Irma, Harvey and Google: analysing the hurricanes’ search impact

hurricane harvey irma advisory search trends noaa

Tropical weather is seemingly all social media users in the western hemisphere can talk about this week. With three named storms currently swirling in various regions of the Atlantic Ocean, it’s unsurprising really. But how are the various regions and countries reacting to these storms in terms of search and online activity?

To satisfy our curiosity, we hit up Google Trends, the company’s extensive digest of how its users search for information online.

We compared search requests between “Harvey”, “Irma”, “Tropical Storm Jose” and “Tropical Storm Katia” in a number of countries over a period of 30 days, a week and a single day.

Here’s what we found.

Additional Hurricane Irma and Harvey coverage:

United States


As a country with a markedly large online population, the United States always produces dense and diverse search data for Google’s and our benefit.

In comparison to other countries on this list, the US is markedly varied across states and cities. But in the past 30 days, Google’s search bar has been dominated by one name: Harvey.

The record-breaking storm struck Texas last week, and left its mark on Houston and surrounds.


As a result, practically every state has seen markedly more search traffic within the past day for “Harvey” than the likes of Katia and Jose.

“Irma”, however, does feature prominently albeit in two states.


The Category 5 Hurricane Irma could strike Florida and the Carolinas in the coming week, and search traffic clearly paints that picture.

Looking more acutely at subregions shows darker shades of blue (a larger percentage of “Irma” search queries) as far west as Texas, and as far north as Delaware. Narrowing search to reflect cities also suggests that the entire southeastern seaboard of America is on alert.


“Harvey” however remains a search fixture in Texas and Louisiana. And surprisingly, the developing “Tropical Storm Jose” features heavily in these two states.

US Virgin Islands

Currently experiencing hurricane force winds from Irma, it’s unsurprising to find her lead search results on the tiny island.


There was not yet enough data to classify the remaining search terms, but we should see a rise in searches for Jose as the storm transitions into a hurricane.

Antigua and Barbuda

The island duo already experienced the full force of Irma and saw a steep rise in search queries for the storm in the past two days. Searches for the storm began as early as 29 August.


Notably, Barbuda also trended on Twitter for the majority of the day.

Mexico

Although not as badly affected by Harvey as Texas, Mexico also features a majority of red searches.


Interestingly, the Yucatan Peninsula is the only exception, with Irma featuring more prominently on Google’s search bar than Harvey.


Adjusting the sample time from 30 days to seven days, we see a notable jump in Irma searches, while “Lidia” — a storm that affected the country in late August — still features.


Searches for “Katia” — which remains Mexico’s greatest storm threat this week — became more prominent within the past day along the country’s eastern seaboard. As a predominantly Spanish-speaking country, searches included the queries “Tormenta Katia” and “Huracan Katia”.


Puerto Rico

The next country in the line of Irma’s fire is Puerto Rico. And it shows in terms of search results.


Even in the past 30 days, “Irma” searches heavily outweigh “Harvey”.

Within the past day, however, it seems that Irma searches are dipping as the hurricane approaches the island.


Searches for Katia and Jose have also appeared within the past day, Google notes.

South Africa

But what about South Africa?

For a country that’s not directly impacted by any tropical weather at present is nonetheless interested in the Atlantic storms.


South Africa had dealt with tropical weather earlier this year in the form of Cyclone Dineo, but Harvey is again the most-searched storm in the past 30 days within its borders.

Reducing that number to the past day though, and you’ll notice a few interesting peaks. Tropical Storm Jose features, while Irma searches surge.


But how does that equate to Cyclone Dineo searches?


There’s a clear winner here.

Expect search queries, social trends and online traffic to transform over next few days as the Atlantic weather systems develop.

Feature image: NOAA

Andy Walker
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