150 years of tropical storms mapped (+graphic)

By Paul Harper

Photo / John Nelson / IDV Solutions
Photo / John Nelson / IDV Solutions

The paths of 150 years of destructive tropical storms around the world have been mapped in a stunning image.

The graphic, looking at the globe with Antarctica in the centre, shows the intensity and location of hurricanes, cyclones and typhoons since 1851.

Data visualiser John Nelson, map manager for IDV Solutions, composed the image using archive information from the United States' National Climate Data Center.

The map shows the bulk of the most powerful storms - illustrated with larger bright green spots - originating around the equator in the Atlantic Ocean and smashing the Caribbean and southern states of the US, while other large storms can be seen to the west of Mexico, the northeastern Pacific, the Indian subcontinent, and the South Pacific and Australia. New Zealand are seen to be spared the worst of the South Pacific's storms, but is still lashed with the remnants of the region's tropical cyclones.

"Hurricanes clearly abhor the equator and fling themselves away from the warm waters of their birth as quickly as they can," Nelson said. "The void circling the image is the equator. Hurricanes can never ever cross it."

Nelson said the information is made up of data collected from satellites and hurricane hunter planes, and the estimated paths and intensities of historic storms based on archival and physical evidence.

He said the data for the historic storms is less accurate than those over the past 60 years, and is the product of "a lot of detective work" by National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration scientists.

Nelson also noted that data for storms in the northeastern and southern Pacific has increased markedly since the 1970s.

He said the graphic illustrated to him how much storms batter the western top of Australia, which he was previously unaware of.

"Also, in recent decades with more and better recording technology I see a pretty consistent signature of storm seasons, in both quantity and ferocity."

Hurricanes, cyclones and typhoons are all the same weather phenomenon - in the Atlantic and northeast Pacific the storms are called hurricanes, in northwest Pacific they are known as typhoons and in the south Pacific the term cyclone is used.

Nelson opted to focus the map on Antarctic partly because he is "sick of boring old rectangular projections".

"Hurricanes are a global phenomena and they skirt the equator, spinning off with the effects of prevailing winds and a rotating earth beneath. It turned out that a South Pole projection did the best job of illustrating that hula-hoop nature. Also I wanted to present it in a way that might inspire a bit of a double take. It looked trippy and did right by the data so I went with it."

Nelson has also previously mapped historic wildfires in the United States, as well a map illustrating all recorded earthquakes between 1898 and 2003.

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