Irma’s Impending Arrival

Your author is on holiday today and is actually writing today’s post on a Thursday night train to Boston. But by the time he returns late Sunday night—a Monday morning post is not guaranteed—Hurricane Irma will have likely made landfall somewhere along the Florida coast.

Thursday the Guardian published a nice article looking at the potential tracks for Irma. And while the specific routes will certainly be amended and updated over the weekend, the article is worth looking at prior to Irma’s arrival at Florida. As of my writing the track has shifted ever slightly westward and the current predicted path looks for Irma to land south and west of Miami. Ergo this screenshot is already a little outdated.

The three little wolves will huff and puff…
The three little wolves will huff and puff…

The remarkable thing about this graphic, which is just a cleaner version of the standard meteorological maps through more a more considered palette, is that there is not just one path of winds, but three. Following quickly on the heels of Irma are Katia and Jose, the latter the one taking the nearly same path as Irma while Katia spins towards Mexico.

But the graphic I really wanted to look at is the one ending the piece.

A very wide range of countries
A very wide range of countries

This looks at the countries in Irma’s path as of Thursday morning. What I do not understand is the vertical axis of the bars. What does the height represent? To simply show the rank of countries able to cope with natural disasters, a more straight-forward table could have been used. A dot plot would also make some sense, but again, it would require an understanding of the underlying metrics driving the chart.

The graphic is saved by the annotations, in particular the more/less vulnerable directional arrows. Because I do not understand why countries are grouped into the particular buckets, I find the coloured bins out of place.

I think the concept of showing the most vulnerable countries is terribly important, however, the graphic itself needed a little more thought to be a little more clear in presenting the concept.

Credit for the piece goes to the Guardian graphics department.

Plotting Cries for Help

So I thought I would be done with Harvey coverage, but this morning I saw this map from the New York Times that plotted out requests for aid throughout the storm.

You can really see the storm’s movement through the impacts upon the people. It’s especially true later in the timeline as the storm moved further to the east.

Early on the focus was in Houston
Early on the focus was in Houston

Credit for the piece goes to Gregor Aisch, Sarah Almukhtar, Jeremy Ashkenas, Matthew Bloch, Audrey Carlsen, Jose A. Delreal, Ford Fessenden, K.K. Rebecca Lai, Adam Pearce, Anjali Singhvi, and Karen Yourish.

Rising Tides, Rising Disasters?

One more day of Harvey-related content. At least I hope. (Who knows? Maybe someone will design a fantastic retrospective graphic?) Today, however, we look at a piece from the Economist about the rising number of weather-related disasters, but thankfully falling numbers of deaths. The piece has all the full suite of graphics: choropleths, line charts, and bar charts (oh my!). But I want to look at the bar chart.

A timeline of disaster causes around the world
A timeline of disaster causes around the world

I cannot tell from this chart whether there has been any change in the individual elements, the meteorological, hydrological, or climatological disasters. And unfortunately stacked bar charts do not let us see that kind of detail. They only really allow us to see total magnitude and the changes in the element at the bottom of the stack, i.e. aligned with the baseline. So I took their chart and drew the shapes as lines and realigned everything to get this.

My take
My take

You can begin to see that meteorological might be overtaking hydrological, but it is too early to tell. And that right now, climatological causes are still far behind the other two.

Credit for the piece goes to the Economist Data Team.

Credit for mine goes to me.

Harvey’s Rainfall Part Two

Let’s consider today a follow-up to yesterday’s piece. (No, I do not believe I have ever done a follow-up piece, but why not start now all these years later.)

Yesterday we looked at the Post, Journal, and Times for their coverage of the fallen rain amounts in southeast Texas. But at the time, we only had actual totals from the Post and Journal. The Times had only produced a projection map. The Times piece yesterday was perhaps the most underwhelming of the three, though it certainly did some things correctly, namely it was small, simple, and quick to get the reader to the point that Houston was likely to be flooded by storm’s end.

Well that had changed by the time I got home last night.

The Times' graphic
The Times’ graphic

What is different about this piece? Well this one is an animated .gif showing the cumulative rainfall. In other words, Texas starts dry and every hour just makes the map bluer and bluer. An additional feature that I find particularly useful is the dot map, which indicates where the heaviest rain was falling in each hour. Especially early on in the event, you can see the bands of rain sweeping in from the Gulf.

The bins also work better here, though I wonder if more segregation or a different palette would have worked a bit better. But, my biggest critique is the same I have with many animated .gifs: the looping. And unfortunately I do not have an easy solution. You certainly need to see it loop through more than once to understand the totality of the rainfall. But then I really do want to be able to examine the final map, or at least final as of 03.00 today.

Anyway, this was a really nice piece that should have been showcased alongside the others yesterday.

Credit for the piece goes to Gregor Aisch, Sarah Almukhtar, Jerey 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.

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.

Alaskan (im)Permafrost

I woke up this morning and before breakfast I opened the door to bring in today’s edition of the New York Times. I enjoy reading the paper, or at least a few articles, over breakfast (and more often than not preparing a post for here at Coffeespoons.me). Some of the best days are when I open the door and find a giant piece of data visualisation there above the fold. Other images, for example the other day’s eclipse coverage, also strike me, but as someone who visualises data as part of his career, I particularly enjoy things like maps. (I should point out I also do editorial design, so things like this layout are even closer to the intersection of my interests.)

Lo and behold, this morning I opened the door and we had the shrinking permafrost of Alaska this morning.

Now that is basically it. I have a crop of the map at the end here, but the map was the extent of the data visualisation in the article. Indeed, other articles in today’s edition carried more interesting graphics—I took photos to hopefully circle back—but the nerd I am, I really do get a kick finding a paper like this in the morning.

The graphic itself occupies half the space above the fold and the bright cyan and magenta steal the user’s attention. Even the headlines of the other articles recede behind the Alaska maps.

White space around the maps subtly helps focus attention on the piece. To be fair, the shape of Alaska with its archipelagos and bays along with the southeast extension help to create that space. A more squarish shape, say Colorado, would not quite have the same effect.

If I had to critique anything, I might have placed the city labels, especially Fairbanks, and the state label elsewhere to enhance their legibility. But at that point, I’m really just quibbling around the edges.

Red means it's warming up
Red means it’s warming up

Credit for the piece goes to Jeremy White.

North Korea’s Missile Programme

Another week, another batch of news and posturing from North Korea. So I was delighted to see last week a post from Politico exploring the history of the North Korean missile programme with data visualisation.

Shall we play a game?
Shall we play a game?

This kind of maps are my favourite for these types of stories. So often people get locked into this idea of a Mercator or Robinson projection and lines moving right/left or east/west on a map. Instead the world is a globe and the missiles or airplanes or birds or whatever will fly in circles over the poles if it’s easier.

Credit for the piece goes to the Politico graphics department.

Labour Marches On (into Tory Housing?)

We have a nice little piece from the Economist today, a look at the electoral majority for London-area constituencies and how their housing prices may begin to draw out priced-out Labour votes from London proper.

The political impact of scarce housing supply
The political impact of scarce housing supply

What I really like from the design side is the flip of the traditional choropleth density. In other words, we normally see the dark, rich colours representing high percentages. But here, those high majority constituencies are not the ones of focus, so they get the lighest of colours. Instead, the designers point attention to those slimmest of majorities and then offer the context of average home prices.

Credit for the piece goes to the Economist’s Data Team.

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.

Shifting Temperatures

This past weekend, I came upon a neat little graphic in the New York Times supporting an article about the impact of climate change on temperatures. The article basically lays out the argument that summers are getting hotter. And as a cold-weather person, that is dreadful news.

Can we not shift a wee bit the other way please?
Can we not shift a wee bit the other way please?

But the good news is the graphic was well done. It uses the outline of the baseline data as a constant juxtaposition against the date interval examined. And the colour breaks remain in place to show that compared to what we consider “normal”, we are seeing a shift to the higher end of the spectrum.

Credit for the piece goes to the New York Times graphics department.