Let's Talk about the Weather (and Analytics)

(Image: Ronnie Chua/Shutterstock)

(Image: Ronnie Chua/Shutterstock)

As islands in the Atlantic assess catastrophic damage and Florida residents get ready for the arrival of Hurricane Irma, many people are looking at data and satellite images about what looks like a record breaking storm. One popular data news site is saying that it looks like a worst case scenario.

Evacuations are underway in Florida, residents are boarding up their homes, and everyone is preparing their property as best they can against the damaging storm to come.

Weather affects everything. From the retailer who stocks snow shovels ahead of the blizzard and the pop-up street vendors in cities who sell umbrellas, to the insurance companies who now send alerts to their customers about expected weather conditions that could impact claims, businesses already know about the impact of storms and the importance of data and predictions about weather. Data feeds of weather conditions are now a part of the mix for many businesses and multiple firms offer such data and insights.

And in terms of predicting the weather, you may still hear people complain that forecasts are wrong. But there's more data available to help with predictions than we have ever had before. Now we have so many more sensors in so many more locations. We have satellite images. We are collecting data about constantly changing conditions from the ocean to the earth to the atmosphere. Weather is like the Cinderella use case for big data and real time data and machine learning.

And while there's so much more data and technology being applied to weather predictions now, there is also much more information available to the general public now, too. It's exciting for analytics enthusiasts and weather nerds like me who really enjoy talking about the weather and consider it to be much more than small talk.

For instance, you've probably seen the hurricane spaghetti and cone data visualizations that show the probable paths of Hurricane Irma. Check out this interesting visualization of the "Cone of Uncertainty." And here's another post that breaks down the definition of Category 5 hurricanes and examines just how rare they really are.

Or maybe you want to look at what the National Hurricane Center has to offer on the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) website. For instance, click through here for a list of the forecast models used to predict hurricane tracks and intensities.

Meanwhile, other sites may offer data and visualizations that provide a snapshot of the response to a major storm. For example, the web site flightradar24.com offers a real-time view of flights, and as I'm writing this on the morning of Friday, September 8, there are still plenty of flights in progress over Florida.  But there's a big empty spot to the north of eastern Cuba where a NOAA satellite image shows Hurricane Irma to be right now. (Of course, both these images will show different conditions when you click through the links. It's the nature of real-time data visualizations.)

You may also be wondering about how Irma stacks up compared to other hurricanes. Earlier this week, Scientific American put together a short article providing comparisons which you can find here. Harvey, which pummeled Texas in the last few weeks, is number 2 in terms of rainfall. Other metrics in the post include peak winds, lowest atmospheric pressure, and greatest diameter. Of course it's too early at this point to know how Hurricane Irma, which is still active, (or Jose behind it) will stack up against these record holders. But it gives us a benchmark of what to look for as Irma progresses.

Finally, not really data related, but here's one of my favorite images and headlines that relates to the recent Hurricanes: Harvey and Irma, Married 75 Years, Marvel at the Storms Bearing Their Names.

Jessica Davis, Senior Editor, Enterprise Apps, Informationweek

Jessica Davis has spent a career covering the intersection of business and technology at titles including IDG's Infoworld, Ziff Davis Enterprise's eWeek and Channel Insider, and Penton Technology's MSPmentor. She's passionate about the practical use of business intelligence, predictive analytics, and big data for smarter business and a better world. In her spare time she enjoys playing Minecraft and other video games with her sons. She's also a student and performer of improvisational comedy. Follow her on Twitter: @jessicadavis.

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Re: Best memories & hurricane data lists
  • 9/21/2017 2:24:27 PM

Why such sweet, meek and Ill descriptive names are given to such disruptive storms? I could think of more appropriate ones such as Buster, Butch, Brutus, etc.

Re: Best memories
  • 9/18/2017 6:27:49 AM

One thing to consider about flood is it is devilishly determined by the details of the local topography. That's particularly true of storm surge and the particular coastline that it is attacking. There are storm surge models out there --- I believe even one in the public space from NOAA --- and inland flood models. But unfortunately there needs to be more data inputted into these models to help them get better.

Re: Best memories
  • 9/15/2017 5:04:04 PM

Yes, nice to see the human interest among the anxiety of watching bad weather news. It's still amazing to me that although we can predict the paths of the storms better and better we're still not spot on about the wind and flood predictions for a particular location. The data is there, we're just not quite smart enough yet to make clear sense yet.

Best memories & hurricane data lists
  • 9/14/2017 6:27:37 AM


Given how "sweet couple" Harvey and Irma have turned out, I wonder what might be expected from another pair of hurricanes named after Frankie and Johnny ...

Anyway, thanks to Jessica for a very useful assortment of data on hurricane issues, Keeping the links for future reference ...


Re: Best memories
  • 9/12/2017 7:53:38 PM

I didn't mind that news so much as some of the other stuff :) They pair seem to be a very nice couple.

Re: Best memories
  • 9/11/2017 7:42:04 PM

I saw that story in the NYT, about the married couple celebrating 75 years (!) of marriage together. And wondering why their names were given to back-to-back hurricanes that were always on the news lately.

Sweet couple, Harvey and Irma.

Best memories
  • 9/9/2017 7:46:52 PM

Once of the better things about back to back hurricanes has been seeing that sweet story about Harvey & Irma.