John Metcalfe was CityLab’s Bay Area bureau chief, covering climate change and the science of cities.
Here's a quite different way of looking at the history of tropical storms.
With the peak month for global hurricanes nearly upon us, now is a good time to reflect upon all the thrashing tropical storms of yesteryear. Here's a way of looking at the atmosphere's tumultuous timeline that you've probably never seen before, courtesy of John Nelson at the "data viz" website IDV User Experience.
Nelson has taken storm-path data from NOAA from 1851 to 2010 that includes all recorded tropical storms and hurricanes, and laid it on a "South Pole stereographic" map of the world. (If you're having trouble getting oriented, that's Antarctica in the middle, Asia on the left and the Americas on the right.) The color of the points represents a system's intensity, with the darkest, faded blue being a tropical storm and the iridescent green the equal of a most-potent Category 5 hurricane.
A couple of things immediately stand out. If you live near Florida, anywhere in the Caribbean, Bangladesh or Japan, buy hurricane insurance. Conversely, you could also just move to an inland sanctuary like Kansas, although then you'd have tornadoes knocking at your door. Nelson, who's based in Lansing, Michigan, has these points to add:
Hurricanes clearly abhor the equator and fling themselves away from the warm waters of their birth as quickly as they can. Paging Dr. Freud.
The void circling the image is the equator. Hurricanes can never ever cross it.
One thing worth noting with this visualization is that tropical storms in the Eastern Hemisphere are greatly underrepresented. That's because NOAA researchers only started archiving data on typhoons in the late '70s; in reality, the warm Pacific waters would be teeming with these monster storms. For a closer look at Nelson's map, which includes data on the strength of different hurricane seasons, bathe your eyes in this "superultramega-sized version."