Weather Blog: Information overload

By Brian McClure, Bay News 9 Meteorologist
Last Updated: Wednesday, June 04, 2014, 7:04 PM EDT

Tropical season is here again and with it comes a lot of information from many different sources. 

Do you ever get to the point where you’re just tired of hearing about the tropical predictions and all the information that comes with it?  Even as a meteorologist I get to that point myself. 

So much has changed over the years, except for the tropical storms. They’ve always occurred and always will.  Going back through the historical tropical records, storms have always crashed into our coastlines.  It’s a part of life living in a coastal region. 

Now, what has changed…we as humans have changed.  We’ve migrated to coastal regions in big numbers.  We’ve also invented cell phones that transfer information instantly.  On top of that we’ve developed social media platforms that relay a tremendous amount of information (if you saw the amount of data that streams through our weather center on a daily basis it would boggle your mind).

All this sounds good but here in the weather center we’re noticing that it’s not all positive.  There are a lot of negatives that go with the abundance of information flowing through society these days:  

  1. There is so much information that it can lead to a listener getting tired of hearing it all.  Again, I even do it myself.  I feel like I need to shut all the devices off and get away from it on the weekends.  This isn’t necessarily a bad thing.  
  2. There are so many sources of information, who should you trust?  There is TV, newspaper, radio, millions of websites, Facebook, Twitter, etc…
  3. With all that information comes a sense of “alarm”.  A psychologist could explain this much better than me, but basically as more and more data comes in at a faster pace we tend to get a feeling that the situation must be worse than ever before.

Some of the best advice I’ve ever been given is to have balance in life. For example, “work hard, but don’t overwork yourself." It’s a great idea to balance the weather information that we receive on a daily basis. 

While listening to TV stations watch out for the “hype” factor that tends show up a lot.  On the flipside, don’t get too complacent and think that there will never be a big weather event.  As I like to tell people, if you ever hear my voice inflection change and I seem genuinely worried on TV, that’s when you’ll know something big is happening. 

Be very careful with information online.  Social media can be great, but it can also be so wrong (be careful what you believe).  The same can be said for certain websites.  There are a lot of great websites with tons of valuable information.  But there are also a lot of bad websites that have popped up that tend to hype situations or give a false sense of what will actually happen. 

Here in the weather center we’ve seen numerous examples of bad information in recent years.  For example, just this past year somebody was spreading information about an impending snowstorm that would dump two feet of snow in New York City. 

In reality, official meteorologists never had a prediction that high and the storm eventually put down about five inches of snow, in line with the legitimate predictions. 

This problem is even worse with tropical information.  We’ve seen some websites actually declaring a tropical storm before a tropical wave has even come off the coast of Africa!  It’s gotten ridiculous. 

The computer model data has gotten a lot better over the years and is now more easily available to everyone.  Therefore it has resulted in a lot of misinformation being tossed around.  The problem is there’s no accountability on these websites. 

In other words, if I go on TV and tout that a storm will intensify and hit Tampa Bay this week…and then it doesn’t happen, you will remember that, my bosses will remember it, and I won’t have a job much longer.  So the accountability factor keeps my message more balanced.  The same can’t be said for certain websites.  

And lastly, just remember that the abundance of information doesn’t necessarily mean the situation is really that bad.  We get bombarded with information much more than we did 30 years ago.  But that doesn’t mean the weather is worse.  It just means we’re hearing/seeing the information more so than we did 30 years ago.