June 12th, 2009
Twitter Storm

Time on Twitter
Read the Time Magazine cover story. 2009-06-05

As a supercell storm moves through central Texas, a virtual storm mirrors it in the Twitterverse.

Typically, a twitter storm is when mob outrage (or less frequently adulation) pulses through the Twitterverse. Twitter’s 140 character limit almost guarantees that emotion, not reasoned argument, is what trends. Whether it’s moms mad about a Motrin ad or Amazon users angry that ratings have been disabled on any book with perceived gay themes, we pass our passions along, and then our friends pass them along, and pretty soon the hive mind is buzzing with our indignation.

On the evening of June 11, 2009 a storm that had been brewing north of Austin since late afternoon developed into a supercell, “a system producing severe thunderstorms and featuring rotating winds sustained by a prolonged updraft that may result in hail or tornadoes.” The storm flipped small planes and mobile homes in Burnet, spawned possibly two tornadoes, and dumped hail in the same northwest corridor along Highway 183 which was just recovering from the worst hail storm in Austin’s history last March.

While this was happening, at my house, just south of the river, there was no indication a storm was on the way. At 8:30 PM the air was heavy and still. I was working at my computer unaware. Although it had been overcast until mid-afternoon, I wasn’t really expecting any rain. Remembering that some was in the forecast, I decided to check KXAN First Warning Weather and saw that a big red blob (indicating heavy rain) had entered Travis County. I immediately thought of Annieinaustin who’d suffered extensive hail damage in our last big storm. I flipped over to Twitter to see if it was raining where she was. A disappointing silence. But barron who lives northwest tweeted…
Storm Tweet Austin TX 2009-06-11

A few moments later, another north Austinite, punkgardener, wrote…
Storm Tweet Austin TX 2009-06-11

Well, something was happening. I flipped back to KXAN. The radar showed that the storm was in Travis County moving south towards us. Was there really a chance of rain for us? I sighed and figured it would probably skirt the downtown heat sink and we’d get nothing. At 8:44 PM, I received a call from Annieinaustin. She was offline and taking shelter in an interior room. They’d gotten some hail although not as large as in the March storm.

Looking north from my window I could see a wild lightning storm. I decided I’d better shut down my computer, too. Before I did, I posted an update tweet for her.

Then the fun started. I stood on my back porch, watching the storm move in and checking Twitter on my iPhone. Tweets started popping into my Twitterstream from all over Travis County. They expressed pensive moments wondering if the storm would leave some parts of Austin high and dry. Exultation over rain. Dismay over hail. Concern over the safety of friends and their gardens. Reports of power outages. Yes, maybe we sounded like a bunch of chattering tween girls on a class field trip but there was a real camaraderie in this shared experience. Rain in Austin in this drought is a pretty emotional experience, even without the drama of hail and tornadoes. We needed to share and we needed to know how our friends were doing.

Austinites weren’t the only people interested in our storm. Gardening friends in Indiana, Indygardener, and Oklahoma, reddirtramblin, cheered the rain on for us. They know how we Austin gardeners have been suffering in this drought.

As the storm moved on, we began checking for damage and comparing our rain gauge totals. This morning, I received one wistful tweet from mycornerofkaty wishing that the storms had made it to Katy, TX.

Explaining Twitter to someone who doesn’t tweet is really hard. I’ve included snippets of my Twitterstream so you can see the drama unfold yourself. The newest tweet is always at the top of the list…so if you have perseverance or curiosity enough to scan this list, start at the bottom.

Storm Tweet Austin TX 2009-06-11
Storm Tweet Austin TX 2009-06-11
Storm Tweet Austin TX 2009-06-11
Storm Tweet Austin TX 2009-06-11

by M Sinclair Stevens

10 Responses to post “Twitter Storm”

  1. From Robin at Getting Grounded:

    MSS, that was a fun read, and along with you I enjoyed participating in the tweets last night. It was nice to feel connected through the exciting (at last) rain. Perhaps your post here will convince some of the other bloggers – hint hint Pam, Diana,etc – to get on Twitter with us!

  2. From Pam/Digging:

    Sorry, Robin, but Twitter and Plurk are not for me. So I’m a little slow on the communication compared to you guys, but for what it’s worth, my NW Austin garden got one-inch-diameter hail and half an inch of rain. When we heard about the tornadoes just a few miles up the road from us, we all put on shoes (but where were those bike helmets!?) and prepared to take cover in an interior closet. Luckily the worst of it passed us by.

  3. From Rachel from Austin:

    Not long after I tweeted, we lost power (until after we went to bed), and I was no good for updates anymore. My phone doesn’t have tweeting capabilities.

  4. From bill / prairie point:

    No tweeting here but I want to report that I too got almost an inch of rain on wednesday night (yeah!) and luckily no hail or tornadoes. some pretty high winds though.

  5. From Carol, May Dreams Gardens:

    The garden blogging community of Austin is certainly well connected. I don’t subscribe to all those tweets so didn’t realize the violence of the storms. Just glad you all came through it okay and got some rain, too.

    I was going to mention that the experience would be different for each person on Twitter because each of us follows different people. One aspect I really enjoyed was finding out where the storm was depending on who was reporting. Of course, the picture is distorted in cases like Annieinaustin and InBloom who can’t Twitter via their phones and who either lost electricity or decided it was safer to unplug their computers and get away from the windows. — mss

  6. From Mr. McGregor's Daughter:

    Wow, I missed a lot there by not being online at 8:30 Central. It’s great that there are so many of you to commiserate/celebrate with.

    And I subscribe to just a small subsection of Austin Twitterers. Not surprisingly the gardeners took a close interest in the rain more than the non-gardeners for whom it was merely an inconvenience or novelty. — mss

  7. From cat - austin, texas:

    we got about an inch and a half from that storm..yay! the garden was very happy…no real wind here though. we are out by the lake. wish we’d get more rain, but the wind can stay calm…;)

  8. From Meredith from Austin:

    We definitely had to do the “get in the bathroom” safety measure when the tornado warning hit our area. We were lucky to get a lot of rain, small hail, and minimal damage — at least I thought so until I saw my new lilies looking as though they’d been shot up by bullets. Still, not bad compared to the hail damage we had in March — almost $17,000 worth!

  9. From Annie in Austin:

    How interesting to see the stream of tweets like that, MSS, with a focus on one weather event. I really did feel disconnected so thank you for being there.

    TV news stations have the annoying habit of teasing you with some story that will be told at a later time…just their way of getting viewers and something we’re all used to over time. But now when I hear a teaser now, instead of waiting for the news I check Twitter and many times get instant gratification.

    It’s a way of sharing events, too – came home from Leonard Cohen in April and threw his name in the search…it was amusing and startling to see tweets on the concert from people who’d been sitting a little way in front of us!

    Annie at the Transplantable Rose

    I know exactly how you felt: cut off from the world! Arg! Also, I think your comparison to TV coverage is interesting. I didn’t turn on the TV until the 10PM news–only to discover that KXAN had been broadcasting non-stop ad-free storm coveragethe previous 3 hours. The TV allowed me to see the big picture, which was much more horrifying than I realized. But it was also repetitive, filtered, and distant. Twitter was much more immediate although less comprehensive. One drawback is that my Twitter picture of the storm was dependent on whom I follow. I think one complements rather than replaces the other. — mss

  10. From Diana - Austin:

    Fascinating, MSS — I kept getting urged to get on Twitter while I was at Spring fling and my husband’s been working on me, but I think this post just put me over the top! I think I’ll get myself set up this weekend when our company leaves on Sunday! Thanks for helping to bring me into the light!