Tropical Cyclones, 1985-2005 by Array.

The Eye of the Storm: Visualizing Weather

As Hurricane Sandy makes herself at home on the east coast and I approach 24 hours of cabin fever, I thought it appropriate to round up some of the best maps and visualizations of weather–particularly extreme weather–that have been floating around the internet today.

Let’s start with the sheer scale of these storms. One thing that is difficult to sense on the ground is the awe-inspiring expanse of a tropical storm, Sandy being even more gargantuan than usual. Indeed, the scale of these storms both magnifies the impending doom and diminishes it: unlike the tornados and supercell thunderstorms I recall from my childhood in Oklahoma, mile-wide storms which emerge in seconds and move like oncoming freight train, storms such as Sandy and Irene are hundreds of miles wide and move slowly–about 20 miles an hour at their maximum speeds. The Wall Street Journal posted a great interactive satellite photo comparison of Hurricanes Irene and Sandy that captures what this means: while Irene is huge, Sandy is a real monster, literally stretching along the east coast.

WSJ: Irene vs. Sandy

Left: NOAA/Associated Press; Right: NASA/Getty Images

Perhaps most revealing of the gargantuan scale of these storms, however, is a series of fake photos that went viral today, in which images of supercell thunderstorms were convincingly photoshopped onto New York landmarks. While any educated observer (or blogger raised in Oklahoma) might instantly smell a fake, these photos succeed where perhaps photos of the real thing don’t: by reducing the terrifying, churning storm to the scale of the city, the photo is able to instantly convey a sense of impending doom that photos of gray skies and windswept trees–the realistically-scaled atmospheric effects–can’t quite match.

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