A mesmerizing, real-time map of US wind patternsS

This weekend you watched ocean currents turn the Earth into a continuously evolving, geophysical Van Gogh painting.

Now, thanks to some smart programming and live weather data, you can witness swirling wind patterns from across the continental U.S. perform a similar trick. And best of all: you can watch it in real time.

It's all possible thanks to a smart piece of data visualization called, quite simply, "Wind Map." Bear in mind that the picture up top is just a screenshot; for the full-blown experience, you really need to click through to the actual Wind Map website, where you can watch data collected from the National Digital Forecast Database take shape in the form of stunning, swirling patterns of aeolian goodness.

The vector-tastic visualization was created by Fernanda Viégas and Martin Wattenberg, who also happen to head up Google's "Big Picture" data visualization research group. Viégas and Wattenberg describe their work:

Our medium is data visualization, a technology developed by computer scientists to extract insights from raw numbers. This technique is ideal for investigating a world represented by digital traces, where truth is hidden in masses of information.

As proponents of expressive visualization, we exploit the power of color and complexity to reveal arresting, unintuitive patterns. Parallel to depth of information, clarity and interactivity are of great concern to us. We strive to build intelligible visualizations that engage viewers at a formal level while allowing them to hold a dialogue with the underlying data.

A mesmerizing, real-time map of US wind patternsS

After spending the last half hour toying with Wind Map, I get the impression that Viégas and Wattenberg have managed to do exactly that. The visualization is updated with NDFD data every hour on the hour, affording you what is essentially a real-time view of wind patterns across the Continental US. You can even zoom in on particular regions of the country, use hover-over text to find the wind velocity at precise geographical coordinates, and explore a variety of interesting wind patterns from the past.

This is data visualization at its finest — genuinely captivating stuff.

You can check out more of Viégas and Wattenberg's data visualization projects on their website [Wind Map via Martin Wattenberg]