6 Tips for Journalists Covering Tornadoes & Weather Catastrophe Coverage

As the most recent natural disaster in Moore, Oklah., shows, coverage of weather events is an increasingly vital skill for journalists worldwide– including, of course, in the state of Oklahoma.

According to Judy Gibbs Robinson, the veteran editorial adviser to The Oklahoma Daily and OUDaily.com at the University of Oklahoma, “[Monday’s] F4 tornado just to the north of our campus occurred during one-day training for the small summer staff [of The Oklahoma Daily, which is a weekly during summer break].  Needless to say, we were not prepared.  As the afternoon and evening unrolled, I discovered how little this current group of young students knows about covering weather (in Oklahoma!).  So I created a handout for them titled ‘How to Cover Weather Stories.'”

Among the tools and tips Robinson shares on the handout, some of which she learned from the 2013 SPJ Region 8 conference:

1. Get news releases from the National Weather Service.

Go to the National Weather Service website at http://www.srh.noaa.gov.  [Next, click on the relevant spot on the map for local weather information.]  Click on “news” in the top navigation bar.  And scroll to “media registration” to register to receive news releases.

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2. Follow InteractiveNWS.

iNWS is the new, and experimental, mobile and desktop application from the National Weather Service.  Use it to receive customized text message and email alerts for weather info you care about.  Go to http://inws.wrh.noaa.gov

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3. Social Media.

Follow the (fill in your city here) NWS office on Facebook and Twitter for real-time weather reports.  Links are on the website:  http://www.srh.noaa.gov.

4. NWS Chat.

Go to https://nwschat.weather.gov to register to participate in an instant, real-time chat between the media and the emergency response community.

5. NWS Chat Live.

Here is an enhanced version of NWS chat– not sure how they are different though: https://nwschat.weather.gov/live/

**Bonus Tip: Find Out About the Kids.

Candace Baltz, general manager of student publications at Washington State University, has one more essential weather coverage tip.  In her words, “As someone who found herself covering tornadoes live on-air last spring for several hours at a time– and with no personal tornado experience to pull from– I found the info our listeners were most interested in was not just where the storm is and where it’s heading, but their kids– what to do about the kids.  So I’d highly suggest including the school district spokesperson contact info, as well as the police and city, so you can report that the kids are on lockdown or dismissing early, etc.  That may not be as interesting for a college publication, but it’s still good info to get.”

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