Ridgefield Storm Tracker
Ridgefield has had some strange weather over the last 12 months.
There were the four nor’easters that dropped almost 5 feet of snow in a 17-day span last March, the macroburst that ripped through the northern part of town and canceled school for three days in May, and the torrential rainstorms in August that caused the town to double-up on erosion and sedimentation controls at vulnerable areas of construction sites.
Ridgefield High School freshman Jack Schaefer has been tweeting through all of it on his Ridgefield Storm Tracker (RST) Twitter handle — @rst06877 for those plugged and looking for a user-friendly profile with up-to-the-hour updates related to the town’s ever-changing weather.
“The weather changes so quickly,” Schaefer said, “and we’ve had so many peculiar storms over the last year.”
In addition to Twitter, Ridgefield Storm Tracker (RST) has a website (rstormtrackers.com) and an Instagram page, ridgefield.storm.tracker, too.
“I’ve always been into technology and I’d like to work in marketing when I’m older so I figured this was a nice place to start,” said Schaefer, who created the platform when he was in eighth grade last March. “I’ve created multiple different websites, mostly for school, but this is one I’d like to keep growing as a business.”
“We’ve had 200 people visit the website already this week,” he said recently. “We have more than 500 followers on Instagram.”
With the RST brand celebrating its first-year anniversary this March, Schaefer is looking to expand his team and build an app to support his weather work.
“There are four people working on RST with me,” he said. “One’s a sophomore, two are freshmen like me, and another is a freshmen in college ... We each come up with a forecast and then source them together to make a prediction.”
Of robots and humans
Who’s maintaining the hourly posts on Twitter?
“I actually have a Twitter bot that takes the weather and posts it every hour for us,” Schaefer said. “So that’s an automatic 24 posts a day and keeps our feed active.”
Despite the bot’s heavy production, human interaction is needed.
There’s a lot more activity on the two social media channels and the website on days of snowstorms or other bad weather.
“We wake up at 5 in the morning on days of storms,” Schaefer said. “We’ll be checking the forecasts until about 10 at night or 10:30.”
From a business perspective, Schaefer admits that Mother Nature has dealt him a favorable hand in year one.
“It’s been a good first year,” he said. “We’ve started doing ads on Instagram to gain attraction to our page. I’d like to partner with local businesses here in town. It’s still in the early stages in terms of marketing.”
Fortunately, Schaefer has three more years of weather watching to maintain the RST brand’s growth.
“Right now it’s kind of a hobby but I eventually think we can make money from it,” he said.
The right channel
One of the challenges Schaefer and his team have faced is finding the right social media channels.
There’s another student-run weather service that’s predominantly on Facebook, and that competition has caused him to look elsewhere for marketing opportunities.
“Nobody’s on Facebook, most kids don’t have it anymore,” he said. “A lot of parents still have it, but the majority of our audience are our peers — students who are in the ninth grade or younger make up about 60 percent of our audience.”
And what’s the most popular channel for younger people these days?
“Instagram,” Schaefer said. “We can post images with descriptions on there. We’ve also posted videos and live reports on there.”
While Instagram is the alpha, the Twitter handle does get a lot of direct messages from users. “They’re pretty happy with what we’re doing,” he said. “Feedback so far is that we’re reliable.”
He imagines the RST app will be operational by the end of the school year, with programming work set to begin in April.
“What we’ve learned is to be the early bird,” he said. “Be the first to post and keep the updates coming. I think the app will help with that and also help create more of a community of users.”
It also might attract new team members.
“What we really want is more people sending us pictures on Twitter and Instagram, giving us up-to-the-minute weather updates that we can share with our users,” he said. “That will bring more people to our Instagram page and help us outgrow the competition.”