A Professional Guidance Statement of the American Meteorological Society
Adopted by the AMS Council on 2 March 2021
The long-standing collaboration between the National Weather Service (NWS) and media has served the public well, especially during severe weather events. This public–private collaboration continues to evolve as these partners respond to and drive the revolution in information technology.
Many of the attributes considered desirable in broadcast media performance are equally applicable to any platform providing weather information to the public. The Society’s goals are to highlight the media’s vital role in the integrated warning system while underscoring the need for sound performance as an essential element for ensuring the appropriate public response takes place. This examination expresses the desirable attributes for media performance during potentially severe weather.
The media promotes effective public response to severe weather threats through the dual roles of educator and communicator. Education in advance of severe weather helps prepare the public to appropriately respond during an emergency situation. The media communicates essential information about potentially dangerous phenomena through timely dissemination of NWS and official emergency management information and by providing supplementary observations, interpretation, discussion, integration, and tailoring to an audience. An educated public, informed and advised by trusted media sources, can help build a Weather-Ready Nation.
With numerous and diverse means and formats and a high degree of flexibility, broadcast meteorologists remain well positioned to educate the public on proper responses to hazardous weather events and effectively communicate actionable advice in severe weather situations.
Below are the most desirable performance attributes for media providing severe weather information:
1. Immediacy: All official watches and warnings for the area of concern should be broadcast in a timely and prudent manner, with the issuing authority clearly identified. Information about areas impacted and the valid time period should always be included. Storm reports from the NWS and other sources are of great value during an emergency and should be made available to the public as quickly as possible. Any cancellations and “all clear” bulletins should follow suit.
2. Accuracy: Presentation of a warning or a forecast should include an estimate of the confidence or uncertainty associated with the event. Cautionary and qualifying remarks are particularly important with long-range outlooks and forecasts with high degrees of uncertainty (e.g., hurricane landfall predictions). Standard definitions and terminology should be used in discussions to reduce confusion. Proper terminology translations should be used by Spanish-language media and standards should be implemented across the country. Media are encouraged to engage with and educate the public about probabilistic information and other types of uncertainty. A trained and experienced meteorologist who is knowledgeable about local conditions can add value to NWS forecasts and warnings. However, where it is judged necessary to depart markedly from the NWS warnings, the situation should be well explained.
3. Collaboration: Cooperation and coordination are necessary to build an effective integrated weather warning team. Private sector meteorologists have much to contribute to such teams while retaining autonomy and independence. During severe weather situations, private entities are encouraged to pass along storm reports along with videos and photographs to NWS forecasters and emergency management personnel. NWSChat is an excellent tool for this type of communication. Experienced broadcast meteorologists with local knowledge can aid NWS personnel in fine-tuning forecasts and warnings. Creation of a Spanish-language glossary with the collaboration of the NWS staff and the Spanish-language media should be pursued in order to benefit the communities they serve.
4. Balance: “Being first” and “being the best” are important motivators and highly desirable in the private sector. Fair and open competition based on quality of service is in the public’s best interest. However, the broadcast meteorologist should always place the interests of the public first when balancing market forces with the public good during periods of severe weather. On-air promotions or “teases” of future weather should reflect the reality of the anticipated situation and should be consistent with the forecast that is ultimately presented, as hype leads to a loss of credibility and may cause improper public response in a real situation.
5. Professionalism: A high level of professional expertise is required to perform properly during severe weather. While professionalism begins with meteorological education and training, it also includes experience, understanding, and the ability to remain calm under pressure. It is necessary for media organizations to have a structured plan in place for communicating a variety of hazardous weather situations, developed by a meteorologist with severe weather and communications experience. This plan may include a written document for quick reference and periodic tabletop exercises to ensure the plan is understood and actionable.
6. Social media: Storm reports, photos, and video from social media should be checked for validity before sharing, and time-sensitive information (e.g., autogenerated updates for tornado warnings) should have a clear timestamp to avoid confusion. Digital producers and other staff without meteorological training are encouraged to consult with a member of the weather team before producing severe weather–related content. The Society encourages individuals responsible for social media to adhere to the Best Practices set forth by AMS within the AMS Best Practice for Publicly Sharing Weather Information via Social Media.
AMS appreciates the competitive nature of the media business and understands the tremendous pressure on staff in both the media and the NWS during the height of severe weather events. It also recognizes that even with the best technology and expertise, there will be unexpected weather disasters. However, the Society believes that through adherence to the attributes discussed here, the public–private collaboration will continue to improve and better meet the challenge of conveying information relevant to critical decisions associated with severe weather.
[This statement is considered in force until March 2026 unless superseded by a new statement issued by the AMS Council before this date.]