While Superstorm Sandy wreaked havoc along the East Coast late in October 2012, the power of sending real-time weather information and photos on social media was apparent.
Sending out real-time weather information and pictures on breaking weather events helps to inform the public faster than ever before that there may be a weather danger. However, the quickness of information sharing can also lead to the spread of false information and fake photos.
"Social media offers unbeatable immediacy," AccuWeather Social Media Coordinator and Meteorologist Jesse Ferrell said. "Citizens worldwide can obtain critical, breaking weather information through mobile devices and transmit photos or videos of severe weather events on the Internet in real-time to platforms like Facebook."
On Sunday, Oct. 28, 2012, AccuWeather's Expert Senior Meteorologist Henry Margusity and Ferrell held a Google Hangout along with New York's WABC Meteorologist Amy Freeze to explain the severity of Sandy. The storm surge was only beginning in New Jersey and New York at the time of the Hangout, but the devastation of the storm was imminent.
Crucial warnings were sent out utilizing social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter, while the East Coast was inundated at the height of Sandy on Monday, Oct. 29, 2013. Even as Sandy's powerful winds knocked out power to more than 2.4 million customers in New Jersey, Sandy victims were able to view important information on mobile devices and tablets.
According to Hootsuite, #Sandy trended on Twitter while millions of people were without power. Hootsuite said: "Social media tools are, in some cases, the only assist in connecting people and supplying information."
Government officials were among the millions on social media to warn citizens of the dangers that Superstorm Sandy posed.
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie tweeted strongly worded warnings to people, cautioning them to stay away from beaches and to evacuate in mandatory areas.
Don't Be Stupid, Get Out. youtube.com/watch?v=5hpxj6...— Governor Christie (@GovChristie) October 28, 2012
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo was also sending updates about power outages and impacts of Sandy.
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Due to the massive volume of information sent out over social media during Superstorm Sandy, it was a hot topic at Social Media Week 2013 in New York City during February.
"Companies are learning that Social Media can be used for crisis management and communication with their customers during weather disasters," Ferrell said.
During Social Media Week 2013, power companies such as Con Edison talked about how useful social media was in updating customers without power during Sandy. Con Edison is one of the largest power companies in the world, and it supplies more than three million customers with power in New York.
#ConEdison has restored power to over 225,000 customers.To find out more: ow.ly/eWdgD @faquila— Con Edison (@ConEdison) November 1, 2012
Power companies tweeted pictures of damage to show customers why there were so many outages. They also tweeted photos and videos of crews out in the field to assure customers that there was progress in restoring power.
Besides sending out pivotal weather information from AccuWeather social media accounts during Sandy, information was gathered to help the storm coverage on AccuWeather.com. The long lines at gas stations and the means of people coping without power for days after Sandy were found through social media.
However, there are downsides to the fast flow of breaking weather information and photos on social media. False information can be sent out and spread quickly if steps are not taken to verify.
Hoax photos, either photoshopped or photos from the past, are often sent out during major storm situations. For instance, fake photos of sharks swimming in the streets next to cabs in New York City were one of the hoaxes during Sandy.
As social media continues to evolve and change, so to does the sharing of weather information. AccuWeather continues to grow its presence in different social media platforms such as Instagram and Pinterest. The visual outlets lend themselves well to sharing weather information, since the weather is so visual.