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.
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.”
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.