Global patterns of precipitable water look like wisps of liquid smoke in this Mapbox visualization.

As Cassini sails through the ice plumes of Saturn’s moon Enceladus, New Horizons discovers red ice on the surface of Pluto, and the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter finds evidence of liquid water flowing on the slopes on Mars, it can be easy to forget that the water here on Earth is pretty amazing, too.

Mapbox didn’t.

Using the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Global Forecast System data, Mapbox geographer Damon Burgett produced a map showing the flow of precipitable water in the atmosphere over a map of the planet. The data visualization covers these patterns in three-hour intervals from October 15-28; the results are pretty compelling.  

As Burgett explains, he used the same method previously to embed a video of Hurricane Patricia forming and faltering in a map showing the coast of Mexico. This new map goes further, showing all the precipitable water being tracked by forecasters at the National Centers for Environmental Prediction (part of NOAA). I like what Burgett has to say about the map:

Animated weather data unearths complex and beautiful patterns in our atmosphere: the subtle daily rhythm of pulsing evapotranspiration over rain forests, eddying atmospheric rivers hurtling moisture away from equatorial regions, and the violent vortices of hurricanes forming, strengthening, and dissipating.

Just your standard evapotranspiration map, you know.

The continents look like they are vaping; wisps of cool liquid smoke wash over the wettest places. It’s incredible to see a flash of light over the Texas landmass coincide with the major flooding events there. It must be amazing to see the Indian subcontinent at the height of the rainy season. The fractal complexity of the world’s weather makes the planet look like Jupiter, but rendered in the cool colors of Neptune.

This post has been updated.

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