Like it did to so many in Western North Carolina, last week's snowstorm caught us scrambling to get our work done, get home, stay warm and help whomever we could. And while our newspaper publishes only once a week (on Wednesdays), Xpress is trying new ways to disseminate emergency news around the clock, every day.
As the storm clouds gathered last Friday, we set up a breaking-news box at the top of our homepage — www.mountainx.com — opening the door to hundreds of mini-reports on snowfall levels, power outages and restorations, traffic conditions, openings and closings, etc. We used Twitter, the social-media tool that lets Internet and smart-phone users quickly share brief reports on the Web.
Twitter users can tag their messages to make it easier for users to sort and filter the relentless rush of online news. Among Twitter users, that tag is called a "hashtag." In the case of this storm, community members adopted the hashtag "#avlsnomg" (as in "Asheville snow, Oh my god!) to mark messages about the weather and its impact on our region.
What resulted was a steady stream of dispatches, pictures and videos from the media, community members, energy companies and local businesses. The messages ranged from the silly ("Cabin fever is such that the teenager has begun running outside barefoot in the snow. Trying to get me to do same.") to the musing ("Guess next time I summon the Snow Gods to 'bring it,' I must be specific about no friggin' power outages clause") to the practical ("Our goal is to have majority of people's power restored by 11pm [Monday]. Extra crews are still on the ground.").
Granted, Twitter-driven news is not a perfect way to stay in the know during a weather emergency — particularly if your power is out and you can't access the Internet. But it's a relatively new tool that helped both Xpress and the community share urgent snippets of news in ways we havn't before. Stay tuned: At press time, there's a chance for more bad weather on the near horizon; if snowstorms come our way again soon, please join us in sharing the news at mountainx.com.