Data visualization expert John Nelson likes to illustrate risk. Usually he focuses on individual events, but in recent months he's directed his design talents towards a series of bigger projects, in the interest of communicating information about "general geographic trends in existential risk." Translation: beautiful maps depicting the distribution of natural disasters over time.
Using publicly available data from organizations like NASA, NOAA and USGS, Nelson has created maps for six decades of U.S. tornados, more than a century's worth of global earthquakes, and now over 150 years of (recorded) tropical storms and hurricanes. The results, as you can clearly see, are nothing short of jaw-dropping.
First of all, this map is best appreciated in hi-resolution, so click here to see it nice and big. Check the legend at the bottom right hand corner of the image for information on things like the proportional strength of hurricane seasons and relative increases in our ability to detect storms over time. (As with his previous projections, point color is tied to storm intensity.) Got it? Good. Moving on.
For his data set, Nelson referenced an archive of storm paths and wind speeds maintained by NOAA. One of my favorite things about this visualization is the unusual map projection that he selected to present the information; this particular view, known as a polar projection, places Antarctica at the center of the map. The Americas are situated to the right, Australia and Asia to the left. Africa can be seen peeking up from the bottom.
Nelson says this "bottoms up" view was not only cool-looking, but also showed off some of the more striking features of the data, including:
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.
Detection has skyrocketed since satellite technology but mostly since we started logging storms in the eastern hemisphere. Also the proportionality of storm severity looks to be getting more consistent year to year with the benefit of more data.
The graph featured here illustrates that we've only recently started logging storm data in the Southern hemisphere, as well:
You'll find more information and analyses on this data, including a few more excellent visual representations, over at Nelson's blog.