GARDEN CITY — National Weather Service meteorologists and media professionals in southwest Kansas are working to reach more underserved populations by offering bilingual weather information.
NWS-Dodge City meteorologist-in-charge Lindon Steadman said his office is creating and distributing materials, such as safety posters, that are printed in both Spanish and English. He said he is currently the only Spanish speaker working in the western Kansas weather office, in a region of the state where the population of native Spanish speakers has grown in the past decade.
Steadman has spoken Spanish for 23 years, and honed his skills while doing humanitarian work entirely in Spanish for two years in Guatemala. He said staffers at both the Dodge City and Wichita NWS offices have been working together to increase the agency’s efforts to provide information in multiple languages. Twitter and Facebook have been helpful tools to meteorologists, especially in sending weather watches and warnings immediately, he said.
Julio Martinez, program director for Spanish-language KSSA La Ke Buena 105.9 FM in southwest Kansas, said he often uses Facebook to double-check the accuracy of daily weather information from the National Weather Service. He and a part-time employee both pre-record hourly weather segments for their daily broadcasts — but they have to translate the content first.
“When we receive a weather alert, for example, it’s in English,” Martinez said, “and a lot of (Spanish speakers) don’t understand exactly what they say. Normally I translate it and also mention it live on the air in Spanish.”
The Facebook page for La Ke Buena 105.9 has more than 16,000 followers. KSSA 105.9 is a 100,000 watt station that covers southwest Kansas, including Dodge City, Garden City, Liberal and Scott City. Martinez said he has received positive comments from people who appreciated having weather information in Spanish for warnings about things like severe weather or extreme heat.
“Eighty percent of our listeners are Hispanic,” Martinez said.
He also said more and more dialects of the Spanish language are being spoken in southwest Kansas, as more people from Central and South American countries migrate to the region. He said he uses a common version of Spanish to make sure people understand the information.
“It’s simple to translate (weather information) as we get it,” Martinez said. “We’ll use short sentences to help people understand it.”
NWS-Wichita meteorologist Vanessa Pearce said the weather service has two teams that are helping to expand the amount of multilingual content and provide interviews for Spanish-speaking media outlets. The teams are made up of scientists working at offices across the country, with native speakers from many different Latin American countries.
NWS-Topeka warning coordination meteorologist Chad Omitt said at a NWS partners meeting in February that his office is working to better serve vulnerable populations. He told a group of emergency management officials, first responders, fellow meteorologists and journalists that his worst fear is a tornado striking a vulnerable community, such as a mobile home park.
“We’re looking at how we can reach those communities, and how do we, somehow, as best we can, help them prepare as much as they can be,” Omitt said.
Martinez said it can still be difficult finding accurate weather information in Spanish. Steadman said there is still a bit of digging needed for people to access NWS information in other languages. One place people can find it is at the NWS’s Spanish website, weather.gov/wrn/Spanish.
A May 12 bulletin for a severe thunderstorm warning from the National Weather Service-Dodge City office appears in Spanish. Weather Service offices across Kansas are working together to provide more severe weather information in Spanish, and eventually in multiple languages. (Screen capture)
Steadman said one thing he and his colleagues know they need to improve is accessibility of weather information.
“We have a bunch of Facebook and Twitter followers,” Steadman said. “Probably, the first thing we’d look at is offering Spanish-translated information in our normal social media products.”
Steadman said he feels the agency is in the “market research” phase of learning more about how to help protect underserved populations from potential weather impacts.
“When I participate in outreach events, such as visiting schools or giving safety presentations, I bring NWS weather pamphlets and handouts in Spanish,” Steadman said. “I make it a point to inform the audience that we now have a Spanish speaker in the office, something we’ve lacked for many years.”
In part because of his bilingualism, Steadman was selected as a regional NWS representative for the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Hispanic Employment Program.
“Through this program, we are seeking to build relationships with Hispanic communities and engage them in our mission of ensuring and enabling this nation’s economic growth and development,” Steadman said.
Pearce, who has degrees in both meteorology and Spanish, said there are efforts underway at other NWS offices around the nation to provide more multilingual weather information. An example is the Flagstaff, Arizona, NWS office, which worked with a local university and a tribal community to create a cloud chart in the local American Indian language.
The National Weather Service also provides information on its website for people with intellectual disabilities, as well as people who are deaf or hard of hearing. Pearce said the NWS-Wichita office has partnered with local community groups to serve those populations.
This story originally appeared in the Kansas Reflector, part of States Newsroom. It is republished here with permission.