NOAA Maps 170 Years of Tropical Cyclones

Mike Schuler
Total Views: 4
August 26, 2013

Cyclone frequency data map. Image credit: NOAA

The Environmental Visualization Lab at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has released these images showing worldwide tropical cyclone activity over a 170-year period.

The images depict data for a total of 11,967 cyclones recorded from 1842 to 2012 and are all assembled into a single database called IBTrACS. Along with track data the IBTrACS database also stores estimates for wind speed, which together make for some stunning visuals.


By coloring how many times any storm track overlapped another, certain patterns arise in the density of storms affecting a given area. For example, as you can seen from the images below the cyclone tracks overlapped the most in the western Pacific and Bay of Bengal (India), where typhoon season never ends since waters are always warm enough to sustain cyclone formation.

Frequency West

Frequency East

While frequency of track overlaps is much lower in the Western Hemisphere than in the Eastern Hemisphere, a related map showing storm intensity shows an interesting contrast.


Again, by coloring the maximum sustained wind speed over the course of a storm’s life, certain patterns arise. As you can see the Northwestern Atlantic shows a much greater spread of strong storms, whereas in the Pacific the strongest cyclones seem to group near the Philippines.

Intensity West

Intensity East

NOAA notes that before the advent of the satellite era, hurricane tracks were constructed from ship reports and, although reliable, some storms were probably definitely missed. Today, geostationary satellites, such as NOAA’s GOES, have revolutionized the ability of meteorologists to track cyclones and not a single storm is missed. Wonder what the maps will look like 170 years from now?

via Gizmodo

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