2014-02-04

This Glowing Interactive Map Makes Art From Wind And Ocean Currents

Weather data has never been so interesting--or beautiful.

In the past, the massive amount of weather data collected by the Global Forecast System was mostly comprehensible only to meteorologists. But in 2012 designers started playing with wind data to make a beautiful and easily readable map of flows across the U.S. Last year, inspired by their work, programmer Cameron Beccario decided to build this mesmerizing interactive visualization of the entire world.

Beccario, who had always worked on hidden server-side programming in the past, used the project as a way to learn new skills. “It took longer than I would be willing to say--it’s a little embarrassing,” he laughs. “I was learning JavaScript from scratch, and on top of that, entering the world of meteorology and all of the terminology they use. And half of the time I was just staring at the screen because the data was so hypnotic.”

He started with wind data from Tokyo, where he lives, and a couple of months later, built this version of the entire planet. Glowing neon lines show wind patterns around the oceans and over land, with pinks and whites showing the fastest speeds. Although the flows don't show actual conditions, since sensors and satellites don't cover every location, it's the closest possible simulation. The data is updated every few hours.

Beccario recently added ocean current data as well, and plans to continue adding more information. "It's always ongoing," he says. "It's too interesting, too beautiful to stop. It's not my site, but the data that's beautiful."

Soon, Beccario hopes to add ocean waves and temperature. "There are so many things out there. It's unbelievable how much data is available…it's almost overwhelming deciding what to add next."

Though others have visualized some of this data in the past, it's never looked quite like this. "NASA has always done some pretty phenomenal animations, but it’s usually an animation that spans several months or years, and it’s only a video, not something you can interact with," Beccario says.

On the National Weather Service or NASA sites, you can create your own charts, but the interface is clunky--entering numbers in text boxes--and the results are static.

Since launching late last year, the site has raked in visitors. "It’s interesting to see the traffic on the site seems to peak geographically whenever there’s something happening in that area," Beccario explains. "I'll ask, Why is there a huge spike in Australia or the Philippines? Oh, there’s a hurricane." As fans of the site notice interesting patterns, like the Polar Vortex, they've been tweeting and posting screenshots on Facebook. Beccario has also been getting thank you notes.

"The most interesting message I got was from a fisherman in Alaska who said that he really wants to send me some jars of pickled salmon and herring as thanks for the site," Beccario says. "I really hope he sends it."

Other emails have come from sailors and pilots, and ordinary citizens who just can't stop looking at the visualization. "Weather just resonates by everybody because we’re all affected by it," he says. "It may sound obvious, but it's the universal human thing."

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