Experts say that advances in technology, particularly social media, are changing how people watch for severe weather and how quickly images of the damage can be shared.
John Robinson, the warning coordinator for the National Weather Service’s Little Rock office, said Facebook, Twitter and other social media as well as smart-phone apps are helping people learn about storm warnings faster.
“A few years ago, we wouldn’t see the instant pictures (on the Internet) of damage,” he said. “Now we are seeing pictures of what the tornado looks like immediately. It’s powerful confirmation,” he told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.
Jackie Fowlkes was in church when she received a warning April 27 about a tornado on her phone from an app that broadcasts emergency warnings. She told her pastor, who gathered people into the church’s basement in Vilonia. Then Fowlkes checked her Facebook page and saw snapshots confirming that the twister had struck nearby.
“I knew instantly that it touched down, and it was bad,” she said.
Although people still rely on traditional methods for warnings, such as radio and tornado sirens, advancements in technology are helping, Robinson said.
“When people are faced with danger, they seek confirmation,” Robinson said. “They need proof.”
Storm warnings are issued on average 14 minutes before they strike, according to The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. In the case of the Arkansas tornado last month, some residents had notice of up to 40 minutes.