Spinning into Startups: Social Media Boosts Norman's Weather Industry

Article excerpt

On the day that tornadoes plowed through Moore and nearby communities, meteorologists at Weather Decision Technologies Inc. in Norman sent more than 2.25 million weather alerts to their clients, company President and CEO Mike Eilts said.

"Since then at least five people have reached back to us with messages that, 'You saved my life,'" Eilts said. "One guy said he was driving down I-35 when he got an alert that allowed him time to pull off the interstate and let the storm move by.

"That kind of information makes us feel good about what we do, and it shows the value of weather information on mobile devices," he said.

Weather Decision is just one of the many businesses and agencies that have developed in Norman over the last few decades as an outgrowth of the University of Oklahoma School of Meteorology. By 1980, the campus had attracted the National Severe Storms Laboratory, the Cooperative Institute for Mesoscale Meteorological Studies, and the Oklahoma Climatological Society. Norman's resident agencies now include the Center for Analysis and Prediction of Storms, the Storm Prediction Center, the National Weather Service Weather Forecast Office and many more.

Melissa Bird said the interaction among such groups generates economic opportunity. Appropriately enough, much of that synergy evolves from relationships among the weather industry players, a kind of social media of professional interests. Bird is spokeswoman for both the National Weather Center and OU College of Atmospheric and Geographic Sciences.

She said the Storm Prediction Center and Norman Forecast Office have been tapping into social media extensively to warn the community about weather changes. The foundation of reliable social media networks depends heavily on the private business sector; when weather enters the equation, those social connections extend to public emergency response and science research agencies.

And that creates a vibrant environment for economic development, Bird said.

"We certainly have a lot of room left for growth, which is wonderful," she said of the weather industry in Norman. …