The National Weather Service celebrated its 145th anniversary February 9. The NWS has utilized technological advancements, such as satellites and radar, over the decades to improve forecasting. Now, the Sacramento office of the NWS has stepped up its use of social media to provide more "last minute" updates.
"Our mission is the protection of life and property and we do that through the day-to-day forecasting but most importantly, the issuance of watches and warnings," said Michelle Mead, Warning Coordination Meteorolgist with the National Weather Service in Sacramento.
Mead said safety is the number one priority but education and preparedness is also part of the NWS effort.
The California-Nevada River Forecast Center and the NWS occupy the second floor of a non-descript two-story office building off of Watt Avenue in Sacramento.
"All the day-to-day forecasting, watches, warnings and advisories come out of our office," said Mead. "We are staffed 24/7, 365 days a year. Mother Nature works 24 hours a day, seven days a week, so do we."
Mead said that more and more, pictures, along with graphics, are becoming more important in getting the weather message out to the public.
"The traditional weather service product was text," said Mead, as we watched forecaster Jason Clapp use two computers to create forecast graphics. "The technology of the day meant everything was sent out in all caps. About 15 years ago people started joking 'hey, why do you keep yelling at us.'"
But she said with the advent of social media and the federal government embracing it, the NWS has "slowly but surely transitioned to getting rid of all those 'yelling' messages."
The weather forecast operations area includes seven workstations that have multiple computers. The stations face a wall where larger monitors show road cameras, current forecast data and other information.
"Every single one of these workstations allow forecasters to "paint pictures," as Mead explained it.
"We use the graphics now to tell our story," said Mead. "And our forecasters are now editing the pictures, or painting the pictures, of the temperatures, the precipitation."
Mead said the use of social media also allows the NWS to get their latest warnings and watches out to an audience more quickly.
"We're kind of transitioning away from the 'waiting to the last second to tell you' to 'hey, this could happen' so you can prepare accordingly," said Mead. "We are now getting the word out earlier with social media posts and emails. It's kind of the old adage, 'prepare for the worst, hope for the best.'"