COM 0011: Blog Post 2: Hitting New Extremes: Social Media and Extreme Weather

Heatwaves, droughts, wildfires, and floods. More and more, social media is bombarding us with the latest apocalyptic weather events around the globe. It’s becoming the go to source for rapid fire information, and (surprisingly) analytics for resolving problems.

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Calgary 2013 Flood by Keltek Trust from Flickr via Creative Commons Some Rights Reserved

From Hurricane Sandy in 2012, to Calgary’s floods, and Toronto’s flash flooding in 2013, social media brought these dangers into our homes (or mobile phones and tablets). Platforms including Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube were helping citizens making them aware of what was happening in real-time.

Who will ever forget seeing those haunting images of the Scotiabank Saddledome being flooded or YouTube videos showing Toronto residents bailing from their condo during the flash flood?

To consider social media’s impact on both events lets look at Calgary’s impact first. Inbound Interactive did an analysis of social media impact on the June 2013 Alberta flood. It was quite astonishing.

Consider:

  • There were 857,000 related tweets.
  • 1.6 million impressions of a photo showing a fire fighter rescuing a citizen from rising flood waters.
  • Calgary’s flooded Saddledome, home of the NHL’s flames got over 1 million impressions.
  • Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi’s Twitter handle, @Nenshi was tweeted 89,057 times.
  • Around 191,000 times YouTube video were viewed.

Collin Yabdonski of Inbound Interactive and who compiled research on this event told Huffington Post most related social media stories focus on positive community spirit, rather than devastation:

“However, when I conducted the research I discovered that wasn’t the case; the most shared stories were ones focused around community support, volunteerism and philanthropy.”

Meanwhile, Toronto had its fair share of its July, 2013 flash flood covered from social media. Some pictures showcased on Twitter where quite dramatic, including: Flooded streets, and police rescuing stranded passengers on the GO Train.

Social media also provided data for insurers in order to help make more efficient claims on insurance losses. Bright Planet used Twitter in showing where the most tweets happened during the storm. Then the web designing company used those tweets in creating a heat map to help insurers locate where they should effectively spend their time and money on insurance claims.

While social media unpacked the drama in real-time bringing awareness of what was happening in the Greater Toronto Area, it allowed a channel for criticism towards then Mayor Rob Ford who handled the situation badly, in comparison to Calgary mayor Naheed Nenshi after their crisis.

Both Calgary and Toronto’s floods of 2013 showed many uses of social media. First, it created narratives, with heroes and villains from each event. It also was a source of critical information for local residents of what was going on. Lastly social media provided necessary data in order to make more efficient decisions on insurance claims in Toronto’s case.

As 97% of scientists agree climate change is coming from man-made global warming due to carbon emissions, the likelihood of more of these extreme weather events will happen is very good. Even My home city of Winnipeg, Manitoba has not been spared from these situations. Twitter and Facebook were key social media viewing points as Winnipeg got pounded numerous times this past summer, including in late August and early September.

I see social media’s impact growing in relation to extreme weather events. I see more emphasis on media networks utilizing social media on the ground from citizens to cover these types of events instantaneously where networks can not get to. I also see social media being more integrated further with Environment Canada’s weather warning system, as it strives to improve on its own fallacies.

But also, there is some unexpected benefits in social media’s relationship with extreme weather events. Big data used from social media analytics will make insurance claims faster. Social media analytics will also help advance smart grids through information technology, providing better information to utilities. This will help avoid blackouts and integrate renewable energy more smoothly into the grid.

What impacts do you see social media having on extreme weather events?

7 thoughts on “COM 0011: Blog Post 2: Hitting New Extremes: Social Media and Extreme Weather

  1. I had absolutely no concept of social media in big-weather events having impact past the obvious “global awareness”…and your point about insurance claims really did make me go, ”Hmmm….” I suppose I have had only a relatively ”social” awareness, but the effects on governments, businesses and climate change advocates is eye-opening. I can also associate extreme weather postings as a method for fundraising, as the Haiti crisis certainly solidified. I appreciate seeing the stats…something I should aspire to include in my own postings as well because I verily believe we as a society cannot be ignorant to the numbers. Much appreciated.

  2. Hi there Pattie, Thank you for the comments. I think you said is very true. Originally this post was just going to discuss your standard impact of social media on the human psyche related to extreme weather events. But doing further research on the impact of social media on Toronto’s flash floods, I found the point about using data from Twitter feeds in order to use efficient time to solve insurance claims was very interesting. This adds a whole other dimension within social media besides just tweeting, snapping a photo, or looking good on Facebook. It gets right down to a key component of big data, as well as the Internet of Things (which will be one of my other blog posts later on) as social media becomes more entangled in our day to day lives.

  3. I’ll admit that I never actually heard or saw anything about these weather-related incidents through social media; then again, I do read the newspaper almost every morning and try to stay tuned into the news. But you brought up an interesting point about insurance, and how social media usage during these weather disasters is helping insurance companies pin-point where their money will or should be spent in response to such disasters. I agree also that Toronto’s then mayor, Rob Ford, poorly handled the weather crisis of the 2013 flooding. In fact, there were several memes, gifs and other related social media images made which heavily mocked the way he handled the flooding. If social media can also help people determine whether they should take this train, go that route, or travel here for the weekend (for instance) in relation to weather incidents, then it is definitely good for something!

  4. Very insightful post! I never really thought of social media as playing a role in weather related incidents but now I do see the connection. I remember seeing pictures and tweets about the Toronto Floods – and the record snow fall Buffalo, NY had a year or two ago? That was crazy!!!! Another reason social media is great – it keeps us informed about natural and weather disasters happening all over the world. I have to admit, I do not read the paper nor do I watch the news. I spend a lot of time reading “the news” on social media. It is awesome that I am able to go on Facebook or Twitter to see what is happening around the world – for free!

  5. interesting how social media’s treatment also has a subtext that underscores our human relationship to things we can’t control. Someone who works in psychology or sociology might try taking a look at how extreme weather occurs on social media. Do people pin or post or re-treet news and/or photos? Are there any stats or studies about how we share specific info via social media? (A lot of the social media business workshops refer to stats to support the strategy/approach they’re pitching. )

    My recent interaction with extreme weather– relatively speaking– would have to be how the eclipse was either seen or not seen and shared on the web in September. I definitely appreciate the reach we have to see an event from more angles than we ever though were possible with so little work.

    • Hi Melissa, thank you for your response, I love to write about nexus topics like extreme weather, climate change and how technology is covering them. I think you are going to see a lot more research on its impacts into this field in the upcoming years by both media and climate academics as we see more extreme weather events. I would not be surprised within the next 5-10 years there is a solid body of academic literature regarding social media’s impact on extreme weather events.

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