Which Weather Disasters Are Tweeted About the Most?


It seems that everyone is looking for someone or something to blame when it comes to extreme weather. Whether it’s the weather guy on the evening news, a questionable online source or the connection between natural disasters and human-caused climate change, people love to point fingers—fingers that are also tweeting about it.

Twitter isn't just a hotbed for trending weather topics, it abounds with speculation. What are people saying about climate and the environment amid extreme weather events and natural disasters? SaveOnEnergy examined 1.8 million tweets to find out.

Most Used Climate Hashtags on Twitter

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Flooding led the pack of hashtagged weather topics, with #Flooding being mentioned in almost a third (31 percent) of the tweets. This was followed by #HurricaneMatthew, which appeared in a little over 15 percent of tweets, followed closely by #Climate at 13 percent.

Other hashtags that were frequently used were #Renewables, #Carbon, #Drought, #ClimateChange, #Wildfires. #ParisAgreement and #GlobalWarming were the least tagged, each at just 1 percent.

It's not surprising that flooding tops the chart; this past year, residents of several southern states, including Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Arkansas, and Missouri, saw record flooding.

Extreme Twitter Hotspots

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When it comes to the top cities tweeting about natural disasters, climate change and the weather, the eye of the storm appears to be Cambridge, Massachusetts, by a long shot. Perhaps that has something to do with Cambridge being home of the Center for the Environment at Harvard University, which supports "research and education about the environment and its many interactions with human society."

Other cities that tweet about environmental events regularly are Birmingham, Alabama; Baton Rouge, Louisiana; and Orlando, Florida—which all lie within high flood zones. Birmingham experienced heavy flooding in the summer of 2016. Flash floods impacted its downtown area as well as the nearby University of Alabama. Baton Rouge also experienced floods during the same summer. And in October, Hurricane Matthew tracked into central Florida, followed by a flurry of weather-related tweets in Orlando.

Climate Change Awareness on Twitter

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Hurricanes and other natural disasters fuel social media conversations about climate and environment. When a 6.9-magnitude earthquake hit the South Pacific island nation of Vanuatu in early April of last year, tweets about extreme weather and climate spiked. Another surge in tweets occurred in June after heavy flooding forced the Louvre Museum in Paris to close. (France's Cabinet formally declared a “natural disaster” in 782 towns most affected by the flooding, and the museum had to move 35,000 works of art.)

There was also a notable increase in July when Donald Trump secured the Republican nomination for the 2016 presidential race. An increase in tweets could point to chatter on either side of climate-related issues.

In August, tweets rose when a deadly 6.2-magnitude earthquake struck central Italy, claiming nearly 300 lives. But the largest spike of tweets came during and after Hurricane Matthew, which killed between 603 and 1,657 people, causing more than $15 billion in damage.

Weather Words

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The top 10 terms associated with climate change start with "Iowa Flood," which was mentioned in nearly 8 percent of tweets. "#HurricaneMatthew" occurred in 6.7 percent of tweets. “#ClimateChange” appeared in about 2 percent of tweets collected.

Other top terms were "#Climate" and "#Trump."

Talking About Climate

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Certain phrases showed up more often when looking at weather-related tweets. "Flood alert" was mentioned in almost 32 percent of weather-related tweets, while "action stage" occurred in over 26 percent of tweets. Action stage means that public agencies are to monitor a flood situation and perform an action. While this doesn't necessarily mean flooding is happening, the situation warrants close monitoring as flooding can follow.

Other top mentions were "alert level" (11 percent), "climate change" (almost 10 percent), “Winnebago River” (nearly 4.5 percent) and “Iowa River” (4 percent). The Winnebago and Iowa rivers are both located in Iowa, which was the site of major flooding in 2016.

When considering weather tweets further, #HurricaneMatthew appeared most often with Florida, Haiti, #StaySafe, Jamaica and #ClimateChange. #Flooding was most associated with #IowaFlood, #HurricaneMatthew, rain, #ClimateChange, and #FloodStormTreeDown.

Finally, #Drought most occurred with #ClimateChange, water, California, #ElNino and climate.

Hurricane Matthew and Global Climate Change

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Hurricane Matthew raised alarms in late September when it reached its peak intensity as a Category 5 storm and started making its way toward inhabited landmasses. Once the potential path was laid out, posts on Twitter greatly increased, especially as the storm neared the U.S. in the early days of October 2016. Of the tweets that were examined, #HurricaneMatthew peaked at the percentage of tweets from Sep. 30, 2016, to Oct. 10, 2016.

Around the same time, there was an increase in tweets with the hashtag #ClimateChange. It's not known whether these Twitter users who posted on the topic are seeking to prove or disprove it in the context of Hurricane Matthew, but this is yet another example of an extreme weather event boosting this kind of chatter on social media.

All information that was collected related to the following Twitter hashtags from March 2016 to October 2016: #ActOnClimate, #ClimateChange, #GlobalWarming, #RisingTemps, #ClimateAction, #ElNino, #WildFires, #Drought, #Flood, #Flooding, #ParisAgreement, #HurricaneMatthew, #ClimateScam, #ClimateRisk, #CleanEnergy, #NaturalDisasters, #FossilFuels, #Climate, #Weather. A text-mining program was used to analyze the terms that were used most often and co-occurring words. Cities under 100,000 residents were excluded. The research was conducted by SaveOnEnergy.

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