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Visualizing wind patterns

A wind

A wind "portrait. Image Credit: William Putman/NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

Cheryl Santa Maria
Digital Reporter

Thursday, November 21, 2013, 4:34 PM -

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

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

NASA, for example, has recently unveiled a high resolution "portrait" of global wind patterns.

Created using the space agency's Goddard Earth Observing System model, this high-resolution global system can simulate worldwide weather at a resolution as fine as 3.5 km (the simulation above is at a 10-km resolution).

NASA isn't the only one looking at wind patterns: Three computer scientists have also set out to display wind patterns across the U.S. -- and the results have been beautiful.

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

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

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 U.S. 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 curiosity," Fernanda says via her website.

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In the California Bay Area, data visualization scientist Nicolas Garcia Belmonte has created an equally-stunning U.S. 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 U.S.," Nicolas told The Weather Network in 2012, 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 U.S.," he says. " I thought that an animated visualization could show some things that would be difficult to infer otherwise."

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

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