Google data reveals what people searched in 2018

OKEECHOBEE — Three major events in our area had people across America using Google to search for more information on Okeechobee in 2018.

The popular search engine has released their users’ top searches of 2018, and queries for the search term ‘Okeechobee’ spiked at three crucial times this year.

Google’s data shows that in the first week of January the number of people searching for the term Okeechobee jumped significantly. It appears these searches were connected to the tragic death of a fisherman on Lake Okeechobee during a Fishing League Worldwide tournament. On Jan. 4, FLW fisherman Nik Kayler went missing after being knocked into the water when a rouge wave hit the boat being piloted by Kayler’s partner Bill Kisiah.

After an exhaustive six-day search by the authorities around the lake and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, Kayler’s body was discovered near Clewiston on Jan. 10, hours before a candlelight vigil was scheduled to be held in his name.

Okeechobee and its fishing community rallied to support Nik’s surviving wife and daughter in the aftermath of the accident. A GoFundMe raised over $65,000 for the pair and a memorial tournament put together by Mike Krause, owner of Okeechobee Fishing Headquarters, raised an additional $23,000.

People across the country would be using Google to search for Okeechobee again two months later in the first week of March. Google’s data shows the number of searches for Okeechobee increased dramatically from Feb. 25 to Mar. 3, which aligns perfectly with the biggest event held in our area this year, the 2018 Okeechobee Music and Arts Festival.

The festival, which ran from Mar. 1-3 this year, was by far the most searched for phrase involving Okeechobee in 2018. But it wouldn’t be the last time the festival would be a trending Google search this year.

Searches for the Okeechobee Music Festival (OMF) jumped again in November when Soundslinger LLC, the company behind the festival, announced that OMF wouldn’t be taking place in 2019, and instead will attempt to return in 2020.

Okeechobee saw another bump in search numbers from the end of July to the middle of August, during the height of the algae problem on the Treasure Coast which was blamed on water released from Lake Okeechobee. The issue was covered extensively by Lake Okeechobee News and became a major issue during the elections held in 2018. In a speech in June on the floor of the House of Representatives, Congressmen Brian Mast compared the water being released from Lake Okeechobee to a septic tank being dumped on the Treasure Coast by the Army Corps of Engineers.

In a press briefing held about a month after Congressmen Mast’s statements, Col. Jason Kirk of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers explained that from the beginning of May to July 16, around 85 percent of the water that had run into the Treasure Coast came from their own local basin runoff, with only 15 percent coming from Lake Okeechobee.

Searches for ‘red tide’ dwarfed searches for ‘algae’ around the same time period in 2018, with algae only having around 30 percent of the volume of searches as red tide from late July to the end of August.

Other oddities in the data released by Google show a massive number of searches for ‘Home Depot monkey’ the week of June 10-16. On June 4 an employee of the Okeechobee Home Depot was bitten by a spider monkey that had escaped from its owner’s vehicle and ventured into the hardware store. The story made national headlines and furthered the media cliche of Florida being a place where strange and unusual things happen.

Now with 2018 in the rear view, Okeechobee moves forward to see what surprises and new stories 2019 will hold. If nothing else at least Okeechobee will have one less spider monkey attack in the new year, fingers crossed.

Richard Marion is a staff writer and photographer at Lake Okeechobee News and can be reached at rmarion@newszap.com.

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