Google came to the rescue for millions of people looking for answers during the 2017 Atlantic hurricane season, sparking the most searches of any other season, according to a recent study.
The project, led by a team at insuranceQuotes, analyzed Google Trends search volume data for a glimpse at which topics most piqued people’s interests ahead of two deadly hurricanes.
The findings highlighted the key concerns of those in a storm’s projected path.
In the weeks leading up to Harvey and Irma’s devastating impacts, the bulk of Google searches from potentially affected states focused on hurricane preparation, including survival tips, flood insurance and where to find gas.
“It was super interesting to see how ‘evacuation’ searches on Google correlated directly to different hurricanes throughout history — Irma and Harvey garnering more searches than any other in the past,” said insuranceQuotes project manager Mike Geneivive.
“We were surprised to see the odd times at which people were Googling gasoline, [with] some spikes appear[ing] at strange times, like 5 a.m.,” Geneivive said.
With the gas shortage shifting from parts of Texas in late August to Florida in early September, the odd timing of gas-related searches might reflect an effort to beat the long lines of those waiting to fill up.
The study also compared results from the 2017 Atlantic hurricane season with Google search activity from past hurricane seasons. As expected, spikes in searches typically correlated with the timing of major hurricanes.
Searches increased in September 2004 as Hurricane Ivan carved its deadly path across the Caribbean and the southeastern United States, with 2012’s Hurricane Sandy prompting a high number of queries in October of that year before it pounded the northeastern U.S.
The study of Google Trends showed that no month on record rivaled the massive search volume that inundated Google in September 2017, as Harvey and Irma pummeled the U.S. one after the other.
Researchers also found, based on Google searches, that Florida seemed to have prepared more for Hurricane Irma than Houston did for Hurricane Harvey.
“[Regarding ‘hurricane prep’ searches,] we see that Harvey has a small hump of searches, but Irma trumps those preparation searches by more than double,” Geneivive said.
Aside from a flood of Google searches, Harvey and Irma created a similar buzz on social media, with many users sharing photos and videos of the devastation as well as information on how to help others.
According to TrendsMap, the prayer emoji was the most used on social media posts during and after Irma.
“I have little doubt that the combination of better forecasts, better warnings and social media have saved lives during these last couple of storms,” said AccuWeather Meteorologist and Social Media Manager Jesse Ferrell.
“Social media definitely plays an integral part in getting the warnings out to people,” Ferrell said. “Especially in areas outside of the U.S., social media really helps people warn each other where they otherwise might not take shelter ahead of the storm.”