CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - The meteorology vocation is interesting because there has been an ongoing debate about how much education and/or experience one should have before he or she can declare themselves a professional meteorologist. Unlike professions such as lawyers and doctors, there is no state board certification for meteorologists. Essentially that means anyone can hang out a sign and call themselves a meteorologist. If I try to do the same thing and pose as a doctor or lawyer, I'll be hauled off to jail.
What has always been a gray area has now become the world's biggest playground for weather hobbyists thanks to the advent of the internet and particularly social media. The internet has now made available to everyone all of the raw weather data professional meteorologists use to analyze and issue forecasts. Social media has allowed anyone with a keyboard and mouse to announce the next major weather event no matter how little their understanding of atmospheric physics or the limitations of the data set. In many cases they are shouting about it two or three weeks in advance. Needless to say this can cause lots of confusion, and in the worst case, even create a dangerous situation.
Just for context, I have a Bachelor of Science degree in Meteorology from Penn State University. I have been forecasting in television news for almost 32 years now. I was working in TV before any of us had heard of computer graphics, and I was sticking my magnetic cold fronts and warm fronts to a painted map on a wall.
All this change in technology has not only changed the mechanics of how I do things, but has also fundamentally changed how I approach my job. We all aspire to be the most accurate source of weather information, that will never change. But it was also once very satisfying being the first to detect the next big storm. That was known as 'getting the scoop'. Think of the boy on the corner waving his newspaper yelling, "Extra Extra, read all about it".
Today, the role of a serious meteorologist has changed. We can no longer be concerned about being 'first' to chirp about a storm weeks away. Instead, it is most important we remain the voice of reason, and give proper context to impending weather events. Any meteorologist who tries to compete with the non-professionals on social media is asking for trouble as these highly speculative forecasts are wrong more often than they are correct. The meteorologist will not only damage his own reputation in the long run, but it also sets back the entire meteorological community.
To give you an idea how serious this is, at least one country has taken a bold step in stamping out forecasts from non-meteorologists - China! I am not advocating how they are handling this, but it serves to show that some countries are taking the misinformation seriously. I have attached the short article reporting on it. In the meantime, make sure you bookmark wbtv.com for honest and hopefully accurate weather information round the clock, 365 days per year.