In the 11 years since a devastating tornado outbreak hit Tuscaloosa, social media has become a lifesaving tool during periods of severe weather, said WVUA 23 News chief meteorologist Richard Scott.
Scott said he thought the event was a game-changer for social media, as most of its uses before the storm of April 27, 2011 were centered around entertainment.
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Ultimately, social media apps — Twitter, Facebook and Instagram — have expanded the ability of meteorologists to warn people of upcoming severe weather, keep them informed during a storm, and let people know where damage has occurred. subsequently produced.
“It’s a scary thing, not knowing where (the tornado) is, when it’s going to hit, and you kind of wait for it to pass and then you know, it’s okay,” Scott said.
Social media was still in its infancy in 2011 when an EF-4 tornado carved a 5.9-mile path of destruction through Tuscaloosa, damaging an estimated 12% of the city and causing or contributing to the deaths of 53 people . The storms that day were part of an outbreak of 62 tornadoes in Alabama.
At the time, people mainly received information about severe weather through television or radio, but widespread power outages that day left many people without any means of receiving updates. storm-related days.
But now, with more people using smartphones and the rise of streaming apps like Facebook Live, Scott said the loss of power doesn’t have to interrupt the flow of information in severe weather.
“Since Facebook Live was created, it’s been an incredible asset for us. Because we can broadcast information in real time. If you lose power, guess what, you have Facebook Live, or we also broadcast on our website. So there are multiple platforms, you can get us,” Scott said.
He said smartphones have also become beneficial in severe weather, as the devices allow people to receive information wherever they are at any time during a storm.
“So it’s gotten to the point where if people are traveling, if you’re out of town, if you’re not near the TV, or if you lose power, that’s a huge asset to have. Because there’s nothing scarier than being in a different area and you don’t get to watch us on TV and a storm is coming,” Scott said.
Radar technology has also advanced since 2011, Scott said. For example, the correlation coefficient tool allows meteorologists to detect when storms produce debris. Other advances in technology have helped meteorologists improve their ability to forecast potential tornadoes and predict when tornado warnings are likely to be issued, so people have more time to take shelter.
While some Tuscaloosa-area residents may have developed a “storm phobia” because of the destruction on April 27, 2011, Scott said it’s important to remember that outbreaks of tornadoes like this are rare.
However, Scott said people should always be prepared during periods of severe weather because it only takes one tornado to threaten your life and property. Scott said he often reflects on the December 16, 2000 tornado to remind himself of how destructive a single tornado could be. This tornado killed 11 people and injured 144 in Tuscaloosa.
So when it comes to severe weather, Scott said prevention is better than cure.
“It doesn’t matter if it’s 3 a.m., it doesn’t matter if it’s 6 p.m. We have to be there (on TV and on social media) and provide this information. Just to tell people where the danger is…because, you know, this stuff is life and death,” Scott said.
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Scott has worked with WVUA 23 since 2007 and was promoted to Chief Meteorologist in 2010, just months before the April 27, 2011 tornado. He covered the tornado outbreak from the television station’s studio at the Interior of Bryant-Denny Stadium. The Linden native said he was on the air before realizing the storm’s path was heading towards his home in Tuscaloosa.
“I was doing the math in my head and I was thinking, you know, this thing is probably a mile wide. And I was thinking how far I lived from the stadium and where we were broadcasting from. So I was thinking, man, it’s going to be close,” Scott said.
Scott’s house was destroyed in the storm that day. However, Scott said he was grateful that he and his then-fiancée Tara Robinson, who also lived in the Tuscaloosa area, were safe.
“It was a high impact event. It was a day where every storm that developed produced a tornado. Many of them were large, violent tornadoes. It was a unique situation,” Scott said. “Luckily we have had some big events (severe weather) since then, but not to this extent.” said Scott.
Contact Jasmine Hollie at [email protected]