Oct 03 2012

Help Categorize Hurricanes

Published by at 7:30 am under Weather & Sky

The National Climate Data Center has 300,000 images of tropical cyclones (hurricanes) from 30 years of satellite observations.  Unfortunately the method for categorizing them has changed over time and from place to place.

Is a cyclone labeled “Category 3” in 1988 the same intensity as a Category 3 today?  Maybe not.

The database needs to be standardized but reclassifying this many storms is an impossible task for NCDC staff.  How can they solve this problem?  Crowdsource it!   Once you know the color scheme, anyone can easily recognize patterns and pick similar images.

And so CycloneCenter.org was born.

Pictured above is Hurricane Gilbert from 1988.  It has the classic cyclone swirl and an obvious eye in the middle.  The intensity is also shown in color.  Dark blue clouds are the very tallest, then red, orange, yellow, with pink-gray the lowest.  Gilbert is one intense storm!

Now you’re ready to try your own storm.  Here’s what you’ll find at CycloneCenter.org:

  1. The very first time you visit:  Watch the demo and click on the “?” Help symbols.  If you want, you can create a login so you get credit for your storms.
  2. Occasionally the first step presents you with two images and asks you to click on the more intense storm.
  3. For every storm:  A single image is presented on the left.  Pick its pattern:  Eye, Embedded center, Curved band, Shear, Other.  Click the “?” Help buttons to get used to the patterns.
  4. Now pick the image that most closely matches your storm.
  5. Repeat for #3 and #4 for five more time-lapse images of the same storm.

Don’t worry if your first attempt seems clumsy.  There is no right answer.  Everyone can do it.  All of us can help.

Read more about the project here or go directly to CycloneCenter.org to try your eye on a hurricane.

(image of Hurricane Gilbert, 1988, from the Cyclone Center)

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