Hurricane Harvey: Utilizing Social Media During a Catastrophic Event (209)

Nikki Hathaway, NWS Houston/Galveston, Dickinson, Texas

Katie Magee, NWS Houston/Galveston

 

Abstract:

With such a large population within the NWS Houston County Warning Area, the use of social media was vital in the dissemination of real-time severe weather hazard messaging, awareness, and preparedness information throughout the evolution and duration of Hurricane Harvey. A persistent presence on social media was necessary, yet challenging, due to the longevity of the event. We experienced a tremendous challenge messaging multiple hazards, such as simultaneous tornado warnings and flash flood emergencies, as well as receiving cries for help as 911 calls from people in life-threatening danger overflowed into our operations area.

From August 25th to August 30th, over 30 inches of rain fell, covering almost 11,500 square miles and affecting nearly 6.5 million people. NWS Houston issued 272 tornado, flooding, and marine warnings over a five day period with multiple flash flood emergencies during the height of the flooding. One of the biggest challenges was transitioning the message from preparedness recommendations to warning notifications, and then to recovery information. When Hurricane Ike (2008) made landfall along the upper Texas coast, social media was new and used little to support messaging during tropical operations. It became apparent after Hurricane Sandy (2013) and Hurricane Matthew (2016) that the use of social media was essential in delivering hazard messaging and safety information to the public.

Hurricane Harvey was the first major event that NWS Houston had a fully staffed position almost completely dedicated to social media 24 hours a day. NWS Houston saw a drastic rise in their social media following, gaining 8,882 new followers on Facebook, and over 27,100 new Twitter followers throughout the month of August. This presentation discusses a timeline of NWS Houston's efforts to communicate consistent hazard messaging and timely impact-based information to the public. Facebook and Twitter analytics and statistics will be presented, along with personal experiences that helped our office improve our best practices and lessons learned from this catastrophic event.