Social Media and the Edmonton Storm

As you probably know, a violent storm passed through Edmonton on Saturday evening, causing lots and lots of damage around the city. Emergency services, Epcor, and the local media all had a very busy weekend, and the cleanup will likely continue for days. Users of Twitter, YouTube, and other social networks also had a busy weekend, posting thousands of first-hand reports as well as dozens of photos and videos online. In this post I recap some of the highlights.

Twitter played a big role in the storm of course, which means that I received a number of phone calls from the local media today. I was interviewed for the evening news on both Global and CBC, and will be on CBC Radio tomorrow morning at 6:15am. Why do they call me? Because I have the data to back up my observations, and now you will too!

From July 18th at noon until July 20th at noon, local users posted 14456 tweets. Of those:

1640 were tagged #yeg, #yegstorm, or #yegweather
462 contained TwitPics
682 were retweets
2024 contained links

To put these numbers into context, I compared them with the average of the three previous weekends:

As you can see, each category was higher than normal. Of particular interest to me, was the number of tagged tweets. During the 48 hours of the storm and aftermath, local users posted 4.3 times as many tagged tweets as they do on a normal weekend. There was a definite spike at the height of the storm:

That got us into the trending topics on Twitter, and spam bots and non-local users helped push up as high as #6:


Photo courtesy of Brittney Le Blanc, iNews880

There was a lot of information being posted on Saturday night, so I decided to aggregate the best of what I saw using CoverItLive. The tool has changed a lot since I last used it, but I got up and running pretty quickly. You can see the stream here. Some stats on the live stream:

283 different people followed along
92 total comments were submitted
259 tweets were aggregated
70 other items were posted (I was listening to the radio and adding extra comments)

One of the people following the live stream was Evan Adnams, who at the time was in North Carolina! He took the information in the live stream and started plotting it on a collaborative Google map that has since been viewed nearly 13,000 times.

I know for a fact that the local media used Evan’s map to find out where they should send their cameras. Users continue to update it too, which is great!

As I mentioned, lots of videos were posted online. This video by Trevor Prentice is probably the most watched of them all, racking up over 30,000 views:

There were also dozens of photos posted (check out galleries at CTV Edmonton and iNews880). This one by Brittney Le Blanc was not only the most retweeted photo during the storm, but it also immediately put to rest rumors that the CN Tower had collapsed:

I think that’s an important point. People often say it’s great that you can post stuff on Twitter in real-time, but who’s going to do the fact checking? The answer, of course, is everyone. Citizens like Jerry Aulenbach, who posted a number of TwitPics, joined forces with members of the mainstream media like Brittney to do the fact checking. Josh Classen and Mike Sobel posted frequent weather updates on Twitter based on the data they had, and citizens augmented that with live reports from all around the city. The Edmonton Journal, which couldn’t publish on Sunday due to power outages, kept its website up-to-date with a combination of articles written by its reporters and links to the social media resources I’ve mentioned above.

It was a truly collaborative effort, and it won’t be the last time we see social and mainstream media teaming up to get the job done.

9 thoughts on “Social Media and the Edmonton Storm

  1. Mack, I followed along on the cover-it-live and appreciated it greatly. My wife and two daughters were camping that night in Elk Island Park and having the immediate, accurate, and timely information really helped us decide if they should risk driving home or stay at the park. We were able to base this on specific and verifiable information from your aggregation. Local news doesn’t get any better than this…

  2. Having the #yeg Twitter community mobilized and tweeting during the storm was amazing. It was the only way I could get information, since the power was flickering and we had spotty radio reception. Thank goodness for my laptop!

    Having up-to-date information on Saturday night actually prevented me from being stranded on the LRT.

    Being able to share information about driving hazards, power outages, etc. helped a lot of people out, I’m sure. It was a pretty graphic demonstration of how useful (and necessary!) social media can be during emergencies.

  3. I was irate at the loss of power in my southside neighbourhood that night–not because there were no lights, no TV or no microwave, but because my phone battery was dying and I was about to be cut off from following the storm in real time on TwitterFon!

    What an interesting *local* case study on social media and the changing news cycle. Thanks!!

  4. I think this was a great demo of what Twitter wants to be: “The pulse of the world” in a microcosm… Yeah, its totally lame and useless. *sarcasm*
    It really is what you make it.

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