NEW YORK - When severe weather hits, real-time information can sometimes mean the difference between life and death. A new generation of online storm chasers is changing how we get that crucial information.
Ryan Hall of Pineville, Kentucky, is a digital marketer who has been interested in weather for as long as he can remember.
"Years and years of just being absolutely obsessed with the weather," he said. "You can ask my parents — I didn't watch 'The Disney Channel' when I was younger, I watched 'The Weather Channel.'"
Then a weather event in his own backyard inspired him to start a YouTube channel at the beginning of this year.
"We got a big snowstorm here last Christmas and it got me super inspired and into weather again," Hall said. "I was like, 'You know what, I'm going to make a YouTube channel. I'm going to go all out and see what happens here."
The 27-year-old transformed his man cave into a weather cave. The room in his house is tricked out with high-speed weather computers, flashing lights, and weather warning sirens. His YouTube channel (called Ryan Hall, Y'all) attracts as many as 300,000 views during his severe weather live streams.
"I just take all of the information that the National Weather Service provides. I take forecast model data and I analyze that for people," Hall said. "I try to digest it and put it in terms that more people can understand and just kind of go a little bit more in-depth than your average weather forecaster or analyzer would, to get people who are interested in the weather more information that they might not be able to get themselves."
Hall is just one of many YouTubers who take it to social media and other places on the internet when severe weather strikes.
Nate Snyder, 19, is a weather enthusiast from Pennsylvania who started his YouTube channel two years ago. He was inspired by the weather coverage from local, national, and international news outlets.
"I thought it was really cool to where they would be able to look at radar and be able to tell people specifically what's happening on that screen," he said. "That's how I got my inspiration to start a YouTube channel. I wanted to do the same exact thing."
After attending a weather camp at Penn State, Snyder realized that tracking the weather was his dream.
"That was the signifying moment for me," he said. "This is exactly what I want to do. Just by moving forward, I want to see if I can enhance my skills and help people."
Helping people is their ultimate goal. Hall said their work quickly getting warnings out to their viewers is extremely important.
"There's a lot of people out there who only consume media on YouTube. They don't have any other social media; they don't have cable TV or anything like that," Hall added. "So, if I pop up on their recommended feed, I may be the only way that they get the warning."
Snyder said he tries to inform people about the progress, timing, and potential impacts of storms.
"I feel that by doing that it can help a lot more people and that's what we try to strive for," he said. "We try to save lives."
And they can't do it alone. With the power of YouTube behind them, their real-time weather warnings reach a much wider audience.
"Having that big following there and having them out there sharing the stream and getting it out to as many people as possible," Hall said, "I know for a fact has gotten these streams out in front of people who are in the direct path of tornadoes and got to shelter only because they saw my video shared somewhere."
"There could be some instances where power could be out and there still could be service in some areas [where] people could be on their mobile devices, like phones," he said.
And it can be lucrative. The money earned through ad revenue and viewer donations is typically used to support the channels and upgrade equipment. In fact, Hall built his own storm-chasing vehicle with a price tag of $150,000.
"There's a ton of weather instrumentation on that thing — there's a hygrometer, a barometer, an anemometer, and wind vane," Hall said. "Every single thing you could possibly need to measure weather parameters is on that vehicle."
So these weather fanatics don't just sit in front of a computer. They jump into action at a moment's notice and, of course, it's all caught on camera.
"We actually did not know where this thing was going, so we really tried to get out of the way of it, more or less," Snyder said. There was just so much rain and hail around that we could not see anything whatsoever."
The potential danger doesn't dissuade Hall.
"I hope that I can continue to do this for as long as possible," He said. "This is my passion. This is what I love to do."