read

The classic “explanation” of insanity is doing the same thing every time and expecting a different result. The only thing more predictable than someone posting a forecast map with snow totals “shooting the moon” is the response from the Meteorology community.

This is a tough love piece. I write this because many people I genuinely respect and admire have the same response every time this happens…and then marvel that it seems to get worse. Are we sitting back and evaluating the problem?

  1. This isn’t going away. The cat is out of the bag. Too many people think they have the ability to quiet it or put it in the bag. People issuing their own warnings, snow maps, “hurricanes” hitting 15 days away when there isn’t even a Tropical Depression is not going away. We are in an era where everyone can have a voice. We are in an era where people seek out crazy forecasts because they want to see 24 inches of snow in their backyard. It’s Confirmation Bias and the internet is a great facilitator of it.
  2. Legit meteorologists are doing it, too. The great irony in all of this is that some of the loudest protesters throw out crazy model predictions themselves. Many “amateur meteorologists” look up to you and even have grown their passion of weather because of you. They look up to you. They will emulate you. Why are you then surprised that they do what you do, but take it to an extreme? Here‘s two examples:

When Erika was a weak tropical storm, one popular meteorologist ran a 9-day model output showing it on the Carolina coast and wrote “Not A Forecast” on it. You want to know what happened? People saw it came from a trusted source and took it as their forecast. I know this because two clients in that market asked me about it that day. I told them to disregard it and told them it was likely to fizzle out. That person not only lost followers, but viewers on their channel as well.

Another who loves to rail on viral weather posts with model outputs has a penchant for posting predictive model outputs of the Significant Tornado Parameter 3 days away from a potential outbreak. In some cases, no tornadoes occurred for a reason as elementary as the Shear not changing direction with height. In other cases, the “bullseye” saw no tornadoes and areas with “low” numbers saw them because that’s where a warm front was…and it was the only area that was uncapped with Shear. Tornadoes don’t always form in the “hot spot” of the STP, but when you post that without context, people are going to look for the “high numbers” and assume all the tornadoes will happen there.

3. Don’t Feed the Trolls. The latest person to shovel coal into the Snow in the South hype train was lawyer/sports troll Clay Travis. For context — the way he got into the sports world was writing a blog whining about the fact he couldn’t watch his sports teams in the Virgin Islands because DirecTV wasn’t carried there (#FirstWorldProblems). He went on a protest eating nothing but pudding. Apparently, that’s enough to get hired at CBS Sports. The guy makes a living making bad jokes and purposefully taking contrarian views as a talking head. The irony of this is that every sports talking head is now doing this and they all sound like drones…but I’m digressing.

The response was very predictable, with many people offering insults, whining and no actual help to the situation. This is exactly what trolls want. I only saw one tweet that was actually helpful and allowed the troll to understand what he was seeing.

4. Your job is to explain weather. When someone comes to me and asks about one of these viral posts, I consider it an honor. They saw something and want my opinion because they trust me and value my input. Does it take extra time out of my day? Sure. I can’t understand why meteorologists get bent out of shape when they’re asked about it. People value you and your expert opinion. They are not the problem and they may be part of the solution. Engage them politely and humbly and they will likely share your thoughts with others, educating people who may have saw the viral map and maybe even reaching people outside of your social network.

Get out there and respond quickly, write your piece and if it doesn’t fit to a character limit, link to the longer form. Here’s a great utilization of Twitter by Norfolk meteorologist Tim Pandajis. He keeps it simple and shows the multiple possibilities for the winter storm in his market.

Everyone who posts these viral maps are doing the same thing. What are you doing to stick out, be different, be memorable and influencing? You have the knowledge to add value and give people a viable option. Do you rise to the occasion?

5. Insults do nothing but make you look bad and turn people off to your message. Responses are key to situations that upset you. Everyone usually responds emotionally and that usually just looks bad. Even tongue in cheek, sly, insults like “social mediarologist” just come off as condescending. Lashing out looks childish. You are a professional. People are turned off by all of this.

Want to make an impact? Go to the viral post and politely explain why you disagree. Will some of their followers get upset? Sure. Who cares? Your post will also cause others to click over and look at your thoughts, thus giving some viewers of that viral post a professional opinion (which is what you want). At that point, they can choose what they want to believe and that’s out of your hands.

6. When people blame you after the fact, what do you do? It’s easy to take this as an insult, but this is a great opportunity to gain viewers by humbly showing your forecast was not necessarily wrong, but also showing what happened. I don’t think I’ve ever seen one of the “viral facebook weather pages” do a post-mortem. This is where you can add value and differentiate yourself. Did you mess up part of the forecast? Own up to it, explain why it failed and tell them what you’re going to learn from it.

People are turned off by chest beating. When you humbly help them learn something new, they will come back. When you learn, make it an opportunity for them to learn, too. Empower them and they may just remember it the next time one of these things roll around. 95% of my success at where I work is because a.) I own my forecast and b.) giving people an Aha!/Neat! learning moment makes them look forward to my next analysis.

Pandora’s Box has been opened on social media. You can’t make it go away. No set of suggestions will remove it from Facebook or Twitter. Adjusting to each situation is key and no one situation is ever the same. What are you doing to help the situation?

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