Meteorologists: Beware amateur weather forecasting websites

These days more weather-related websites are surfacing across the Internet. They include maps and radar and even feature forecasts, but many are run by amateurs with no formal meteorological training.

For some meteorologists, it's concerning.

"I do get nervous when we get people who have very limited exposure to the science start pontificating about a science that is not that easy to understand," said Fox 8 Chief Meteorologist Bob Breck.

By using seemingly official titles and slick appearances, many amateur sites are gaining serious traction.

"Some of them have 60,000 to 70,000 likes or followers and so that means there are people that are following these sites, and I'm concerned that they may not understand the difference between these types of forecasting information and those of more official authorities like the National Weather Service or the National Hurricane Center," said University of Georgia Professor Marshall Shepherd, who served as 2013 American Meteorological Society President.

Shepherd worries the overload of information could lead to a 'cry wolf' mentality -- after seeing too many predictions from amateurs, people may not properly heed warnings from the professionals.

"Just because something goes viral or is tweeted or put on a website doesn't necessarily mean it's good information," he said. "What we're finding in meteorology and weather these days is that some of the loss of life and damage occurs because of messaging and perception, not necessarily the quality of the forecasting."

Regardless, amateur forecasting sites keep churning out loads of information, but meteorologists encourage folks to seek out reputable sources.

"I encourage the public to listen to the television meteorologists, the National Weather Service or the National Hurricane Center when it comes to hurricanes," Shepherd said.

"When you get conflicting information from many different websites, conflicting information leads to confusion, confusion leads to delaying action. And if you need to evacuate, you don't want to delay that evacuation," Breck said.

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