The ISCN largely operates online. They’ll work with media — McMillan has spoken live by telephone with TV weather forecasters during tornadoes to help warn people — but the internet is the key.
Sharpe tries to focus on removing the hype from forecasts. There was an incident this winter where a model was announced by one outlet as a potentially huge storm, but the timing was so far out it was in what Sharpe calls “model fantasyland.” It was simply too far in the future to be accurate.
Episodes like that leave an opening for the ISCN to step in with a different outlook. They believe they can build a following if they stick to accuracy rather than hype.
“Credibility is an important thing. People aren’t worried about where they get their information from, as long as it is accurate,” he said.
It seems to be working so far. The ISCN Facebook page has more than 60,000 likes, far more than any single media page in Iowa.
Forecasting is only part of the picture, though. McMillan streams live video during his chases, giving people a chance to see what’s happening in the field. And the contact with other media outlets during chases, particularly television, is an important part of the work.
People have become used to warnings from radar-indicated tornadoes. It’s a critical tool. Radar can tell you where circulations are and it pushes back warning times so people have more time to get to shelter.
But radar isn’t the same as a report from someone who says they have their eyes on a tornado. People react differently when a spotter confirms the storm. The National Weather Service even points to that fact during their storm spotter training.
That, in the end, is why McMillan chases.