Every Hurricane of the Past 170 Years in One Map

A beautiful, unusual map that shows decades of foul ocean weather.


This story first appeared on the Atlantic Cities website and is reproduced here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration.

Should you pilot a small, rickety craft across international waters this summer, it would be wise to consult this unusual map of foul ocean weather. The gusty cartography plots the paths all the tropical cyclones recorded in the past 170 years. Brighter areas show where they have overlapped in space, representing areas of historically frequent hurricane activity—tumultuous ocean zones probably best to steer around.

Visualization super-nerds at NOAA (that’s meant in the most flattering way) conjured this top-down look at hurricanes and Pacific cyclones using storm-track records from the National Climatic Data Center. The records date back to 1842 and include both satellite data and first-person accounts from (no doubt really stressed) mariners. Though the U.S. government stocks such information on 11,967 tropical cyclones, that number is probably smaller than what has actually blown across the seas over the ages. Satellites nowadays keep a laser bead on these powerful storms, but back when sailors were responsible for snitching on them, one could flail about in the middle of the ocean without many people noticing.

This key shows where on the map the highest points of overlap are:

a bar showing the frequency of hurricane overlap

 

NOAA has a few things to note about why history’s tempests tend to repeat themselves:

By coloring how many times any storm track overlapped another, certain patterns arise in the density of storms affecting a given area. 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. The frequency of track overlaps is much lower in the Western Hemisphere than in the Eastern Hemisphere, however, a related map showing storm intensity seen here shows an interesting contrast.

Here’s that related map of cyclone strength, broken down into eastern and western hemispheres. Again, areas of brighter hues represent higher values (in this case, wind speeds). First the Americas:

earth

And now Asia, Africa, and Australia:

earth

One takeaway: People living on the western coast of Central America and on the sprawling eastern and southern contours of North America, including around the Gulf of Mexico, have a good chance in their lifetimes of encountering extra-ferocious hurricanes. The range of intense cyclones on the other side of the globe is more limited. As NOAA notes, there the “strongest cyclones seem to group near the Philippines.”

More Mother Jones reporting on Climate Desk

We've never been very good at being conservative.

And usually, that serves us well in doing the ambitious, hard-hitting journalism that you turn to Mother Jones for. But it also means we can't afford to come up short when it comes to scratching together the funds it takes to keep our team firing on all cylinders, and the truth is, we finished our budgeting cycle on June 30 about $100,000 short of our online goal.

This is no time to come up short. It's time to fight like hell, as our namesake would tell us to do, for a democracy where minority rule cannot impose an extreme agenda, where facts matter, and where accountability has a chance at the polls and in the press. If you value our reporting and you can right now, please help us dig out of the $100,000 hole we're starting our new budgeting cycle in with an always-needed and always-appreciated donation today.

payment methods

We've never been very good at being conservative.

And usually, that serves us well in doing the ambitious, hard-hitting journalism that you turn to Mother Jones for. But it also means we can't afford to come up short when it comes to scratching together the funds it takes to keep our team firing on all cylinders, and the truth is, we finished our budgeting cycle on June 30 about $100,000 short of our online goal.

This is no time to come up short. It's time to fight like hell, as our namesake would tell us to do, for a democracy where minority rule cannot impose an extreme agenda, where facts matter, and where accountability has a chance at the polls and in the press. If you value our reporting and you can right now, please help us dig out of the $100,000 hole we're starting our new budgeting cycle in with an always-needed and always-appreciated donation today.

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate