Inside NOAA During Trump’s Sharpie Mapmaking Period

Remember the nuttery surrounding President Trump, his erroneous warning that Hurricane Dorian would hit Alabama, and his Sharpie-adjusted hurricane map? That was two whole months ago. It all put NOAA and the National Weather Service in an awkward spot. Mother Jones put in a Freedom of Information Act request for their internal emails and found out just how uncomfortable things were inside NOAA during that period.

Previously: Trump, Maps and Manipulation; ‘A Defilement of a Sacred Trust’.

‘A Defilement of a Sacred Trust’

I hadn’t planned on posting anything about Trump’s Sharpie-adjusted hurricane forecast map: there was nothing useful for me to add to the discussion, and presumably you’d all heard about it already and didn’t need me to tell you. But it turns out something map-related can, and has, been said about the issue.

Charles Blow was once in charge of the New York Times graphics department, and an art director at National Geographic. His response to Trump’s marked-up map was “visceral”:

Because of this unyielding commitment to accuracy, I believe cartography enjoys an enviable position of credibility and confidence among the people who see it. If you see it mapped, you believe.

That is precisely what you want the case to be, particularly in natural disasters. This cartography should be devoid of any attempt to deceive. Its only agenda should be to inform and enlighten.

That’s what made Trump’s marked-on map such a blasphemy: It attacked, on a fundamental level, truth, science and public trust. It wasn’t just a defacement of a public document, it was a defilement of a sacred trust.

Blow’s reaction is predicated in the notion that maps can’t lie, or at least don’t, or at least shouldn’t. Enter Mark Monmonier, the author of How to Lie with Maps (reviewed here), who was interviewed by CityLab about this kerfuffle. Even Monmonier, who has no illusions about maps’ claims to accuracy and objectivity, and who literally wrote the book on how hazard mapping can be misleading, seems to be sputtering:

Usually, attempts to falsify tend to happen before maps are published, and don’t try to contradict established scientific facts. You can put a spin on something by influencing the appearance of a map before it’s published. You can put a spin on things by determining what is and is not going to be mapped. Something that might put your administration in an unfavorable view, for example: Those maps won’t be part of the plan. […]

But the Trump map is unusual. I cannot find anything truly comparable. We had a map that was already out there that he actually mutilated, and in a very obvious way. This guy shows absolutely no subtlety at all. And then people try to make excuses for him. I have never seen anything like this.

Trump’s little stunt has revealed something very interesting about how we see maps.

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].

NASA/JPL-Caltech

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.

NOAA

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]

A Look at GOES-16’s Imagery

This NOAA article looks at three kinds of imagery provided by the GOES-16 geostationary weather satellite: GeoColor, the Geostationary Lightning Mapper (!), and full disk infrared imagery from the Advanced Baseline Imager. GOES-16 launched last November and is currently in the checkout phase before it replaces GOES-13 at 75° west latitude.

NOAA to Move Away from Paper Charts

The Baltimore Sun: “In a potential sea change for a nautical industry heavy on tradition, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s recent National Charting Plan suggested that, eventually, ‘the reduction or elimination of traditional paper nautical charts seems likely.'” (This is NOAA looking into the future, but note that private companies, rather than NOAA, already do the printing and distributing of paper charts; NOAA’s charts are, of course, available online and can be printed.) [WMS]

NOAA’s White Christmas

noaa-xmas

NOAA maps the probability of a white Christmas across the lower 48 states: the interactive version includes clickable locations.

While the map shows the historical probability that a snow depth of at least one inch will be observed on December 25, the actual conditions in any year may vary widely from these because the weather patterns present will determine the snow on the ground or snowfall on Christmas day. These probabilities are useful as a guide only to show where snow on the ground is more likely.

While the subject may seem whimsical, it’s based on 1981-2010 Climate Normals data; this paper details into the methodology involved. (It also answers a question that climatologists and meterologists get a lot.)

Hurricane Matthew Map Roundup

nhc-matthew

Start with the National Hurricane Center, which has lots of different maps of Hurricane Matthew’s predicted path, weather warnings, rainfall potential and so forth. See also maps from Weather Underground.

Google’s Crisis Map includes evacuation resources—Red Cross shelters, evacuation routes, traffic data—in addition to storm track and precipitation information.

Matthew has already struck southwest Haiti; the Humanitarian OSM Team has put out a call for crisis mappers on the following projects: buildings in Nippes; road network in Grand’Anse and Sud.

earthwindmap-matthew

Wind maps from Windytv and EarthWindMap visualize the wind patterns of Matthew and, further out in the Atlantic, Nicole.

Hurricane imagery from NOAA’s GOES East satellite. NASA Earth Observatory has imagery of Matthew’s path toward Florida.

[Dave Smith/Maps Mania/NASA Earth/NOAA Satellites]

Mapping Global Sea Surface Height

jason3-20160315
Credit: NASA/JPL Ocean Surface Topography Team.

Jason-3 is the latest earth observation satellite tasked with measuring global sea surface height; its data will be used in weather and climate research (e.g., El Niño, climate change). Launched on January 17, it’s now in its six-month checkout phase and has produced its first complete map, which corresponds well with the map produced by the still-operational Jason-2 satellite, so that’s a good sign. [via]

Surface Temperatures Warmest Since 1880

According to analyses by NASA and NOAA scientists, 2015 was the warmest year on record, with average surface temperatures the highest they’ve been since 1880. The above video shows the long-term warming trend since 1880 as a five-year rolling average. The baseline average is from 1951 to 1980; orange colours are warmer than that average, blue colours cooler. (Credit: GSFC Scientific Visualization Studio.)