Mapping Hurricanes

Caitlin Dempsey


Hurricane season according to NOAA occurs each year from June 1st through November 30th in the Atlantic Basin.  The peak of the season occurs between August and October with 96% of major hurricanes happening during those months.

The practice of naming hurricanes started as an easier way of identifying storms as compared to using numbers or technical terms. The naming of hurricanes is controlled by the World Meteorological Organization.  

The Tropical Cyclone Regional Body selects the names for each region based on local familarity with those names.  Hurricanes are not named after any actual persons.   In 1953, the U.S. started using female names to name hurricanes but moved to both male and female names in 1979.

The latest hurricane on watch in the North Atlantic is Sandy which has been nicknamed “Frankenstorm”.  The hurricane has already devastated Cuba and Haiti, leaving 39 dead.  Currently a Category 1 storm, Hurricane Sandy is project to move up the East Coast and is anticipate to hit landfall anywhere from Chesapeake Bay up to New York’s Long Island or southern New England.

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Embedding Hurricane Maps

Esri and Google have embeddable hurricane maps for those that want to add hurricane tracking to their web sites.

Esri offers a customizable hurricane map with selectable layers and keywords for mapping social media.  Active hurricanes, past 2011 hurricanes, storm surge, precipitation, and weather warnings are available meteorological data sources.  In addition, mapped activity from YouTube, Flickr, and Twitter can be mapped based on keywords. Once the map layers and social media searches have been selected, the customized map can then be embedded or linked to by selecting the share button at the top of the page. The map uses Esri’s ArcGIS for Server technology and more information about all of the GIS data sources and mapping application technology is available here.

Esri’s Hurricane Mapping Application

Google’s Hurricane Season mapping application also offers selectable data layers and an embedding option.  Along with meteorological data, Google has added data specific to the aftermath of the devastation to the U.S. east coast including power outages from ConEdison, East Coast cloud imagery, and streamflow data for New England and the Mid-Atlantic.  Again, this mapping application can be embedded or linked to by accessing the share button.

Google’s Hurricane Season Mapping Application

Hurricane Tracking for iOS and Android Devices

Time’s Techland blog put together list of hurricane tracking apps last year in anticipation of Hurricane Irene for iOS and Android devices.

Hurricane Tracking Via Google Earth

Thanks to a roundup over on the Google Earth Blog, you can now track upcoming storms on Google Earth.


Right now the collection includes: two global hurricane tracking tools, global cloud maps, current global lightning strikes animation (from, severe weather warning data and radar data from NOAA for the US, TopicWatch by Paul Seabury, a large collection of weather image overlays from TropicalAtlantic, weather observations for the US from WeatherBonk, a real-time day/night viewing tool, and the global annual lightning flash rate map from NASA.

Top Ten Most Damaging U.S. Hurricanes

Esri has put together a map story of the top ten most damaging U.S. hurricanes as ranked by NOAA (study: Normalized Hurricane Damage in the United States: 1900-2005).  The hurricanes on the list have been normalized for changes in wealth, inflation, population, and housing units.

Ten most damaging hurricanes in U.S. history

Historical Hurricane Paths

Access over 150 years of Atlantic hurricane data from NOAA’s Historical Hurricane Tracks page.  You can search on a variety of parameters such as U.S. ZIP code, state or county, or latitude and longitude points or search by year or storm name.

“Understanding the history of hurricane landfalls in your community is an important step toward assessing your vulnerability to these potentially devastating storms,” said Ethan Gibney, a senior geospatial analyst for NOAA and one of the site’s developers. “The Historical Hurricane Tracks Web site allows visitors to quickly and easily conduct highly customized searches of historical hurricane data.”

John Nelson of IDV Solutions mapped out historic hurricane and tropical storm paths.  Using the above referenced storm data from NOAA, Nelson mapped out known storm locations dating back to 1851.  Using a polar projection (South Pole Stereographic with Antarctica in the middle of the map, the Americas to the right, Africa at the bottom, and Australia and Asia to the left), Nelson mapped out the intensity by color which created a visually appealing display (the darkest green is the highest intensity, light blue is the lowest intensity storm).

Map of hurricanes and tropical storms since 1851.
Map of hurricanes and tropical storms since 1851.

Hurricane Tutorial

Robert Lang has a tutorial that uses publicly available hurricane mapping sites to understand hurricane tracks.  Visit: How Can Looking at Hurricane Tracks Help to Understand Them?

Related Resources

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About the author
Caitlin Dempsey
Caitlin Dempsey is the editor of Geography Realm and holds a master's degree in Geography from UCLA as well as a Master of Library and Information Science (MLIS) from SJSU.