The NWS has always solicited severe weather reports from the public. After all, no amount of technology can ever be a substitute for an accurate report of what's actually happening on the ground. Because of the new Twitter geolocation API and the increasing number of applications that support it (TweetDeck for iPhone is the latest to add geotagging support), it's become very simple for the public to submit severe weather reports and for the NWS to pinpoint where they happened.
How does it work? According to the program's documentation, a system monitors Twitter for tweets starting with the hashtag #wxreport. These tweets are then plotted on a Google map using the tweet's geolocation information, or in cases where the geotag data is not available, an approximation of the reporter's location within the tweet using the format WW [location] WW. Finally, the report is relayed to the appropriate NWS field office for use by the office's meteorologists in a variety of ways, including possible inclusion in an official storm report.
It's not just the NWS that could benefit, either. The public already will be more informed simply by watching the #wxreport tag, regardless of whether one of those reports is released in an official storm report. Sites such as Weather Underground, which already hosts an extensive network of citizen-owned weather stations, could further integrate these reports into its own products. Media outlets monitoring Twitter for storm information can use the tweets in their own reporting; The Weather Channel already does a good job of this.
You can see some of these reports in action today. Check out the Twitter search for #wxreport to see how much snow fell from a winter storm that's hit much of the U.S. We can't help but wonder what this search will look like once spring rolls around and the severe weather season kicks off. Hopefully, the NWS has the tools in place to handle a high volume of tweets and an effective way of dismissing hashtag spam and other Twitter nuisances.
The National Weather Service program demonstrates how powerful geolocation on Twitter can be, and we can't help but wonder what else will be created with geolocated tweets. Look for even more creative uses of geolocation throughout 2010.