Extreme weather leads to more negative tweets, study finds

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If it's ever seemed like people are more crotchety on social media when there's a heatwave or heavy rain, you're probably not alone in having that perspective. Researchers analyzed more than 7.7 billion geotagged tweets from 190 countries that were posted between 2015 and 2021. They used a language analysis tool to measure the sentiment of tweets against daily weather data.

The researchers found that, compared with days of regular weather, "both local extreme heat and extreme precipitation events worsen online emotional states globally by elevating rates of posts with negative expressions and also reducing the rate of posts with positive words." They also determined that people were more likely to tweet negatively during downpours and heatwaves than when daylight savings time kicks in and they forego an hour of sleep.

These outcomes might not seem incredibly surprising. However, the researchers suggested that because the findings were so consistent across tweets from more than 43,000 counties, they indicate that we're finding it hard to adapt to climate change. They carried out the study in the first place to explore the links between climate change and mental health.

“As of right now, we see very little evidence of adaptation in the way that these new extreme events that are emerging globally are impacting human sentiment,” says Kelton Minor, a postdoctoral research scientist at Columbia University and co-author of the study, told The Verge. "Since climate change is shifting the extreme tails of most regional temperature and heavy precipitation distributions rightwards, the impact of more severe extremes on overt emotional states may far exceed those registered in the recent past, pending further adaptation," the abstract of the study reads.

Minor and co-author Nick Obradovich, chief scientist at a nonprofit called Project Regeneration, found the biggest shift in sentiment during a record-breaking heatwave in the Pacific Northwest and southwest Canada in 2021. More than a thousand deaths were linked to that heatwave, while negative sentiment in tweets increased tenfold compared with the typical heatwave in the US, the researchers found. Minor and his colleagues plan to keep monitoring social media sentiment in the face of more extreme weather events, which studies suggest are likely to happen more often amid rising global temperatures.