Part-time forecasters narrow weather reports

TN State Wire
Published: Today

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - The truly dangerous storm is three counties away, but you're concerned about the one bearing down on your house. There could be an app for that.

A growing number of people whose consuming interest is weather are now following severe storms in very narrow geographic areas and putting out the information through social media.

Some of the "nowcasters" are trained meteorologists, but others are people in various professions who take weather spotter training from the National Weather Service and step it up to a higher purpose.

One of the latter is David Drobny, a young Nashville attorney who says there was a galvanizing moment when weather became a passion for him.

As a young boy, he lived in the Midwest and there was one basement in the neighborhood. When a severe storm came up, everyone headed for it.

Drobny recalled that one time, his mother took him by the hand to lead him to the neighbor's house as the wind picked up and the sky darkened.

"She got carried away, going a little too fast. I fell on the street and she kept running. That was my moment of terror," he said. "She stopped and, of course, scooped me back up. That's probably where it (his passion for weather) clicked."

Drobny's friends knew of his interest in weather and would call him whenever severe storms cropped up. He found himself answering the same questions repeatedly. So the media-savvy Drobny invested in a radar service for his laptop computer and opened a dedicated Twitter account.

Now, when storms threaten in Davidson or Williamson counties, Drobny tweets. His reports also land on a Facebook page, but he thinks the Twitter account is more useful because it reaches his followers wherever they are. Drobny's information can be accessed at www.nashvillesevereweather.com.

His activities caught the attention of Tom Johnstone, the warning coordination meteorologist from the National Weather Service office in Nashville.

Competition? Not a bit, said Johnstone.

"It's a way we can collect information from sources we never had access to before," Johnstone said. "It really is a partnership.

"I think they can provide information from multiple sources, including NWS, and tailor things down to people's backyards," he said.

Johnstone invited Drobny along on a weather spotter training class recently in Lebanon and he's scheduled to speak again this month at a Nashville class to train spotters, explaining use of social media in getting out the information quickly.

A couple of hundred miles to the west of Drobny's sphere of attention is a slightly broader area watched over by Erik Proseus.

"I'm a degreed meteorologist," said Proseus, whose paying job is as an operational forecaster in the private sector. He was previously a research meteorologist. His information can be viewed at http://www.memphisweather.net.

He holds a geography degree with a concentration in meteorology from the University of Memphis.

Proseus tweets when violent weather is moving in the seven-county Memphis metropolitan statistical area, which takes in nearby counties in Arkansas and Mississippi as well.

Drobny and Proseus say they offer a unique service in that they are hyper-local. They also are focused on the moment.

"Forecasting tells you what will happen in the future. Nowcasting tells you what's happening right now," Drobny said.

What both men do is akin to continuing television storm coverage; it's just tightly tailored to small areas.

Drobny says many of his followers on Twitter tell him they fear severe weather and rely on him for information that could comfort them.

"They're really afraid of them (storms)," Drobny said. And they want somebody to tell them that the storm ... is clear of them. I get a lot of that feedback."

Drobny said he and Johnstone are working on ways to quickly share information and that has resulted, so far, in Drobny forwarding to the NWS photos his followers have sent to his Twitter account. More cooperation could follow.

So could more nowcasters. Johnstone sees a burgeoning trend.

"Several people came forward at the Lebanon spotter class who said they are interested," he said.

They had best be prepared to be on call if they begin. Drobny continues to watch the weather at Nashville and tweet to followers even if he's at a professional meeting or on vacation.

Asked what Proseus does about being away, he laughed.

"Erik doesn't take a lot of vacations," he said.