Tweeting uncertainty during Hurricane Irma

Tweeting uncertainty during Hurricane Irma

Author: Stefanie Wahl – Freie Universitaet Berlin, Germany

Lars Gerhold – Freie Universitaet Berlin
Thomas Kox – Freie Universitaet Berlin

When managing natural disasters such as hurricanes, national hydro-meteorological services and/or emergency management agencies (referred to as EMAs) need to warn and inform the public about emerging or ongoing situations (Beneito-Montagut et al., 2013). Especially social-media technologies such as Twitter are effective tools to quickly share information about the actual situation (Alexander, 2014; Starbird et al., 2010). Nevertheless, EMAs deal with different kinds of uncertainties when communicating with the public, including aspects of non-knowledge or stochastic variability (NRC, 2006). Possible examples are hurricane pathways, flooded areas or public response actions. Addressing these different kinds of uncertain information during extreme weather situations contributes to disaster management efforts and strengthens EMA’s credibility (Hughes & Chauhan, 2015).

Therefore we ask in this paper how EMAs handle uncertain information in such situations as part of their risk and crisis communication strategies. Our analysis is based on a qualitative content analysis of EMA crisis communication in Florida during hurricane “Irma” using Twitter data. “Irma” was a category 5 hurricane which affected the Caribbean and Southern USA in 2017 – one of the most powerful hurricanes of recent years (NOAA, 2017).

Results show that EMAs address the issue of uncertainties in weather forecasts by giving process information, i.e. constantly updating and clarifying the ongoing situation. Accordingly, some tweets include separate timestamps or emphasize that the given information is preliminary. Additionally they use different visuals to represent uncertainty (e.g. infographics, maps, gifs), e.g. regarding hurricane pathways as well as potentially affected areas and populations. Still, addressing uncertainties remains challenging for some public authorities.

Based on our findings, we will discuss and develop recommendations to further improve crisis communication efforts of authorities in extreme weather events.

The author has not yet submitted a copy of the full paper.

Presentation type: Visual talk
Theme: Science
Area of interest: Investigating science communication practices