Co.Design

Infographic: 160 Years Of Hurricanes Form One Giant Hurricane!

Particle physics or alien conspiracy?

We follow our tropical storms like big game hunters on safari, watching as these monsters wake and go on a rampage, close enough to document every single detail, but far enough, hopefully, to never get caught in their path.

Click to enlarge.

But what of the larger view? What of the trend? How do these single storms relate to one another over time? John Nelson painstakingly mapped out every tropical storm documented by NOAA and NASA since 1851, and the results are absolutely spooky. It doesn’t take a meteorologist’s degree to spot the obvious: The storms converge to form a larger entity that looks strikingly akin to a hurricane, as if hurricanes are just fractals for larger hurricanes. Come to think about it, if you keep zooming out, you eventually arrive at our own galaxy, the Milky Way, which also spirals like a hurricane. Like, whoa.

“I hadn’t noticed the overarching cyclone-iness until others commented, the information just did that itself!” Nelson tells Co.Design. “I had spent some cycles looking for a map projection that did right by the structure of the storms while not being a boring old rectangular projection. This bottoms-up polar projection did a good job of indicating the continuous circuit of prevailing winds and helped illustrate the inertial flinging of things on a sphere, and was a refreshing and sort of trippy perspective I thought. The fact that it looks a little like a hurricane itself was happenstance and I was (not uncharacteristically) oblivious to it.”

Click to enlarge.

The view is uncharacteristic. Whereas most of us in the United States are used to globes that feature North America at the center (and upright, whatever that means!), Nelson shows us the earth from the South Pole, looking up. This alternate perspective, while disorienting at first glance, is actually highly effective at demonstrating how storms cross the equator—or more accurately, the fact that they don’t. (The equator is that black void in the middle of the storms.)

Of course, as Nelson’s earlier renders demonstrate, we wouldn’t have this freaky hurricane-in-a-hurricane view if he hadn’t considered the earth from a slightly different perspective. After all, a sphere has no set top or bottom, left or right. And acknowledging that fact, for the briefest of moments, we get a peek into the trippy, repetitious scale of our universe. We’re gonna need a bigger umbrella.

Buy a print here ($30).

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4 Comments

  • Anna Rounseville

    Wow, At first glance it looked like a picture of an eye. Nice job pouring over all that data! Surprising how many F-5's overall. Thanks for creating this.

  • Renee S

    The reason storms never cross the equator is due to Hadley cell convection and the Intertropical Convergence Zone -- as the air around the equator heats up faster than anywhere else, warm air rises and pushes outwards towards the poles constantly. Weather is neat.

  • Joe Barrett

    Renee,
    Actually, the reason storms don't cross the equator is due to earth's vorticity. The earth's vorticity is zero at the equator and increases towards the poles. Tropical disturbances need enough absolute vorticity to be able to spin up a circulation. Tropical storms rarely form below 15 degrees latitude.

  • John Bailo

    The freaky part for me is how South America (and Antarctica) are completely shielded from hurricanes.