Bringing American Sign Language to local weather alerts

One morning in June 2000, Tara Burglund was driving through a thunderstorm on her way to work just north of Sioux City, Iowa. She could see the dark clouds looming overhead and feel the 74 mph winds trying to roll her car as she pressed on the brakes. But she couldn’t hear the cracks of thunder or the urgency of the severe weather alerts.

Burglund is deaf.

While she followed her instincts to pull over into a parking lot, she didn’t know what was going on. Moments later, a giant tree fell nearby, she said. If she had stayed on the road, she realized, she would have been risking her life.

Severe weather is one of the main reasons people tune in to local news stations. Broadcast meteorologists are able to share minute-to-minute details such as location, timing and storm tracks. Yet Burglund — and nearly 1 million other people in the United States — don’t get the same weather information most people rely on their local broadcast meteorologists to provide.

“I rely on my family to interpret when there is bad weather, and when they are not home I can barely tell what is going on,” said Burglund. “Having access to the same safety as others would help so much.”

The National Weather Service has made efforts in recent years to better reach those who are deaf or hard of hearing. Weather radios are available with strobe lights or vibrating alert features for emergencies. Many cities offer storm spotter classes in American Sign Language (ASL). And national catchphrases such as “when thunder roars, go indoors” have been adapted to “see a flash, dash inside.” Weather Service meteorologist Trevor Boucher says this phrasing and imagery can benefit the hearing and deaf community alike.

But there is still a critical gap when it comes to the “nowcasting” provided on local television. ASL is the primary language for more than 500,000 Americans, and unfortunately, it’s not a language that many broadcast meteorologists are familiar with, although there are some examples. Brek Bolton, a meteorologist at Fox 13 in Salt Lake City, has been using ASL on social media for years. In the 2010s, meteorologist Robert Gauthreaux III delivered ASL forecasts for the Baton Rouge area.

Read the rest of the story at https://www.washingtonpost.com/weather/2022/04/15/asl-weather-sign-language-severe.

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