This blog is dedicated to exploring the side effects of new communication technologies. Often those unintended side effects are negative. In the last 24 hours, as killer tornadoes swarmed across Oklahoma, several positive side effects of the new technologies became apparent.
Extra Warning Time
Perhaps the most striking examples are weather apps for smartphones. ABC News last night interviewed a survivor of the devastating tornado packing 200 mile per hour winds that devastated Moore, Oklahoma. The survivor talked about how a weather app on his iPhone warned him of the approaching storm 15 to 20 minutes before it struck his location, giving him time to get out of its path.
It appeared that he used my favorite weather app, one called RadarScope. This powerful app enables users to see storms coming at them in real time from more than 100 miles away. Many other apps can do that too. What makes this one so powerful is its stunning accuracy and range of measurement tools.
I’ve found that RadarScope’s accuracy can be measured in city blocks and minutes. In addition to reporting storms’ reflectivity, it also reports velocity, rainfall amounts, storm height, movement at different levels within storms, and much more. It’s a tool designed for professional meteorologists that amateurs can also appreciate.
As I write this 12 hours after the storm struck Moore, the death toll there has already reached 91 and is expected to climb even higher. One can only wonder how much worse the tragedy would have been were it not for weather apps that gave people time to evacuate or reach storm shelters.
Lost-and-Found Role for Social Media
Social media are also already playing a role in the recovery from this storm. As people find mementos, they are posting images of them online, turning the Internet into the world’s largest lost-and-found system.