Quantcast

Do You Remember Normal Weather? Scientists Say Most of Us Don't

Insights + Opinion
View from space shows the Bomb Cyclone moving toward New England on Jan. 4, 2018. NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

An extensive analysis of more than 2 billion U.S. Twitter posts found that people have short memories when it comes to what they consider "normal" weather, according to a study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Generally, people base their judgment of "normal" weather on what has happened in the last two to eight years rather than linking it to the climate record. This creates a disconnect with the historical weather events, potentially obscuring how people perceive climate change.


"People experience weather on a day-to-day basis, and what climate is doing is gradually changing the types of weather people get and its distribution," explained lead author Frances Moore in an interview with EcoWatch. "If something is extreme at one point in time because of climate change, how quickly does it not become extreme?"

To answer this, the UC Davis team quantified 2.18 billion geolocated tweets between March 2014 and November 2016 in order to measure what type of weather people comment on the most. From that, they can infer what type of weather people are expecting and what they think is normal. Although their Twitter survey does not represent a random sample of the American population, Moore says that her team's sample size represents adults mainly between the ages of 20 and 50.

"We find that people get their ideas of what normal weather is for a particular place or season, but that they adjust that baseline fairly quickly," said Moore, continuing that if the same weather persists over time, people tend to comment less about it. The authors conclude that people begin to view these "historically extreme" weather conditions as normal based on their expectations, personal memory and internal biases.

Researchers then measured what they call a "sentiment rate," or the measure of, on average, how positively or negatively words were used in a tweet even after a person stopped referring to the weather. They found that after repeated exposure to certain weather events, people tweeted less about the weather but still expressed negative sentiments overall, namely particularly hot or cold events that tend to make people the grumpiest.

"Even when people stop talking about the weather, these very hot and very cold temperatures are having a negative impact on people's moods overall," she explained. "People are no longer really surprised by the weather, but they haven't adapted to it because they're still having these negative consequences."

If we forget what happened more than five years ago, researchers warn that people will continue to normalize "historically extreme" weather events and further downplay the significance of anticipated climate change that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change predicts throughout the 21st century will lead to increasing global temperatures, changing precipitation patters, sea level rise and a greater intensification of hurricanes and storms. To remedy this, Moore says a simple bit of homework could be all that it takes.

"Anything people can do to get the data that tells them what their location was like at this time of year 100 or 50 years ago — or even in their childhood — will help them understand," she said. "We've seen [this trend] this year where people's idea of what constitutes cold weather seems to be changing."

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter


mevans / E+ / Getty Images

The federal agency that manages the Great Barrier Reef issued an unprecedented statement that broke ranks with Australia's conservative government and called for urgent action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, according to the Guardian.

Read More Show Less

A powerful earthquake struck near Athens, Greece and shook the capital city for 15 seconds on Friday, causing people to run into the streets to escape the threat of falling buildings, NBC News reported.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
Golde Wallingford submitted this photo of "Pure Joy" to EcoWatch's first photo contest. Golde Wallingford

EcoWatch is pleased to announce our third photo contest!

Read More Show Less
U.S. government scientists concluded in a new report that last month was the hottest June on record. Angelo Juan Ramos / Flickr

By Jessica Corbett

As meteorologists warned Thursday that temperatures above 100°F are expected to impact two-thirds of the country this weekend, U.S. government scientists revealed that last month was the hottest June ever recorded — bolstering calls for radical global action on the climate emergency.

Read More Show Less
Rod Waddington / CC BY-SA 2.0

By John R. Platt

For years now conservationists have warned that many of Madagascar's iconic lemur species face the risk of extinction due to rampant deforestation, the illegal pet trade and the emerging market for the primates' meat.

Yes, people eat lemurs, and the reasons they do aren't exactly what we might expect.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
Pixnio

By Rachael Link, MS, RD

Many types of flour are commonly available on the shelves of your local supermarket.

Read More Show Less
A visitor views a digital representation of the human genome at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. Mario Tama / Getty Images

Genetics are significantly more responsible for driving autism spectrum disorders than maternal factors or environmental factors such as vaccines and chemicals, according to a massive new study involving more than 2 million people from five different countries.

Read More Show Less
Pixabay

By Emilie Karrick Surrusco

Across the globe, extreme weather is becoming the new normal.

Read More Show Less