Using Twitter during Winter Storm Jonas: An Asheville Experience

Several weeks ago, many of us across the East Coast were stocking up on milk, bread, dog food, and other essentials in preparation for Winter Storm Jonas. Battening down the so-called hatches, we checked our flashlight batteries, wrapped our pipes, and got out our snow shovels. Then there were the intrepid few who gleefully loaded up the cars and drove towards the storm – whether to ski, sled, or simply be snowed-in somewhere more exciting than home.

That weekend, I was one of the intrepid travelers, venturing to Asheville, North Carolina, for a weekend of snow-filled fun. Meeting up with some friends, our plans were minimal – simply walking around Downtown, seeing what we could see. We woke up Friday morning to a winter wonderland. Put on our layers, grabbed our cell phones, and headed out. Thanks to Twitter, we’d been following the road conditions and knew walking was our best bet.tweet-1tweet-2

During the storm, many local businesses took to social media, keeping both patrons and employees alike informed of their operating status. Several restaurants and retailers in the Downtown Asheville area were able to open and posted their hours and updates on Twitter, so we knew where to go.

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Those driving were kept abreast of road conditions thanks to the NCDOT’s frequent updates, and we monitored the account to find out when the Interstate would be clear to head home on Sunday.tweet-4

Other Ashevillians used Twitter to share information about the roads in their neighborhoods, businesses open or closed, and where to find the best snowmen. Much as we searched, however, we weren’t able to find answers to the question weighing most heavily on our minds: where to find a sled.

 

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People even used Twitter to report power outages and check for service restoration times, though thankfully we had power everywhere we needed to go. The rest of the East Coast had similar stories as everyone weathered Winter Storm Jonas. People flocked to Twitter for information on road conditions, community events and services, power outages, school and business operating statuses, and storm coverage.tweet-8

Now, weeks later, Twitter is still abuzz with information about Jonas and preparing for winter storms. Emergency Management Agencies are encouraging people to replenish their emergency supplies. News stations are providing detailed information about the storm, including wind gusts and snowfall accumulation. Businesses are looking into their continuity of operations plans, after electrical outages interrupted daily routines. Utility companies are mapping outages and revising plans to restore services during the next storm.

Twitter was certainly utilized during Jonas, and will be again in other winter storms as a quick way for the public to seek and share information. The question remains, however, how to harness the vast amount of information into something decision makers and first responders can use in real-time. This is the heart of what the ODF team hopes to accomplish – creating a technology solution that helps sift through information to make it actionable.
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