Oh Weather!

“Climate is what we expect, weather is what we get.” – Mark Twain

“I’ve lived in good climate and it bores the hell out of me. I like weather rather than climate.” - John Steinbeck

We all complain about the weather. Even if you live in North Carolina, as I do, and the saying is really true that “if you don’t like the weather, wait five minutes and it will change,” I still complain.

Sometimes, those complaints can serve as an icebreaker. It’s an easy way to start a conversation and avoid that awkward silence standing next to somebody. It’s always risky to talk politics or religion, so the weather is easy to find common ground on which to chat.

But it’s also true that complaining about the weather is just something we do. And it appears we complain about the weather as much in social media as we do in-person.

A design studio in the Netherlands called CLEVERFRANKE decided to compare 714,843 online messages about the weather with actual weather data from the Dutch Meteorological Institute. While the exercise started out as a play on the degree symbol in their name, what they discovered was fascinating.

The agency found people tend to be more negative about the weather than positive. The study also discovered that in our online comments, it’s the sun that we all talk about.

“Sunshine is prominent in the way most people rate the weather,” says Thomas Clever, one of the founders of the studio. “The correlation between sunshine and weather sentiment is stronger than the correlation between rating and sentiment.”

In other words, people are more likely to say something positive online about the weather when the sun is out. And when you think about how good you feel when the alarm goes off and you look outside to see a sunny day, or if you walk out the door and are greeted by the warm sunshine, a slight breeze and the song of birds, it makes sense that people would point out a beautiful day.

But while it’s a sunny day that prompts us to go online to talk about the weather, it’s the way in which we do it that I thought was really interesting. The agency’s survey found that Facebook posts or tweets usually mentioned the good weather in light of the bad. In short, the posts read like this: “Good to see the sun after all that rain,” or “Glad I have sunlight so I can start building my ark.” It seems we just like to complain, even if the news is good.

- Frank Graff

Frank Graff is a producer/reporter with UNC-TV, focusing on North Carolina Science Now, a weekly science series that airs Wednesdays, beginning in August 2013, as part of North Carolina Now on UNC-TV. In addition to producing these special segments, Frank will provide additional information related to his stories through this North Carolina Science Now Reporter's Blog!

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