Southern Swirl

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Hurricanes and tropical storms since 1851 Credit: John Nelson/IDVSolutions Click on the image to go to the full-size version.

Hurricanes and tropical storms since 1851
Credit: John Nelson/IDVSolutions
Click on the image to go to the full-size version.

Over on the ever-mesmerizing UXBlog, I found these hypnotic examples of historical cartography – a backward glance at a century of hurricanes. These maps are oriented with the Antarctic at the center, and show both the trajectory and intensity of each storm for which data was available.

According to John Nelson, who created the maps, ” The fine folks at NOAA (*National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) keep an archive of storm paths with wind speed, storm name, date, among other attributes, and are always updating and refining information for past events based on historical evidence and educated hunches.”

Of course, with the introduction of satellites, big data collection and heck, even the telephone, for communicating storm information, we know more about storms now than we did 160 years ago. Also, during the course of working out these maps, Nelson realized that “we only really started logging the East and South hemisphere versions of these things around 1978” – by ‘we’, I’m assuming he is referring to the US-based NOAA.

And this wouldn’t come as a surprise to me – it is only with the spread of globe-spanning communication and data technology that many have lifted their gaze from their own immediate surroundings and extended it to the rest of planet to see wider interactions.

Just as interesting is Nelson’s description of how he created these maps and how he arrived at this particular ‘bottoms-up’ perspective. The circle that looks like an iris around the pupil of the Antarctic is the equator – notice that the storms all swirl away from it in either direction.

Here’s an animated version of the map that displays all storm seasons dating back to 1978.

Hurricanes & storms by season, 1978-2010
Credit: John Nelson/IDVSolutions
Click on the image to go to the full-size version.

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