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VOL. 126 | NO. 232 | Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Plugged-In Weatherman

Social media allows meteorologist to forecast from home

By Andy Meek

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The rise of social media – and its integration with smartphones that are never far from a user’s side – has helped meteorologist Erik Proseus prove the truth behind Bob Dylan’s admonition that you don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows.

Erik Proseus is meteorologist, webmaster and blogger of Memphisweather.net, which he’s built from scratch. Social media and smartphone apps have helped the company become a competitor to TV forecasters. 
(Photo: Lance Murphey)

Proseus is not a weatherman in the broadcast sense. He’s not a TV personality. When storms break out, he doesn’t break into TV programs for wall-to-wall weather coverage. He’s not even affiliated with a news network.

Rather, what Proseus has done is assembled his own audience, developed his own business that provides several weather-related products and services and built his own home base with the requisite forecasting technology. And all of it serves to put him in direct competition with his broadcast brethren.

Proseus is the proprietor of MemphisWeather.Net, his brand that stretches across the Web and myriad social media networks to keep his audience fed with real-time, on-demand weather info and alerts.

He has a blog, at blog.memphisweather.net. He’s on YouTube, at www.youtube.com/memphisweather1. He’s got a Flickr photostream, at www.flickr.com/photos/memphisweather1. He’s on Twitter (@memphisweather1) and Facebook (www.facebook.com/memphisweather1).

“I know most of the TV guys, as a matter of fact,” Proseus said. “And I’ve got absolutely no gripe with what they do. I see what I do as a complementary service. They have a much larger area to cover, so they have to provide the service to the entire area. And if there’s a large tornado going through Dyersburg and a smaller storm coming through Memphis, they’re going to focus initially on the tornado on the ground.”

That leaves an opening for Proseus to offer more tailored services with more specific weather data to anyone who wants it.

Within the last few days, for example, version 2.0 of the MemphisWeather.Net smartphone app has been released. It allows users to upgrade their app to include Proseus’ new premium service called StormWatch+, a push-notification system that hopes to cut down on “siren fatigue.”

Using the National Weather Service’s polygon warning system that outlines only the areas a storm will affect, StormWatch+ uses computer mapping to compare a user’s location to the official storm warning area. Users of the premium service then get alerts only when necessary, born out of what Proseus said was his desire to cut out the effect of some people letting their guard down when hearing storm sirens that don’t affect them.

The StormWatch+ service will be available for use with the MemphisWeather.Net app on iPhones in the near future. Right now, it’s in the Android Market. A Web-based user interface also is in the works.

MemphisWeather’s app developer is Ben Deming of Deming Design & Development.

Traditional broadcast news outlets are moving in a similar direction. WMC-TV Action News 5, for example, has a free weather app currently available in Apple’s App Store and in the Android Market that offers a variety of features such as live radar, storm tracking and severe-weather alerts.

Meanwhile, an unscientific glance of recent tweets from Proseus reveals more about his strategy for MemphisWeather.Net. His tweets are often specific mini-forecasts for anybody who tweets him with a question.

For example, @eticklethomas sent @memphisweather1 this question Saturday, Nov. 26: “My 10 yr old is predicting snow next week. Your thoughts?”

Tweeting on Proseus’ behalf, his intern, Kevin Terry, replied, “There could be a few snowflakes mixing in with rain Sun night and again Mon night! Not expecting accumulations tho. /KT”

Also Saturday, @RandyMcTigerFan tweeted @memphisweather1: “Looks like it will be a stormy ride back after the game.”

He soon got his reply.

“Wet, probably not stormy,” @memphisweather1 responded in an unsigned tweet. “Not much thunder expected with this system.”

Cirrus Weather Solutions is the small business Proseus operates that runs MemphisWeather.Net. The latter has been around since 2003, and Proseus folded it under Cirrus in 2010 once he decided to find ways to monetize his weather-related activities.

He conceptualizes his app products, but he has an app developer to code them. Terry does some of the brand’s Facebook, Twitter and general social media updates, and he’ll also write a blog post a week.

Besides forecasting, Proseus also has assembled information on what to do in case of severe weather, and he gives presentations at schools once in a while to teach kids about weather basics.

Among the flurry of tweets to him in recent days came one from Joey Sulipeck, chief meteorologist for WHBQ Fox 13. Sulipeck gave a shout-out to Proseus as “a general in the real-time weather revolution.”

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