In a time not too long ago, the massive Manitoba wind storm and the huge wall of dust and soil roiling up out of nowhere may have caught farmers like Dave and Rhonda Koslowsky ill-prepared.
Fortunately for the Koslowsky’s and others like them, things have indeed changed. In fact, as the gathering storm sent intense wind gusts at crops, infrastructure and homesteads along its path, the Killarney-area farmers actually knew the early June 2015 storm was coming before their own eyes ever caught a glimpse of it. The menacing storm had generated many texts, tweets and Facebook posts among the folks in the southwestern Manitoba community.
"It’s actually something that has evolved over time that we have grown to rely upon," says Rhonda Koslowky. “As a storm comes in, we can text or Facebook our neighbors and friends of how big it is, where it is headed, pictures of the storm itself and, sometimes afterwards, the damages it has caused. Our texts and social media networks have become a vital part of storm preparedness for our community.”
The wind storm left the Koslowsky’s virtually unscathed as they battened down the hatches before the storm hit and waited it out in safety. The storm warnings were clear indicators that technology has enabled the development of this early warning system network. This network has been embraced by rural communities as high speed Internet connectivity continues to expand to more of Manitoba’s rural areas that. Producers and rural folks are adapting rapidly, aided by mobile technology such as tablets and smart phones that allow farmers to be more connected and able to communicate from wherever they are.
Before the June wind storm whipped up social networking in southwestern Manitoba, earlier that week another drastic event was on people’s radar. The rest of the province’s agricultural community was on high alert as a crop-damaging frost blanketed newly planted crops.
Texts, social media updates and reports of the frost began to fill the airwaves. Posts evolved in two noticeable stages, particularly on Twitter. First, the farmers on the ground that were most affected took to the twitterverse to immediately report their status:
Audrey Bamber (@Audreyb273) Frost in western Manitoba. #westcdnag #canola pic.twitter.com/HStkmRMU7g
Simon Ellis (@FarmLifeMB) Some flax plants are recovering from frost, but unfortunately not enough. We will replant this weekend. #farm365 pic.twitter.com/ABwHXl8ajC
Next came the media and farm analysts with reports of the frost and the impacts on this year’s crop. In this case canola was especially impacted:
Rod Nickel (@ReutersWinnipeg) Manitoba farmers filed 700 insurance claims today after Saturday frost, nearly doubling total for entire year. Mostly #canola affected
Manitoba Co-operator (@MBCooperator) #Manitoba #canola crop succumbs to final blow with May 30 frost. manitobacooperator.ca/?p=72320 #weather manitobacooperator.ca/news-opinion/n…
This early warning system on social media utilized two foundations of interaction and engagement between the farmers and additional media coverage. Both played a key role in sharing information and keeping people updated during and after the events.
The communication of these two major weather events confirm that rural Manitobans are engaging in social and digital media as part of their daily lives. In extreme weather situations this new way of getting instant and accurate information will be of great and obvious benefit.
Are you in the agriculture industry and use social media to connect around weather conditions? Tell us what social networks work best in the comments below.