Should meteorologists share velocity images with the public?

This week is Severe Weather Preparedness Week in Indiana. For more information, see the NWS Indianapolis website.

If you’re not sure what I mean when I say “velocity images”, you can learn about how weather radar observes winds here or here.

Meteorologist Joe Moore asked an interesting question on Twitter:

The overwhelming majority of respondents say sharing radar velocity images with the public is okay, at least in certain circumstances. My vote was for limited use.

On the one hand, informing and educating the public is a primary duty of meteorologists in both the public and private sectors. A velocity image can sometimes help make the location of a tornadic threat more clear, particularly in squall line or otherwise messy setups. “This is the bad part and it’s coming right for you” can be a powerful motivator to take shelter. In addition to immediate information, the images can be used to provide more general education. “This is how the radar works” isn’t of immediate value, but it can lead to a better understanding of meteorology in general.

On the other hand, meteorologists tend to be science geeks, which can sometimes lead to giving too many facts with no informative value. In severe weather situations, clear and timely information is paramount. If a television viewer gets confused by the velocity image and focuses on that to the exclusion of the “hey, you should really get to the basement now!” part of the message, sharing the image ends up being harmful.

As Joe said in a reply, “Can you explain it in a tweet? And still be timely/relevant?” Context and information content is key.

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