Tech & The Web

Will Twitter Pivot on National Weather Service Weather Alerts


Days after the National Weather Service issued a warning about weather alerts on Twitter, the social giant seems to have reversed course.

Last week, the National Weather Service issued a warning about relying on social media as your primary source of information about severe weather. At the crux of the matter was Twitter’s new API pricing plans. It appeared that with the proposed changes, the National Weather Service would have to pay $42,000 per month for unrestricted auto-tweeting.

Just to avoid any confusion, API stands for application programming interface. The API allows sites like Twitter to work with other apps and websites. Since Twitter launched its API, bloggers and businesses have been able to use the API to auto-tweet content. They also use it to post their most recent tweets to their website.

Twitter announced earlier this year it would change its API access.

I recently wrote about the rising prices of some popular social media management tools. Some of them may go up in price again soon while others will eliminate some Twitter functionality.

For example, Feedly just announced it was going to eliminate some of its Twitter functionality. Meanwhile, Social Champ just announced its free option would no longer allow Twitter scheduling or posting. I’m trying Social Champ as a possible alternative to Buffer, which rolled out a new pricing plan that would essentially cost me almost four times what I’m currently paying.

Twitter vs. National Weather Service

For a while, it appeared that Twitter would not grant the National Weather Service an exemption to its new API pricing plan. That would mean, according to the national weather service, it would limited on how many automatic tweets it could send during severe weather.

Some people rely on those automated weather alerts to let them know when severe weather is either expected or has arrived over their community.

The National Weather Service (and its various local offices) tweet out severe thunderstorm watches and warnings as well as tornado watches and warnings.

A watch gives notice that conditions could make it easier for that kind of storm to form. A warning means an actual storm — a severe thunderstorm or a tornado — is present.

To put it another way, a watch is notice that you should prepare for the possibility of severe weather. A warning means you should protect yourself right now because it’s here.

Watches generally cover multiple counties at a time, but warnings cover specific areas, communities or neighborhoods. It depends on precisely they can narrow the storm’s location. During a severe weather outbreak, there could be 100 or more weather alerts sent out across multiple platforms. Any effort to put a numerical limit on how many automated tweets would be permitted seems like a horrible idea.

“For every warning issued, seconds could make the difference between life and death,” the agency said in a statement.

When it looked like Twitter planned to refuse the exemption, the agency sent out a warning:

Without this automated process, it would take minutes for forecasters to manually prepare warning information into a tweet. For every warning issued, seconds could make the difference between life and death. Communications via social media is a supplemental service to extend the reach of weather forecasts and information. Twitter feeds do not always reflect the most current information for forecasts, watches, and warnings, and we advise people to have multiple ways to receive weather forecasts including in a new tab). Twitter informed NWS there are no plans for exemptions.

Problem solved? Maybe…

The new pricing and API cancellation appear to be set to take effect at the end of April. But on April 14, the National Weather Service said some of its API access was suspended. That meant some two weeks before the scheduled change, the agency had already lost access.

Two days later, one of the agency’s affiliate feeds, NWS Tsunami Alerts, thanked Twitter users. Apparently, the “Twitterverse” raised hell about the apparent plan. Twitter restored the account’s API access, the tweet stated.

Mashable reported that an account called “TwitterNews” tweeted that Twitter had agreed to allow the National Weather Service to continue tweeting without limits:

But that account, Mashable said, isn’t an official Twitter account. So whether the message the account tweeted is accurate or not is anyone’s guess.

Others have complained about why the National Weather Service can’t just pay the fee. Well, if that’s a government agency, who exactly pays? If they suddenly have to shell out $42,000 per month, wouldn’t that fall on taxpayers?

If I’m not willing to pay $8 per month for a Twitter subscription, why would I want to pay even a share of $42,000?

I hope Twitter does the right thing and recognizes that since this could affect public safety, the National Weather Service and its affiliates should continue to have free access to the Twitter API. Weather alerts are a legitimate public safety issue.

That shouldn’t be up for debate.

the authorPatrick
Patrick is a Christian with more than 30 years experience in professional writing, producing and marketing. His professional background also includes social media, reporting for broadcast television and the web, directing, videography and photography. He enjoys getting to know people over coffee and spending time with his dog.