A Twitterstorm on Twitter about the weather

A guest blog by Joe Diorio

Over a century ago, journalist Charles Dudley Warner* wrote in The Hartford Courant that “everybody talks about the weather, but no one does anything about it.” Nowadays, meteorologists are doing something about the weather when they talk about it.

Case in point: on December 23, 2015, tornadoes roared across northern Mississippi and middle Tennessee, killing 13 people. As then-WKRN meteorologist Lisa Patton was delivering her report that night she reminded viewers, “I’m using my ‘mom’ voice right now.” Her underlying message was clear: Take what I say seriously.

Patton’s action showed that how we say something is equally important as what we say. And it can come across clearly via the written word. David Drobny, one of three voices behind the NashSevereWx twitter account, demonstrates this regularly in his weather tweets. He also says Patton was “spot on” in her tone of voice on that December evening.

Life-threatening weather events are rare, so many times Drobny will have fun with meteorological terminology by poking fun at his preference for scientific terminology over water-cooler jargon. For example, as a storm headed toward Nashville in January he wrote: “Pro-snow weather terms [include] ‘deformation zone,’ [and] ‘frequent mentions of the ‘dendritic zone’ (impress people by saying ‘DGZ’) … Anti-snow: ‘dry slot,’ ‘dry air monster,’ ‘the low went north’.” He quickly followed up by adding “we cannot be close friends if you like ‘freezing rain’ [or] ‘ice storm’.”

With freezing rain and ice possible, but increasingly unlikely, on the weekend of January 19 and 20, someone tweeted their relief that their drive via I-65 to the Tennessee Performing Arts Center was clear. Will Minkoff, another one of the @NashSevereWx authors, responded “We could all use some culture.”

While Nashville was in the grip of an unusually bad cold spell, NashSevereWx tweeted “26 degrees at the airport. Colder in the hollers.” The tweet was accompanied by an image of John Travolta from the movie “Pulp Fiction,” photoshopped to show him in a large snow drift and holding a snow shovel.

That same day he posted a poll on Twitter, asking readers if bridges and overpasses – which we all know freeze first – are the same thing. Fifty-eight percent of the nearly 400 votes cast over a 60-minute period said they were different. The technical difference does not matter. “The point is they are both elevated and therefore cool off faster,” Drobny says. He was not setting transportation policy. He was driving home the point that drivers should be wary of slick bridges and overpasses.

(FWIW, Dictionary.com says “overpass” – the noun – is a road crossing over something, whereas “overpass” – the verb – means to pass over or traverse a region or space. It also defines “bridge” as a structure passing over something. Let the arguing begin. Break out your Venn Diagrams!)

Drobny’s tweets are indeed humorous, but they all have a bit of weather education included. (BTW, since I didn’t say so earlier, “dendritic” means having a branched form resembling a tree. A good term for a growing weather front, methinks.)

“I try to be humorous,” Drobny explains. “People need to see a lighter tone when I am not concerned, then when I am concerned, and the jokes and good humor evaporate, hopefully people understand the gravity of the situation.”

Drobny started NashSevereWx in 2010. “Friends were contacting me during severe weather wanting to know conditions where I lived (he’s in Williamson County) or worked (downtown Nashville). Weather data and software that had been only for the NWS and local TV meteorologists recently had become available to the weather nerd community. I snatched it up. I was equipped to follow storms myself. Friends were pestering me for information, and I wanted to give to them. Turned out it was easier to put it out there for them on Twitter rather than take multiple phone calls and reply to several text messages.” The Twitter handle gained followers at a rapid pace and Drobny realized he’d need help managing it.

Drobny is an attorney by day. NashSevereWx is something he and two friends –Andrew Leeper and the aforementioned Will Minkoff– run as a hobby, but the hyper-local nature of its weather reporting (it covers only Davidson and Williamson counties in Tennessee) has grown its Twitter presence to over 158,000 followers. Nowadays they have a media partnership with the National Weather Service in Nashville to add more specificity to their tweets.

“Most of what you see on Twitter is me,” Drobny said. “Andrew and Will also tweet, but their primary responsibilities concern other parts of our operation.”

The gang at NashSevereWX may not have a “mom” voice, but they do manage to leverage language to entertain and get their point across.

*Yes, it was Warner, not Mark Twain. Go look it up.

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Joe Diorio is a Nashville IABC member and a freelance writer, editor, and proofreader. You can sign up for his newsletter, “A Few Words About Words,” by visiting his website.

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