May 19, 2024

How one Columbus subreddit user became a niche internet celebrity

The recent severe weather outbreak earlier this month spurred a cavalcade of activity on Reddit’s /r/columbus subreddit, a community centered around Columbus, Ohio.

“Death is assured at this point,” joked rowan11b, referring to earlier predictions of high risk weather, which included the possibility of tornadoes forming.

The threat of a tornado outbreak in Central Ohio motivated many of the subreddit’s users to begin clamoring for one particular user’s re-emergence: zebrasrlyingtoyou.

The Severe Weather Outlook graphic issued by the National Weather Service’s office at Wilmington, OH, showcasing a high risk of severe weather in western Ohio. Graphic by the National Weather Service.

“I didn’t really mean for any of that to happen,” said zebrasrlyingtoyou, referring to their rise as /r/columbus’s go-to source for severe weather information. “The sense of community and joy in sharing a hobby with so many strangers really was the motivation to keep this up.”

Zebras was not the first user to post about this month’s severe weather outbreak on the subreddit; /u/blackeyebetty posted a warning about a possible weather escalation on March 31.

Zebras’s relative lateness on submitting a post did not go unnoticed.

“I think we need a zebra signal. Similar to the bat signal. Just swap out the silhouette,” said /u/Phantom465.

Zebras eventually submitted a post on April 1, keeping the thread updated as news trickled in regarding the severe weather outbreak the next day.

“I’ve donated quite a bit of time and money to keeping people updated as best I can,” said Zebras. “But it’s easy to justify when I get messages who thank me for informing their decisions around (potentially) inclement weather. No one in my personal life knows I do this. That sort of anonymity has helped me keep things grounded a bit I think.”

Zebras’s interest in meteorology was spurred on, in large part, by their grandfather.

“We would spend time discussing the maps and forecasts in the newspaper,” they said.  “When I was in college, I was able to dive deeper into data analysis and climatology, using engineering concepts as a base understanding for a lot of phenomena (thermodynamics, fluid dynamics, etc).”

According to Zebras, people with a burgeoning interest in watching weather phenomena should be “exploring other analyses and viewpoints, whether that be via social media, SPC (Storm Prediction Center) discussions, etc. Learn from your peers. Read academic articles.”

Additionally, they recommend people use Pivotal Weather to track severe weather. Pivotal Weather is a website that hosts a plethora of weather data in a numerical format, providing complex forecasts and weather models in an accessible package, with additional data available via a subscription fee.

Though Columbus emerged relatively unscathed from the severe weather outbreak April 2, the National Weather Service confirmed eight tornadoes formed in Ohio that day, including an EF2 tornado that touched down in Jackson County.

“It’s an interesting conundrum we have here,” said Zebras. “Severe weather is becoming better understood, but it’s still entirely unpredictable at times. Climate changing is adding to that unpredictability. However, there’s a lot more media coverage and opinions and personalities for weather these days. This may make people feel like ‘the boy who cried wolf’ situations if they’re not personally impacted by whatever was hyped up for days. It’s better to be prepared, and it’s better to be safe than sorry.”


  • Marvin Wurr

    Marvin is a third-year English literature major. In his free time he enjoys hanging out with friends at bars and watching straight-to-DVD action flicks.

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