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How To Re-Imagine The Climate: Designers And Coders Hack Weather Data

A competition to come up with creative ways to understand weather and climate data shows you the weather in ways you’ve never seen.

We all pay attention to the weather forecast. But the way that data is presented to us is often either old school and simplistic, or just plain old confusing.

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That’s why Weather Analytics, a Bethesda, Maryland-based weather data and technology startup, held a competition for coders, programmers, and designers to find creative new ways to help people better understand the weather and climate of their cities.


In early July, Weather Analytics opened three of its data sets for contestants to choose from: rainfall data for Oregon, Washington, and California, a comparison of general climate data from Cairo and Singapore, and a weather data set from the Washington, D.C., area. The startup aims to work with the winning submission and develop it into a more general tool (the terms of the contest state it will own the work of the eventual winners, in exchange for $6,500 in total prize money).

The winners of the competition, called Climate Crush, will be announced in the next two weeks. Here are a few of the more interesting entrants:

Rainscapes

Select a state, and watch a beautiful animated timeline slowly move through every single day showing the amount of rainfall across the state. Incidents of hail, wildfire, thunderstorms, hurricane, and drought also pop up, and broader effects, like the rain shadow effect of the Cascade Ranges, are also visible. The animation, created by a team of researchers and interns at the DensityDesign Lab, is especially poignant to watch for the state of California, which is currently undergoing the worst drought in hundreds of years.

Chance Of Rain

This tool might make it a little easier to pick a day for your picture perfect wedding. It looks at 10 years of rainfall history and calculates the probability of rain for the day of the year you select. It doesn’t claim to statistical rigor, but as the developer says, in spite of the chaotic nature of the atmosphere, the tool can still be a useful guide for planning outdoor activities.


Weather Browser

This interactive tool by Maarten Lambrechts visualizes detailed daily and hourly weather data in a way that makes it easy to compare the climates of two cities (in the example case, Cairo and Singapore) by temperature, wind speed and direction, precipitation, and cloud cover. It’s a neat way to get a quick, intuitive sense of hundreds of thousands of data points. I could see this being useful if, say, a person were moving and were deciding between two cities. A morning jog-type person might quickly browse the data to get a sense of seasonal, hourly, and daily variation between different places.

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DC-Data

Using Washington, D.C., as an example, this web app by Luis Neves correlates the local TV news with the actual weather of the day. You could search for a term like “flash flood” or “polar vortex” and it will find all mentions of the word throughout the year, and graph them against various weather variables, including rain, humidity, temperature, and cloudiness. It might be a good app for doing research or trying to prove that the 10-day weather report is useless more often than not.

About the author

Jessica Leber is a staff editor and writer for Fast Company's Co.Exist. Previously, she was a business reporter for MIT’s Technology Review and an environmental reporter at ClimateWire.

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