Wind Map burst on the scene last week, a hypnotically flowing—and flat-out beautiful—depiction of wind movement over the entire continental United States from the design team of Fernanda Viégas and Martin Wattenberg. On their website (chock full of cool stuff, BTW), they identify themselves as leaders of Google’s “Big Picture” visualization research group in Cambridge, Mass.
Wind map has been described as “twisting, turning eye candy,” a “Big Data lava lamp” and, simply, “the coolest wind map ever.” You knew all that, though, right? Well, here’s an interesting thing about Wind Map that you might not have known (not that Viégas and Wattenberg have been hiding it—it’s revealed right there at the bottom of the page): The map isn’t based on measurements of wind speed around the country.
Instead, it’s based on “near-term forecasts, revised once per hour,” that Wind Map gets from the National Digital Forecast Database. Because the forecasts are issued so frequently and cover such a short duration (three hours), they serve as a good proxy for current conditions.
By the way, did you know you can zoom in on Wind Map? Maybe you realized it immediately—it took me a couple of days, but ever since then I’ve been regularly moving in for closer looks at my hometown of Portland, Ore., as conditions change. On Monday this week I came back from an afternoon run and immediately went to Wind Map to confirm what I had just felt: the wind had switched, and a strong breeze was funneling out of the Columbia River Gorge into the metropolitan area.
At the risk of putting a mustache on the Mona Lisa, I do have a suggestion for some enterprising developer out there: graft the locations of major wind power plants onto Wind Map. Now that would be pure heaven for those of us who combine weather geekery with a passion for clean energy.