As the potentially devastating Hurricane Irene bears down on the east coast of the United States, millions are turning to Google and its new tracking tools introduced earlier this summer to search for the latest storm path information.
Research firm Experian Hitwise reported via Twitter that visits to weather sites such as The Weather Channel were up 120 percent on Aug. 24 compared to the same day the previous week, and was the 18th most trafficed day in the past three years. Aug. 23 was the 29th most trafficked day (the top ranked day for U.S. visits to weather site was during the 2011 Groundhog Day blizzard).
Already, hurricane related queries are populating Google’s Hot Searches, including “storm tracker,” “hurricane names,” “hurricane tracker,” “generators,” “suffolk county,” and “fema.”
Meanwhile on Yahoo, searches for "latest on hurricane irene" are up 433 percent, while "hurricane preparedness checklist" is up 128 percent – women age 45-54 were the top demographic on "hurricane preparedness" searches.
“Hurricane irene,” “hurricane irene path” and “hurricane irene path 2011” are Google’s top three suggested searches when you begin typing the word hurricane into Google’s search box.
Google’s Hurricane Tracker
In July, Google changed its search results so that whenever you enter search terms like “hurricane” or “tropical storm” Google will show the latest information from NOAA’s National Hurricane Center. Google also now lists the names of current storms, the storm type, its location, wind speed, and course.
As of this writing, Google shows that Irene is a Category 2 hurricane, located 328 miles south of Jacksonville, with a wind speed of 104 mph, and heading north. Google is also using a couple of sitelinks to send searchers to the NOAA Satellite page and the Graphical Tropical Weather Outlook (though the second sitelink with an incomplete page title of “Graphical Tropical Weather …” and the snippet text of ZCZC MIATWOAT ALL TTAA00 KNHC … really won’t help the average user; perhaps Google needs to rethink the look of these newly redesigned sitelinks).
Additionally, above this new search page feature, Google provides Hurricane Irene Emergency Information, linking to the National Hurricane Center, Ready.Gov Hurricane Preparedness, and Maps and Resources related to Hurricane Irene.
The third link brings you to Google’s Crisis Response page. Here, you’ll find a map that gives you numerous options using data from the Navy Research Lab, NOAA-NHC, FEMA, and USGS.
By checking on the various boxes on the right, you can see such things as Hurricane Irene watches and warnings, three- or five-day forecasts, the forecast track, evacuation routes, and storm surge probabilities.
These links also appear on searches for “hurricane Irene path” below the latest news stories.
Tracking Irene: Bing vs. Google
Searching on Google’s rival Bing returns pretty similar results for “hurricane.” Both search engines return information on Irene without using the name Irene, and provide links to similar resources (NOAA is the top result for both search engines, while links to Wikipedia’s tropical cyclone and Hurricane Katrina pages and the FEMA site appear on both search engines).
Bing does mainly focus on actual hurricanes, whereas Google sprinkles in results for a kayak site called Hurricane Aqua Sports and the city of Hurricane City, Utah (this is an age old problem for Google – think Apple the technology company vs. apple the fruit).
News stories being highlighted on the main search results page are different, but neither really has an advantage here (both search engines highlight latest news stories on searches for “Hurricane Irene” at the top of their search result pages).
Bing does have one differentiator: a visual search link, which allows searchers to compare fatalities, damage, and wind intensity from previous hurricanes.
Tracking Hurricane Irene on Android, iOS
For those looking to follow the storm on an Android or iOS device, there are several options. The most popular apps seem to be Hurricane HD for iPhone and Hurricane Hound for Android, though The Weather Channel and iMap Weather Radio are other options.
One other way to track tropical storms is through Google Earth with the Places layer turned on, which will give you details on a storm’s intensity, latest news, advisory information, historical data, and projected paths.
UPDATE 1: Important Information
WNYC has posted a map of evacuation zones and threat level estimates for residents of New York City:
Also here is map of Red Cross Shelters.
With the rush to stock up on items to weather the storm, flashlights may now be sold out. Remember you can search for flashlight mobile apps to help in case of a power outage. Here is also a guide to adapting your phone to deal with an emergency situation.
UPDATE 2: Google, Bing Add Emergency Resources Links
Google has now added links to local information in individual states for those impacted by Hurricane Irene: Connecticut, Delaware, Massachusetts, Maryland, Maine, North Carolina, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, and Virginia. Bing has also added links to official emergency resources when people search for "hurricane irene," though New Hampshire and Maine are left out on Bing.
Additionally, Google has broken out a section for NYC information, including an evacuation center map, the mayor's latest updates (via YouTube), mayor's alerts (via Twitter), and NotifyNYC alerts (also via Twitter).