Objective: The potential ability for weather to affect SARS-CoV-2 transmission has been an area of controversial discussion during the COVID-19 pandemic. Individuals’ perceptions of the impact of weather can inform their adherence to public health guidelines; however, there is no measure of their perceptions. We quantified Twitter users’ perceptions of the effect of weather and analyzed how they evolved with respect to real-world events and time.
Materials and Methods: We collected 166,005 tweets posted between January 23 and June 22, 2020 and employed machine learning/natural language processing techniques to filter for relevant tweets, classify them by the type of effect they claimed, and identify topics of discussion.
Results: We identified 28,555 relevant tweets and estimate that 40.4% indicate uncertainty about weather’s impact, 33.5% indicate no effect, and 26.1% indicate some effect. We tracked changes in these proportions over time. Topic modeling revealed major latent areas of discussion.
Discussion: There is no consensus among the public for weather’s potential impact. Earlier months were characterized by tweets that were uncertain of weather’s effect or claimed no effect; later, the portion of tweets claiming some effect of weather increased. Tweets claiming no effect of weather comprised the largest class by June. Major topics of discussion included comparisons to influenza’s seasonality, President Trump’s comments on weather’s effect, and social distancing.
Conclusion: There is a major gap between scientific evidence and public opinion of weather’s impacts on COVID-19. We provide evidence of public’s misconceptions and topics of discussion, which can inform public health communications.