A meteorologist from a local TV station made a statement on his Facebook today that “tornadoes are not severe weather” and that ruffled the feathers of a lot of meteorologists that knew this was blatantly false. In fact, tornadoes are specifically listed as a type of severe weather by the National Weather Service. Now, this could have been an innocent mistake, but it points to a more concerning fact that the weather community has to grapple with every day; meteorologists struggle to find credibility.
Most people’s interactions with “meteorologists” happen through TV weather personalities talking about current or future weather. (Pro-tip: look for an “AMS” emblem at the beginning of the weather segment. If they don’t have one, they aren’t an American Meteorological Society certified meteorologist and haven’t gone through many physics, mathematics, and even chemistry courses needed for the designation.) We turn on our TV look at what the weather will be and go about our day. However, this is hardly foolproof! We’ve all been in that situation where the weather turns out much different than expected, which adds credibility to the old adage “Being a meteorologist is the only job where you can get paid to be wrong all the time”. The truth is that weather is incredibly hard to predict due to several issues, some of which are outlined in this post about Denver’s forecast for Autumn and Winter in 2016. The difficulty in modeling weather can lead to wrong forecasts and a lack in credibility, but how does that relate to this instance?
With public perception of meteorologists being less than favorable, we don’t want to create further problems to overcome. We need to be reliable on facts and weather definitions so that, although our forecasts may not always be accurate, we can still maintain credibility.
Cue our incident from today. A “meteorologist” (in quotes because I don’t know their credentials), who is a self proclaimed severe weather authority put out blatantly false information about the fundamentals of severe weather. That was concerning because, as a community, we have to strive for credibility and any wrong information that then has to be disputed makes us look less than reliable. That is why there was such a strong reaction against what this person said and a lot of upset people posting in the comments of this post.
So, what’s the point of all this? My point is simply, please be aware of who you are watching/listening to/reading and their credentials. Everyone makes mistakes, but if something seems particularly odd to you, don’t hesitate to challenge the expert on their knowledge. If they’re really an expert, they should be able to backup their position with evidence and references. If you don’t want to be confrontational, do some of your own research and look at information from peer reviewed sources. Don’t believe that a Volkswagen is a vegetable? Go through literature that defines the characteristics of vegetables. Think that the Earth is flat? Conduct an experiment by finding the edge and jumping off it… Whoa, that got dark fast.
Anyway, don’t believe everything someone tells you just because they seem like they’re an authority. Look at their credentials, background, and if what they say makes sense when compared to peer reviewed fact and then make a decision for yourself.
BONUS! Letter to news station’s weather department-
Hi [redacted] Weather Team,
I’m writing to you to voice concern over the spread of misinformation by one of your meteorologists on his Facebook account. [Redacted] stated today that a tornado is “not severe weather” because ” Only hail larger than 1 inch, and wind gusts greater than 58 mph, are considered severe weather.” This is blatantly false based on the National Weather Service definition of severe weather, which is “A severe thunderstorm refers to a thunderstorm producing hail that is at least 1 inch in diameter or larger, and/or wind gusts of 58 mph or greater, and/or a tornado.”\
The largest concern is that we (yes we, I am a meteorologist as well who worked as a Associate Scientist at NCAR and is now working on a PhD) have a responsibility to the community to educate them correctly on weather. This is especially true in the broadcast field where most of the populous gets their meteorological knowledge. It’s concerning to to think that people who see this information may be less likely to act correctly in the case of a tornado emergency because they were told that the phenomena is not considered “severe weather”.
Now, I understand that mix ups happen and that we can all have problems recalling knowledge from time to time, but this is a pretty significant mix up coming from someone who deems themselves to be an authority on severe weather. I am not writing this to head hunt and do not want to get anyone in trouble. Instead, I’m asking that you make sure that your department have correct information before they potentially misinform the public. It’s hard enough to be considered credible as meteorologists when it can be hard, if not impossible, to nail down forecasts. Not understanding basic weather definitions does not help our credibility as a community.
Thank you for your attention to this issue.