Who's Googling what? What internet searches reveal about hurricane information seeking

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Monday, 18 January 2010
Kathleen Sherman-Morris, Mississippi State University, Mississippi State, MS; and J. C. Senkbeil and R. Cossman

Handout (2.4 MB)

Google trends and Google Insights are two freely available, searchable databases that track the normalized interest in specific search queries. Using these databases, this paper will examine search patterns related to hurricanes. Searching the word “hurricane” using Google Trends shows a predictable seasonal pattern. Yearly spikes in hurricane searches appear to be related to the severity of the storms making landfall. Google Hot Trends can also be used to track the most searched topics on a particular day. For example, public interest in Hurricane Gustav was captured by Google Hot Trends, identifying “Tropical Storm Gustav” as the 7th most popular search term for the day it became a named storm. The following day, top searches were related to the track of Hurricane Gustav. After Hurricane Gustav made landfall, top searches were related to the landfall location. Several hot search terms also indicated flooding in New Orleans was of interest to searchers, although it was unclear whether this was out of concern for safety. Google Insights can be used to compare interest in certain topics among geographic areas. During September and August, 2008, which included the landfalls of Hurricanes Gustav and Ike, search interest for the term “hurricane” was higher for Louisiana than Texas for nearly the whole two-month period, including the days preceding Ike's landfall. The difference in search interest for “Hurricane Ike” between Texas and Louisiana appeared to be related to changes in track forecast. This paper discusses the implications for this and other information gleaned from such searches.