Harvey’s Rainfall Totals

Hurricane Harvey landed north of Corpus Christi, Texas late Friday night. By Monday morning, Houston has been flooded as nearly two feet of water have fallen upon the city, built on and around wetlands long ago paved over with concrete. Naturally the news has covered this story in depth all weekend. Even leading up to it, when I was still posting eclipse things, various outlets had projections and why we should care graphics. But as the storm begins to move back into the Gulf—only to move back inland tomorrow—I wanted to compare some of the graphics I have been seeing.

Of course, not all graphics are the same, let alone cover the same things. So this morning we are looking at just the rainfall total maps of a few different outlets.

From the Washington Post, we have the following graphic.

The Post's rainfall graphic
The Post’s rainfall graphic

The palette chosen performs well at quickly scaling up to the record level of rainfall, i.e. the 20+ inches realm, but quickly shifting from the green–blue palette into dark purples.

Then we have the Wall Street Journal’s graphic.

The Journal's graphic
The Journal’s graphic

Here we have a more familiar blue–red diverging spectrum. The point of divergence set to 20 inches.

Lastly, we have the New York Times graphic. Though in this case, it’s not an exact like-for-like comparison. I could not find a graphic mapping total rainfall, instead this is for projected rainfall totals. But the design is for the same type of map, i.e. how much rain falls in a location.

The Times' graphic
The Times’ graphic

The Post takes the closest approach to the true continuous spectrum palette, where the shift from dry to drenched is gradual. It makes for a smoother, more blended looking map. Somewhere around that 20 inch point, however, the palette shifts from the green to blue range to purple. It emphasises the record-hitting point, but otherwise the totals are presented as more fluid. Perhaps correctly since rain does not neatly fall evenly into pixels.

By comparison, the Journal segments the rainfall totals into bins of blues. The scale is not even, the lighter blues incorporate two inches, the darkers upwards of five. And then again, like the Post, separate 20+ as a different colour, here switching to reds.

Lastly the Times keeps to a simple segmented bin palette of all blues. 20+ inches is rendered is just a dark blue.

Each map has pluses, each has minuses. The Times map, for example, is simple and quick to understand. Southeastern Texas will be wet by the middle of next week. If your goal is only to communicate that point, well this map has done its job. It is worth noting, again, that this is a map of projections. Because the other thing missing from this map is the storm’s path. So if the goal were to showcase the rainfall along the storm’s path, well this graphic does not accomplish that nearly as well as the other two.

The Post and the Journal both show the track of the storm. The Journal takes it one step further and plots its projected course through Thursday. This helps us really see if not understand the east side problem of hurricanes. That is, the eastern quadrants of hurricanes typically experience the heaviest amounts of rain. And as the darker portions of the map all fall to the north and east of those lines, it reaffirms this for us.

So what really differentiates the two? The colour palette and its application. The Post’s palette is more natural as, again, rain does not fall neatly into bins and instead makes for blurred and messy totals across a map. Separating the heaviest rains into the purples, however, makes a lot of sense as that amount of rainfall, as we are seeing this morning, makes for a mess in Houston.

But the point of a graphic is to translate nature and the observed into a digestible and pointed statement of the observed. What should I learn? Why should I care? The Journal, like the Post, does a fantastic job of splitting out the 20+ inch totals by using a divergent palette. But instead of blending into that colour, the distinction is sharp. And then below that threshold, we get rainfall totals segmented into just a few bins. These help the reader see, also more starkly because of the selection of the specific blues, just where the bands of heavy rain will fall.

I do want to point out, however, that all of these maps occur in articles with lots of other fantastic graphics that visually explore lots of details about the story. And in particular, I want to highlight that the normal bit where I state the credits includes a lot of people. Creating a whole host of graphics to support a story takes a lot of work.

Credit for the Washington Post piece goes to Darla Cameron, Samuel Granados, Chris Alcantara, and Gabriel Florit.

Credit for the Wall Street Journal piece goes to Bradley Olson, Arian Campo-Flores, Miguel Bustillo, Dan Frosch, Erin Ailworth, Christopher M. Matthews, and Russell Gold.

Credit for the New York Times piece goes to Gregor Aisch, Sarah Almukhtar, Jeremy Ashkenas, Matthew Bloch, Joe Burgess, Audrey Carlsen, Ford Fessenden, Troy Griggs, K.K. Rebecca Lai, Jasmine C. Lee, Jugal K. Patel, Adam Pearce, Bedel Saget, Anjali Singhvi, Joe Ward, and Josh Williams.

Man vs. Shark vs. Marlin vs. Every Other Animal

About two weeks ago, Michael Phelps raced a shark. What will they not do for television ratings? The Economist took the basic premise and then had an insightful piece about the speed of animals compared to their size. The whole notion of animals get faster the larger they get. Well, to a point, the Economist found. The graphic is a bit complex, perhaps, in their use of a log scale on both the x and y axes. But they have cute little illustrations of everyone’s favourite animals. So it all balances out in the end.

Man vs. Nature
Man vs. Nature

But there is real science in the piece and it is worth a quick read.

Credit for the piece goes to the Economist graphics department.

Comparing the US Healthcare System to the World

Spoiler, we don’t look so great.

In this piece from the Guardian, we have one of my favourite types of charts. But, the piece begins with a chart I wonder about. We have a timeline of countries creating universal healthcare coverage, according to the WHO definition—of which there are only 32 countries. But we then plot their 2016 population regardless of when the country established the system. It honestly took me a few minutes to figure out what the chart was trying to communicate.

This is the only graphic I'm not sure of in the entire piece.
This is the only graphic I’m not sure of in the entire piece.

However, we do get one of my favourite charts: the scatter plot over time. And in it we look at the correlation between spending on healthcare compared to life expectancy. And, as I revealed in the spoiler, for all the money we spend on healthcare—it is not leading to longer lives as it broadly does throughout the world. And care as you might want to blame Obamacare, the data makes clear this problem began in the 1980s.

Someone's getting cheated out of a lot of money. Oh wait, that's us…
Someone’s getting cheated out of a lot of money. Oh wait, that’s us…

And of course Obamacare is why the Guardian published this piece since this is the week of the Vote-a-rama that we expect to see Thursday night. The Republicans will basically be holding an open floor to vote on anything and everything that can get some measure of repeal and/or replace 50 votes. And to wrap the piece, the Guardian concludes with a simple line chart showing the number of uninsured out to 2026. To nobody’s surprise, all the plans put forward leave tens of millions uncovered.

When all the options look bad, why not work with what you have?
When all the options look bad, why not work with what you have?

It is a fantastic piece that is well worth the read, especially because it compares the systems used by a number of countries. (That is largely the text bit that we do not cover here at Coffeespoons.) I found the piece very informative.

 

Credit for the piece goes to the Guardian graphics department.

Not Alone for Trivia

Well after the last two weeks of recording solo trivia performances, I decided that this week I would showcase a team effort.

A non-solo performance
A non-solo performance

And we finally placed, ending the performance tied for first place. But if you look closely you will see the final score has us at second. Why when we were tied with the same number of points? Because tiebreaker. And after I was selected to represent the team, I needed to respond, within three seconds, with the names of Tom Hanks films in a back-and-forth response.

I could name only Saving Private Ryan and Castaway. My competitor, she named three. They won.

High-rise Living

I was reading my print edition of the Economist last night and found this graphic—screenshot from the online version—about the rising importance of skyscrapers in the urban landscape.

The article was written after the Grenfell Tower inferno and looks at things that could be done to improve safety in high-rises.

Where's Philly?
Where’s Philly?

Naturally, I was reading this on my 11th story balcony in the high-rise tower block in which I live.

Credit for the piece goes to the Economist graphics department.

The Insurance Exchanges

There is a lot to unpack about last Thursday and Sunday. But before we dive into that, a little story from the New York Times that caught my eye from Friday.

Where there are no real options
Where there are no real options

The map shows the counties in the United States where there is one health insurer and no health insurer. Further on in the piece a small multiple gallery shows that progression from 2014 and highlights how the drastic changes are seen only in 2017 and 2018.

The problem is often not that people cannot buy insurance if no insurers are in the marketplace. The marketplace is for federally-subsidised coverage and insureres appear to be moving to offering policies outside the marketplace for non-subsidised customers.

The White House claims Obamacare is in a death spiral. It is not. But after seven years it could use a little maintenance.

Credit for the piece goes to Haeyoun Park and Audrey Carlsen.

Philly Falls from Fifth

Well it finally happened. While the Great Recession spared Philadelphia for several years, Phoenix has finally moved up into the rank of fifth-largest city in the United States.

There are some notable differences that this graphic captures. The big one is that Philly is relatively small at 135 square miles. Phoenix is half the size of Rhode Island. What the graphic does not capture, however, is that Philly is still growing, albeit more slowly than southern and western cities. Because also in the news is the fact that Chicago has shrunk and lost people. Personally I count as a -1 for Chicago and a +1 for Philly.

Comparing size and population
Comparing size and population

Credit for the piece goes to the Philly.com graphics department.

Georgia 6th Special Election

Wow do we have a lot to talk about this week. Probably bleeding into next week to be honest. But, last night was the special election for the Georgia 6th.

For those of you not following politics, the congressman representing it was Tom Price; he is now the Secretary of Health and Human Services. Consequently, Georgia needed to elect a fill-in for the Atlanta-suburbs district. That election was between 18 candidates last night. The race could have been won outright, but it would have required a vote total over 50%.

That did not happen—and realistically with 18 people running was not likely. But, Democrats hoped they could get their candidate in at 50+%.

The live results from early in the evening
The live results from early in the evening

This screenshot is from a nice piece by the New York Times. As you all know by now, I am not a huge fan of choropleth maps. They distort geographic area and population. But, I like the arrangement of these small multiples. It does a nice job of comparing the results for the five major candidates. I particularly like the addition of the 2016 presidential election result. With the cratering poll approvals of Donald Trump, could some of the paler red precincts flip in June?

The results from later in the evening
The results from later in the evening

The above screenshot comes from BuzzFeed, whose coverage I followed via live streaming last night. They used a cartogrammic approach, assuming that cartogrammic is actually a word. The colours could use a bit more sophistication—the best example being the Democratic–Republican margin map where the blues are darker than the reds and have a hopefully unintended greater visual weight.

Credit for the piece

UK Spring Budget

The British government is delivering its budget statement today. So as a teaser, the Guardian published this article with six charts to help understand where things are at. Chart-wise there is nothing radical or revolutionary here, but I have a soft spot for articles driven by data visualisation.

Quarterly growth
Quarterly growth

Credit for the piece goes to the Guardian graphics department.

Marriage Rates

Well, so about that whole Michael Flynn furore thing I wrote about yesterday…. Time to add another name to the list of people to be appointed—as I said, that post isn’t confirmed, merely appointed.

But today is Valentine’s Day. So for all you lovebirds out there, here are some graphics showing how rate of marriages has declined in the United States.

It does a real nice job of presenting the overall national view, but then breaking that down into a state-by-state comparison over time, the small multiples shown below.

I can say that I was in DC for a friend's marriage during that spike
I can say that I was in DC for a friend’s marriage during that spike

My critique would be the labelling. Note how the state label appears above the chart, but how when stacked in a row, the label for the state below appears far closer to the chart above. The first few times I looked at this, I saw the label for the chart as being below. And I was therefore curious why Kansas was so different from the rest of the plains state. It just goes to show you how important spacing and layout can be on the page.

Credit for the piece goes to Matt Stiles.