There may be no internet weather personality with a wider reach than Ryan Hall, a 27-year-old based out of eastern Kentucky. Unlike other famous weather names, Hall doesn’t gain viewers from traditional network news or the Weather Channel — he does so across social media.
Hall’s social media has seen explosive growth since he began uploading videos to YouTube in January 2021. In December, Hall streamed live on YouTube to cover a tornado outbreak that spawned two EF-4 twisters that devastated parts of Kentucky. Afterward, Hall’s subscriber numbers climbed by nearly 250,000 in just two months, according to the social media monitoring platform Social Blade. In April, Hall announced plans to also expand his ground presence, adding a fleet of storm-chasing vehicles with colorful, branded decals. At least one of them was spotted during Hurricane Ian.
To date, Hall has accumulated 828,000 subscribers on his YouTube channel, Ryan Hall, Y’all, and 1.5 million followers on TikTok. His videos on YouTube, which recently have been uploaded roughly twice weekly, regularly get hundreds of thousands of views.
The videos are fast-paced, packed with maps with vivid colors. Hall has amassed a fan base drawn to his folksy presentation, with videos often going into greater depth than a typical television weathercast. Hall told The Washington Post he uses a team of meteorologists, editors and writers to produce his videos.
Hall’s YouTube video touting a “Massive Storm” after Thanksgiving has drawn more than a million views. One commenter on the video described him as “down to earth and forthright,” and another said he his forecasts are “more accurate than any local, or even national predictions.”
On Twitter, where Hall has more than 110,000 followers, he describes himself as “The Internet’s Weather Man.”
Critics voice concerns about hype
As Hall’s viewership has grown, some in the weather community have questioned how he’s presenting his videos, pointing to specific headlines and images that appear to make promises unsupported by science. Critics argue that when his headlines overstep, they have the potential to erode trust in meteorologists.
Hall was also sharply criticized for headlines in a pair of videos in August and September: “Here’s Exactly When You’ll See Snow This Year (2022)” and “Here’s Exactly How Much Snow You’ll See This Year (2022).”
In the active online weather community on Twitter, the video title about the amount of snow, and the accompanying thumbnail, drew sharp rebukes from meteorologists and weather hobbyists who argued the teaser overpromised information. One critical tweet drew more than 400 likes and dozens of replies and quote tweets, arguing the thumbnail was misleading because it suggested a swath of the country could see 4 feet of snow, including areas where such amounts are rare or unrealistic.
The use of eye-popping images and hyped-up messaging to drive clicks is hardly limited to Hall — it takes little browsing to find YouTubers without clear credentials using thumbnails showing hurricanes photoshopped over land and over the water. Without naming specific creators, Hall told The Washington Post that there are YouTubers who “overwhelmingly use misleading titles and thumbnails” but that he would not include himself in that group.
Hall said his goal is to capture an audience that traditional weather information sources such as television, radio and the National Weather Service have missed. To do so, Hall said he uses “the same tactics” other creators on social media platforms use: flashy thumbnails, big blocky text and vibrant images.
“I am, for the most part, simply relaying official information from meteorologists and government agencies that people need,” Hall said. “I’m just doing it in a different way than what most people have … seen before in the weather world.”
Still, some meteorologists are concerned. In a recent podcast, James Spann, chief meteorologist for Birmingham’s ABC television affiliate in Birmingham, Ala., and co-host of the “WeatherBrains” podcast, said that the way some YouTubers draw clicks is incompatible with his values.
“There is just something in my fabric, in my soul, where integrity is kind of a big deal, and that is one of the negatives I see is having to play a game to be a YouTuber, to conform to their standards,” Spann said.
While Hall agrees that weather misinformation on social media is a problem, he doesn’t consider his videos to be clickbait or harmful and has even made fun of critics. He defends some of his more controversial posts, arguing they draw people into a video that will include the necessary nuance and substance.
“The title was a sufficient hook to capture the attention of people who were interested in the content of the video,” Hall said about the video “Here’s Exactly How Much Snow You’ll See This Year.” The video itself was “nothing more than a scientific-based seasonal outlook that explains averages and the effect of La Nina on our winters here in the USA.”
Kim Klockow McClain, a meteorologist and team lead for the Behavioral Insights Unit at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, said while the jury is out on exactly how viewers perceive YouTube thumbnails, research suggests if people do fixate on thumbnails, it could pose a problem.
“People tend to anchor judgments about risk based on the first information they receive and then update from that point of reference,” Klockow said. “If the first reference point is an extreme, even after adjusting based on content in the video, their judgments may still remain more extreme than the situation warrants.”
Katie Nickolaou, a meteorologist and TikToker with more than 478,000 followers, said she believes the best headlines and thumbnails are catchy, intriguing and truthful. Headlines and images that don’t deliver on promises could have dangerous ripple effects, she said.
“Not only will [the user] stop clicking on videos from that creator, they’ll also be less likely to click on or trust videos from other weather-related content creators,” Nickolaou said. “This can be extremely harmful, because it can slow down and even prevent the dissemination of potentially lifesaving data from meteorologists.”
Ultimately, Hall says, he and meteorologists — whether they use social media or not — are all on the same team, educating and informing people. During imminent severe weather events, Hall said, he shifts from what he calls a “weather-tainment” style to a more serious tone. Still, Hall said he’s taken lessons from the stir around his thumbnails, adding that some pushback has made his team “reevaluate our marketing.”
Hall has become a force
Hall said the growth of his audience has allowed him to expand his business and create more jobs for meteorologists. Hall has also helped those affected by severe storms, something he said wouldn’t be possible without growth from the way he markets his videos.
“I have been able to donate over $100,000 to survivors of tornadoes and hurricanes by directly handing out supplies, cash and even new cars to people who lost theirs to Mother Nature’s wrath, and none of that would be possible without our modern approach to marketing,” Hall said.
“If any of that is wrong, I don’t want to be right,” Hall added.