During Sandy, Flickr Uploads Mirrored Atmospheric Pressure

The photo-sharing service could be a way to track whether people are paying attention to a storm.

Hurricane Sandy's Damage To New Jersey Coast

Wikimedia Commons

During Hurricane Sandy, people took to the streets (or at least peeked out the window), documenting the storm on social media, uploading images and updates of the destruction. On Flickr, a new paper in Scientific Reports finds, the rate of those uploads mirrored the swift drop in atmospheric pressure in New Jersey as the hurricane made landfall.

Between Oct. 20 and Nov. 20, 2012, 32 million pictures were uploaded to Flickr with the tags "Hurricane Sandy," "hurricane" and "sandy." The uploads peaked during the hour that Sandy made landfall near Atlantic City, New Jersey. At the same time, atmospheric pressure in the area bottomed out. The researchers, from Boston University, University College London and the University of Warwick in the U.K., charted the "striking correlation" between the number of photos uploaded and the atmospheric pressure:

Flickr Uploads Compared To Atmospheric Pressure In New Jersey

Tobias Preis and Suzy Moat

This, they suggest, could be because people were taking more pictures as the storm worsened. Or, it might be that people were paying more attention to the storm at that point because of widespread media coverage. Either way, it seems that Flickr could be used as one way to gauge the impact of a storm and how people on the ground are reacting. "We suggest that Flickr can be considered as a system of large scale real-time sensors documenting collective human attention," the researchers write.