Tropical Cyclones, 1985-2005 by Array.

The Eye of the Storm: Visualizing Weather

In contrast, Fast Company has a round-up of some of the best visualizations of Hurricane Sandy/Frankenstorm, many of which come from NOAA’s Environmental Visualization Lab. Some of these are less effective as disaster-preparation maps than those over at the Weather Channel that scream “ALERT!” but nonetheless communicate the magnitude of the storm elegantly and simply. To return to the earlier discussion on scale, not much says “huge storm” like seeing the entire I-95 corridor dwarfed by the storm:

This nighttime satellite image of Hurricane Sandy was acquired by the Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS) on the Suomi NPP satellite around 2:42 a.m. Eastern Daylight Time, on October 28, 2012. (Suomi NPP, NASA, NOAA)

And then there are the WINDS. It’s always nice to put the howling and pounding outside your window into a larger context, and three excellent visualizations do just that. The much-lauded wind map by Fernanda Viégas and Martin Wattenberg of Google’s Big Picture visualization research group, has gotten a lot of play today, but deserves another shout-out:

A similar effort into animated visualization by Nicholas Garcia Belmonte uses directional, scalar, and color variations on set of circles marking 1200 monitoring stations to attempt to visualize wind in a more quantitative manner. While these visualizations lack the instantaneous clarity of the previous map, the hue shifts do a nice job of showing cooler and warmer winds, and even hint at the movement of cold and warm fronts.

At a global scale, a lovely map by John Nelson maps out the path of every single hurricane since 1851. The genius move in this one was changing the projection from “boring old rectangular projection” to “bottoms-up polar projection,” which reveals a hurricane-within-a-hurricane (so meta!) that demonstrates the relentless directionality of the prevailing winds. As FastCo.Design notes:

This alternate perspective, while disorienting at first glance, is actually highly effective at demonstrating how storms cross the equator–or more accurately, the fact that they don’t. (The equator is that black void in the middle of the storms.)

Of course, as Nelson’s earlier renders demonstrate, we wouldn’t have this freaky hurricane-in-a-hurricane view if he hadn’t considered the earth from a slightly different perspective. After all, a sphere has no set top or bottom, left or right. And acknowledging that fact, for the briefest of moments, we get a peek into the trippy, repetitious scale of our universe. We’re gonna need a bigger umbrella.

Seen any other good visualizations of Sandy (or other weather) lately? Suggestions welcome!


Related Images:

We cannot display this gallery