More on California’s Dry Heat

Yesterday we looked at the wildfire conditions in California. Today, we look at the Economist’s take, which brings an additional focus on the devastation of the fires themselves. However, it adds a more global perspective and looks at the worldwide decline in forest fires and both where and why that is the case.

California isn't looking too…hot. Too soon?
California isn’t looking too…hot. Too soon?

The screenshot here focuses on California and combines the heat and precipitation we looked at yesterday into a fuel-aridity index. That index’s actual meaning is simplified in the chart annotations that indicate “warmer and drier years” further along the x-axis. The y-index, by comparison, is a simpler plot of the acres burned in fires.

This piece examines more closely that link between fires and environmental conditions. But the result is the same, a warming and drying climate leaves California more vulnerable to wildfires. However, the focus of the piece, as I noted above, is actually on the global decline of wildfires.

Only 2% of wildfires are actually in North America, the bulk occur in Africa. And the piece uses a nice map to show just where those fires occur. In parallel the text explains how changing economic conditions in those areas are lessening the risk of wildfire and so we are seeing a global decline—even with climate change.

Taken with yesterday’s piece with its hyper-California focus, this provides a more global context of the problem of wildfires. It’s a good one-two read.

Credit for the piece goes to the Economist Data Team.

Dry Heat Is Only Part of California’s Problem

Wildfires continue to burn across in California. One, the Camp Fire in northern California near Chico, has already claimed 77 lives. But why has this fire been so deadly?

FiveThirtyEight explained some of the causes in an article that features a number of charts and graphics. The screenshot below features a scatter plot looking at the temperature and precipitation recorded from winter through autumn every year since 1895.

The evolving California climate
The evolving California climate

The designers did a good job of highlighting the most recent data, separating out 2000 through 2017 with the 2018 data highlighted in a third separate colour. But the really nice part of the chart is the benchmarking done to call out the historic average. Those dotted lines show how over the last nearly two decades, California’s climate has warmed. However, precipitation amounts vary. (Although they have more often tended to be below the long-term average.)

I may have included some annotation in the four quadrants to indicate things like “hotter and drier” or “cooler and wetter”, but I am not convinced they are necessary here. With more esoteric variables on the x- and y-axis they would more likely be helpful than not.

The rest of the piece makes use of a standard fare line chart and then a few maps. Overall, a solid piece to start the week.

Credit for the piece goes to Christie Aschwanden, Anna Maria Barry-Jester, Maggie Koerth-Baker and Ella Koeze.

The Midterms Are Not Over

Your author is back after a few days out sick and then the Armistice Day holiday. But guess what? The elections are not yet all over. Instead, there are a handful of races to call. Below is a screenshot from a FiveThirtyEight article tracking those races still too close to call.

The Republican gain might not be as big as they had hoped
The Republican gain might not be as big as they had hoped

Why are there races? Because often time mail-in ballots need only be postmarked by Election Day. Therefore they can still be arriving in the days after the election and their total must be added to the race. (Plus uncounted/missed ballots et cetera.) For example, the late count and mail-in ballots are what tipped the Arizona senate seat. When we went to bed on Tuesday night—for me Wednesday morning—Arizona was a Republican hold, albeit narrowly. Now that the late count ballots have been counted, it’s a Democratic pickup.

The graphic above does a nice job showing how these races and their late calls are impacting seat changes. Their version for the House is not as interesting because the y-axis scale is so much greater, but here, the user can see a significant shift. The odds were always good that the Republicans would pick up seats—the question was how many. And with Arizona flipping, that leaves two seats on the table. Mississippi’s special election will almost certainly be a Republican hold. The question is what about Florida? The last I saw the race is separated by 0.15% of the vote. That’s pretty tiny.

Credit for the piece goes to the FiveThirtyEight graphics department.

Pages of Polls and Forecasts

We are now one week away from the midterm elections here in the United States. Surprisingly, we are going to be looking at election-y things over the course of the next week or so. But before we delve into that, I wanted to focus on the homepage for FiveThirtyEight, the below screenshot is from my laptop.

The homepage as of 30 October
The homepage as of 30 October

The reason I wanted to call attention to it is that right-most column of content. The site does a great job of succinctly providing the latest forecasts and polling number on the two main midterm results, federal representation in the House and Senate, along with polling numbers for President Trump.

Starting from the bottom, the polling numbers chart works really well. It clearly and effectively shows the latest approval/disapproval numbers and their longer term trend whilst providing a link to a page of deeper data. It’s very effective.

Moving up we have the House forecasts. These are tricker to see because so many of the more urban and suburban districts are inherently small geographically ergo very difficult to see in a small map. But the map does the job of at least providing some data along with the key takeaway of the odds of the Democrats flipping or Republicans retaining the House. Again, not surprisingly, it offers a link into the data.

The Senate map is the one where I have the most difficulty. Now when we get to the actual page—hopefully later this week—the map shown makes perfect sense because it exists in a large space. That space is needed to show two hexagons that represent each state’s two senators. But, similar to the problem with the House districts, the Northeast is so geographically cramped that it is difficult to show the senators from Maine through Maryland clearly. I wonder if some of the other visualisations on their Senate forecast page would have been a better choice. However, they do at least provide those odds at the top of the graphic.

Credit for the piece goes to the FiveThirtyEight design department.

Arms Sales for Saudi Arabia and Head Removals for Journalists

Yeah, guess where I am going with that title…

If you have been living under a rock, Saudi Arabia barbarically murdered/assassinated a Washington Post journalist in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey about three weeks ago. The journalist, Jamal Khashoggi, was a Saudi citizen and US resident living around Washington from where he reported on the new Saudi government under Mohammed bin Salman (MBS).

There is a lot to unpack in the story, but the key points are that Saudi Arabia has, for weeks, disputed the idea that his fingers were severed, then beheaded, body dismembered, and corpse disposed of within their consulate in Istanbul. Only yesterday did they begrudgingly admit that it was a “rogue” operation that involved some of the closest advisors/bodyguards to MBS. (We will look at that later.) How do we know all this? Basically, every time Saudi Arabia denies something, the Turks let leak evidence proving them wrong.

So while the story will continue to develop, what is the potential cost for Saudi Arabia? Well, according to President Trump, not arms sales. Although this morning Germany announced it was temporarily halting all exports to the Saudi kingdom. But the two of the largest providers of weapons to Saudi Arabia are the United States and the United Kingdom. And that is how we get to today’s chart. The question is what, if any, action will these two countries take against Saudi Arabia?

Will these line trend down anytime soon?
Will these line trend down anytime soon?

It’s a line chart from the Washington Post. There really isn’t much to say in its design. However, what I found interesting is the unit of measure. We might expect dollars, pounds, or euros, but instead we get TIV, or trend indicator values. It’s a unit devised by the data provider to allow a common measurement, presumably so that we can do just this: compare two different countries’ arms sales.

Credit for the piece goes to the Washington Post graphics department.

Running Up the Debt

I was reading the paper this morning and stumbled across this graphic in a New York Times article that focused on the increasing importance of debt payments.

Those interest payment lines are headed in the wrong direction.
Those interest payment lines are headed in the wrong direction.

The story is incredibly important and goes to show why the tax cuts passed by the administration are fiscally reckless. But the graphic is really smart too. After all, it is designed to work in a single colour.

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

Kavanaugh’s Fading in Competitive House Seats

Another day, another allegation of sexual misconduct against Brett Kavanaugh. We are presently at two and are expecting a third tomorrow. But the question is, will these allegations sink his nomination? Probably not. But could that confirmation hurt Republicans in the mid-terms? Possibly.

The New York Times posted an article about how Kavanaugh’s support in battleground congressional districts is slipping. To be fair, the chart is simple, but it does its job. And usually that’s all we want a chart to do.

Just a few points can make all the difference…
Just a few points can make all the difference…

Me the person interested in politics, however, will take this a bit further. If Kavanaugh’s support continues to fade—this survey was taken before these new allegations were public—will Republicans supporting the nomination face a backlash from their constituents?

Credit for the piece goes to Nate Cohn.

Our Lives Are a Mixed Bag

Last Thursday the Economist published an article looking at quality of life across the world. The data came from the Social Progress Imperative and examined quality of life, excluding economic performance. And as the article details, the results were mixed at best.

But, hey, the chart was really nice. We have a small multiple set looking at the overall index across all regions across the world and then the US, China, and India in particular.

Unfortunately the US is heading in the wrong direction…
Unfortunately the US is heading in the wrong direction…

I think this chart hits almost all the right notes. My only qualm would be the component indices being placed alongside the overall index. I wonder if breaking the whole thing out by component would work. As it is, it generally works well, I am just curious because there is the one issue of the United States where our well-being line falls beneath that of the overall index. But then again, the story is the overall index.

Credit for the piece goes to the Economist Data Team.

iPhone Screen Size

Your humble author has returned. And on my trip up to Boston I took plenty of photos with my Nexus 5X, a Google-designed smartphone. That is correct, this designer does not use an iPhone. But I am aware of the latest things coming out of Apple—after all this is being typed up on a Mac—and so the larger screen size caught my attention.

The Economist put together a piece looking at the screen sizes of the iPhone models over the years and then used that to project into the future the likely sizes of the phone’s display.

Bigger, and bigger, and bigger, and…
Bigger, and bigger, and bigger, and…

Now the article hints at what I would be particularly interested in: the screen sizes of comparable Android models. How have they changed over the years? I still cling to my smaller screen size mobile as I am not a fan of the phablet.

The chart itself is simple and well done, plotting the models without any fuss. But the most important part is the benchmark line of the iPad mini’s screen size. And the user can clearly see the forecast merger of the sizes.

Credit for the piece goes to the Economist Data Team.

Europe’s Far-right Parties

Yesterday we looked at the rise of the far-right in Sweden based on their electoral gains in this past weekend’s election. Today, the Economist has a piece detailing their strength throughout Europe and they claim that this type of nationalist party may have peaked.

The tile map, though
The tile map, though

The graphic fascinates me because it appears to be a twist on the box or tile map, which is often used to eliminate or reduce the discrepancies in geographic size so that countries, states, or whatevers, can be examined more easily and more equitably.

I am guessing that the ultimate sizes, which appear to be one to four units, are determined by population size. The biggest hitters of Germany, the UK, France, and Spain are all four squares or boxes whereas the smaller states like Malta are just one. (But again, hey, we can all see Malta this time.)

I think this kind of abstraction will grow on me over time. It is a clever solution to the age-old problem of how do we show important data in both Germany and Malta on a map when Malta is so geographically small it probably renders as only a few pixels.

On the other hand, I am not loving the line chart to the right. I understand what it is doing and why. And even conceptually it works well to show the peaks of the parties. However, there are just a few too many lines and we get into the spaghettification of the chart. I might have labelled a far fewer number and let most sit at some neutral grey. Or, space permitting, a series of small multiples could have been used.

Credit for the piece goes to the Economist Data Team.