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Visualizing wind patterns

Still images of the Wind Map (courtesy: Fernanda Viégas and Martin Wattenberg)
Still images of the Wind Map (courtesy: Fernanda Viégas and Martin Wattenberg)

Cheryl Santa Maria, staff writer

April 24, 2012 — Computer visualization provides new ways to study the wind.

Still shot of Wind Motion Patterns (courtesy: Nicolas Garcia Belmonte)
Still shot of Wind Motion Patterns (courtesy: Nicolas Garcia Belmonte)

From strong and stormy to calm and breezy, the wind is always blowing.

This powerful resource often goes unnoticed, but a few digital visualization artists are hoping to change that.

Three computer scientists have set out to display wind patterns across the US -- and the results have been beautiful.

The Wind Map is a stunning data log created by computer research scientists Fernanda Viégas and Martin Wattenberg.

It's a black and white visualization that allows users to hover over specific regions and zoom in on local wind speeds, creating an end-product that is both fascinating and hypnotic.

But there's a practical side to the wind map as well. It's a real-time data log of wind conditions across the US that provides new insight into the way wind and the weather interact.

"We wanted to portray the beauty and power of the wind and reveal the shape of this invisible resource," Fernanda says. "We were inspired to create the map in the winter months, when weather was much on our minds."

Data is gathered from the NOAA and updated every hour. "Our process is driven by curiousity," Fernanda says via her website.

Over in the California Bay Area, data visualization scientist Nicolas Garcia Belmonte has created an equally-stunning US wind map.

Borrowing data from the National Weather Service, Nicolas has created Wind Motion Patterns, an animation that displays the wind speed, direction and temperatures within a 72-hour time period.

"I was surprised to see there were so many weather stations in the US," Nicolas says, noting that his map churns data from 1,200 independent stations. Users can watch colour-coded patterns swirl across the screen in three distinct formats and hone in on specific time periods.

"I set out to understand wind patterns in the US," he says. " I thought that an animated visualization could show some things that would be difficult to infer otherwise."

Visit to view the Wind Map and PhiloGL to view Wind Motion Patterns.

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