A pilot study found that #drought tweets reflect changes in attention to drought within states, suggesting that social media can contribute to a drought early warning system.
State climatologists and other expert drought observers have speculated about the value of monitoring Twitter for #drought and related hashtags. This study statistically examines the relationships between the rate of tweeting using #drought and related hashtags, within states, accounting for drought status and news coverage of drought. We collected and geolocated tweets, 2017-2018, and used regression analysis and a diversity statistic to explain expected and identify unexpected volumes of tweets. This provides a quantifiable means to detect state-weeks with a volume of tweets that exceeds the upper limit of the prediction interval. To filter out instances where a high volume of tweets is related to the activities of one person or very few people, a diversity statistic was used to eliminate anomalous state-weeks where the diversity statistic did not exceed the 75th percentile of the range for that state’s diversity statistic. Anomalous state-weeks in a few cases preceded the onset of drought but more often coincided with or lagged increases in drought. Tweets are both a means of sharing original experience and a means of discussing news and other recent events, and anomalous weeks occurred throughout the course of a drought, not just at the beginning. A sum-to-zero contrast coefficient for each state revealed a difference in the propensity of different states to tweet about drought, apparently reflecting recent and long-term experience in those states, and suggesting locales that would be most predisposed to drought policy innovation.