The Washington Post

Howard University students pump up Weather Service’s “Beat the Heat” campaign

Extreme heat is one of the leading causes of weather-related deaths in the U.S. Yet, as  it doesn’t leave a trail of destruction like a tornado or hurricane, it seldom attracts the attention.

Through an innovative partnership with Howard University, the National Weather Service has rejuvenated its “Beat the Heat” campaign to heighten awareness of the dangers of stifling summertime weather.

Junior and senior undergraduates in Howard’s Capstone Communications Laboratory have developed a heat communications plan to enhance the National Weather Service’s campaign.   Over the past three semesters, different groups of students have worked on the plan, iterating on different elements and improving it along the way.

Michelle Hawkins, health lead at the National Weather Service, said the students have taken on the role of employees at a public relations firm, leading the project from conception to execution.

“It has been a very rewarding experience for the National Weather Service and the students,” Hawkins said.  “The students have gotten to experience real world problems.”

Faculty at Howard have advised the students.  The National Weather Service has served as the primary program partner, while NOAA’s Center for Atmospheric Science has supported the program as a research partner.

“We get to tap into the value of fresh, creative student energy, and that results in creative innovation for communicating very import life-saving information,” Hawkins said.

Thanks to the students’ efforts, the  National Weather Service’s suite of heat safety information materials and Web site have received a face lift.

“These kids went back to drawing board and wowed us,” Hawkins said.

The goals of project are to increase visitors to the  National Weather Service “Beat the Heat” Web site, establish engagement with the Web site through downloaded materials, and increasing awareness of the campaign overall.

The students have developed a social media package, containing a suite of Twitter and Facebook posts  with punchy heat messages leveraging the  hashtag #BeatTheHeat. Some examples:

A burn from the sun can ruin your day, so wear a wide-brimmed hat to keep heat at bay. #BeatTheHeat

Caffeine and alcohol may sound fun, but they’re no good if you’re out in the sun! #BeatTheHeat and stay hydrated.

The National Weather Service plans to push these messages out on its social media platforms this summer while encouraging their use among constituents.

The Howard students have also designed a set of posters to convey the risks of overexposure to the heat and sun.  Take a look: 

(National Weather Service)
(National Weather Service)
(National Weather Service)
(National Weather Service)
(National Weather Service)
(National Weather Service)
(National Weather Service)
(National Weather Service)

Beat The Heat 911

The National Weather Service will work with students in the fall to evaluate the effectiveness of the campaign from monitoring the use of social media to tracking the amount of downloaded material.

“Allowing the students to work with real world clients gives them a glimpse of what’s going to happen after they graduate,” said Tia Tyree, a professor in Howard’s journalism department who runs the Capstone Communications Laboratory. “It has allowed them to work with real world deadlines under real world pressure.”

Jason is the Washington Post’s weather editor and Capital Weather Gang's chief meteorologist. He earned a master's degree in atmospheric science, and spent 10 years as a climate change science analyst for the U.S. government. He holds the Digital Seal of Approval from the National Weather Association.
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