Brian Matthews lives just a stone’s throw from where a tornado ripped through Troup County on April 27, 2011.
But he’s been interested in weather since he was a child.
“I think I chased my first storm on a bike,” he says. “It’s just a hobby, but I’d like to be a full-time spotter one day.”
Matthews started the Troup County Weather Alerts page on Facebook in March to help spur on his hobby, even offering free text message alerts about storms to people who signed up for the service.
When the Troup County Sheriff’s office suspended their weather alert service in the middle of the year, the number of “likes” on the page shot up exponentially. It’s gone up even more as each storm system passed through the area.
“During Sandy, we got 400 people in two days,” he said. “On Christmas Day, it blew up. We had 495 new text subscribers in six hours.”
The Christmas Day weather system that brought severe storms to the South was a threat here, Matthews said.
“It just didn’t do what we thought,” he said. “There were storms all over. Traffic on the site was crazy.”
There was a predicted 80 percent chance of a tornado hitting within 50 miles of Troup County on Christmas night, he said.
Troup County Weather Alerts now has more than 1,500 “likes.”
Matthews is currently constructing a website for Troup County Weather Alerts. The website combines his two hobbies, weather and website design. He started designing websites when he was 14, watching the weather when he was even younger.
“I think I used to watch ‘Twister’ over and over,” he said. “I can track storms pretty accurately.”
Matthews is also in the middle of creating an “app” for the Android and iPhone, and would like to hear from subscribers about what they want on it. Eventually there will be a survey on the Facebook page of optional features. He also wants to expand the site to include Harris and Meriwether counties.
One service he wants to offer is a “check in” feature.
“If another tornado outbreak come through, you could check in and people could easily check on you and so on,” he said. “The importance of the app basically lets the user decide how to receive alerts and customize and it would give you peace of mind knowing if the cable went out or you can’t hear a siren, at least you know that you have the ability to be warned. Also, I am hosting a NOAA weather radio on the app that would allow the user to use their phone as a free weather radio.”