Twitter could be confusing people who need crucial hurricane information

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BOULDER, Colo. -- As a potentially monster storm heads for the Southeast coast, a Twitter storm of hurricane information is flooding social media.

On Tuesday, #HurricaneFlorence was trending on Twitter with information about forecasts, potential impacts and evacuation information.

A team of researchers at the University of Colorado is sifting through the millions of tweets to study how social media influences the public’s response to hurricanes.

“What we’ve seen is that people really don’t understand what hurricane forecast images are saying about what people should do. Should people evacuate? How bad is it going to be?” Ph.D. candidate Melissa Bica said.

One of the most commonly misunderstood images, she says, is the cone of uncertainty.

“The shape of it kind of makes people automatically think that it’s getting bigger as time goes on whereas really the cone has nothing to do with the size,” Bica said.

If people cannot fully understand the information, researchers fear those living in the potential path will be unprepared.

“[Hurricanes] can be hugely destructive and catastrophic so people really need to know whether they need to evacuate,” Bica said.

The team has partnered with the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder to use the findings to come up with better ways to visually represent hurricane data so it is easier to understand.

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