The Earth’s Climate Zones Are Shifting

Climate change is redrawing the map, writes Nicola Jones in a piece for Yale Environment 360 last October. It’s not just about polar ice caps, she writes: “Sometimes, the lines on the map can literally be redrawn: the line of where wheat will grow, or where tornadoes tend to form, where deserts end, where the frozen ground thaws, and even where the boundaries of the tropics lie.” Her article is punctuated by maps showing the changes in Earth’s climate zones, some of which dramatically and in a short period of time.

The Polar Vortex, Visualized

NASA Earth Observatory maps the bitterly cold temperatures resulting from cold air pushed southwards by an unstable polar vortex. The maps and animations are by Earth Observatory’s lead cartographer, Joshua Stevens. On Twitter he posted a companion visualization showing what’s happening on the other side of the planet, where a searing heat wave is blistering Australia.

California Wildfire Roundup

San Francisco Chronicle (screenshot)

The San Francisco Chronicle’s 2018 California Fire Tracker is an interactive map of ongoing and contained wildfires—notably, at this moment, the Camp and Woolsey fires. It includes fire perimeter and air quality data. (Note: it’s glitchy on desktop Safari.)

Two Esri maps: a general wildfire map and a map of smoke from wildfires [Maps Mania]. Add to that a map of field damage reports in the area hit by the Camp Fire [Maps Mania].


The Jet Propulsion Laboratory has produced a map of the damage from the Camp Fire based on satellite radar images. NASA Earth Observatory has maps and animations showing the impact of the Camp Fire on air quality and satellite images of the Woolsey Fire burn scar.


The New York Times has a map tracking air quality in California. Smoke from the fires has reached the east coast: an outcome predicted by atmospheric models (see above map).

This interactive map from NBC News that superimposes the Camp Fire on any location to help people outside California get a sense of how big these fires are. [Maps Mania]

Rethinking the Cone of Uncertainty

A feature of hurricane maps is the so-called cone of uncertainty, which shows the range of likely paths the hurricane is forecasted to follow. The problem is that the cone of uncertainty is easily misinterpreted by the reader. The MIT Technology Review’s Karen Hao looks at five ways the cone can be misinterpreted, along with some alternative methods of visualizing a hurricane’s projected path. [Gretchen Peterson]

Hurricane Michael’s Impact

It’s after the fact, at least in terms of initial landfall (if not aftermath), but maps I’ve seen of Hurricane Michael include the USGS’s Hurricane Michael page, which includes an event support map and a map of coastal change impacts; and imagery from the Suomi NPP satellite that shows the path of Hurricane Michael through the power outages left in the storm’s wake.

Hurricane Florence: A Link Roundup

Hurricane Florence on 12 September 2018, as seen by NASA’s Terra Satellite.

The Washington Post has maps tracking Hurricane Florence’s forecasted path and its potential impact. Researcher Eira Tansey compiled data from several NOAA sources—hurricane track forecasting, potential storm surge flooding and long-duration hazards—to create this map.

A variety of NASA imagery of the storm is available via this Twitter moment. The eye of the storm can be viewed on Google Earth’s Current Weather Radar layer (Chrome-only).

Direct Relief’s Hurricane Florence Social Vulnerability Dashboard shows the extent to which the population in Florence’s path will be disproportionately affected by the storm. As CityLab’s Nicole Javorksy explains, while coastal areas will be hit hardest, residents there are more affluent; socioeconomic status, age, disability status, car ownership can all determine one’s ability to endure or recover from a storm.

The New York Times maps the environmental hazards in Florence’s path: “ponds of coal ash, Superfund sites, chemical plants—and thousands of industrial hog farms with lagoons filled with pig waste.” All have the potential to cause widespread contamination if flooded.

Carbon Monoxide from the California Wildfires

Map: carbon monoxide from the California wildfires

Carbon monoxide released into the atmosphere by the California wildfires is drifting across North America in concentrations sufficient to turn up on the Atmospheric Infrared Sounder (AIRS) on NASA’s Aqua satellite. A series of maps showing CO concentrations in the United States between 30 July and 7 August, using AIRS data, have been combined into the animation above.

Previously: Mapping the Northern California Wildfires.

Mapping the British Columbia Wildfires

British Columbia isn’t having a very good year either, forest fire wise. For maps of the wildfires burning in the province, see the B.C. Wildfire Service’s interactive map, which shows active wildfires, fire perimeters, and evacuation areas. Evacuation maps are frequently tweeted by Emergency Info BC. Data journalist Tara Carman has posted maps of wildfires and evacuation zones, but they haven’t been updated in a couple of weeks and are now out of date, I fear.

Previously: Mapping the Northern California Wildfires.

Mapping the Northern California Wildfires

Washington Post (screenshot)

The Washington Post maps the largest of the wildfires burning in northern California: the Carr Fire threatening the city of Redding and surrounding communities. The Redding Record Searchlight has drone footage of the destruction wreaked by the Carr Fire in Shasta County. NASA has natural and false-colour imagery (Earth Observatory, Visible Earth) of the Carr Fire, as well as the Ranch and River Fires to the south, the so-called Mendocino Complex. See the Mercury News’s fire map of the Mendocino Complex, whose two fires’ combined acreage is now larger than the Carr Fire. Meanwhile, German astronaut Alexander Gerst observed the California wildfires from the International Space Station. [San Francisco Chronicle]

Mapping Tornado Migration

John Nelson’s map of tornado migration in the United States, showing the seasonal variations in tornado occurrence, is a master class in data visualization and design—in deciding on the right way to present geographic information. The map combines three styles—impressionistic choropleth, weighted mean centre movement diagram, and small multiple—to present month-by-month information all at once; in the accompanying text (also here), Nelson discusses some of the alternatives he could have chosen instead. And in a separate post he talks about how he made the map. [Esri]

Previously: Mapping Tornado Tracks.

The Climate Atlas of Canada

The Climate Atlas of Canada’s interactive map shows the future impact of climate change in Canada. It shows what a number of different weather variables—temperature, number of very hot or very cold days, precipitation, growing season, and so forth—would be under two potential scenarios: one high-carbon, one low-carbon. There’s a lot of data hidden behind a lot of menus; the legends are hidden behind dialog boxes as well. [CBC News]