Archive for the ‘hurricane tracking’ Tag

Happy birthday: Stormpulse turns 4!

This week, Stormpulse turns four years old. The site began as a just-for-fun project in mid-September of 2004. Back then I was calling it ‘canewatch’–the name of the folder on my laptop that held all of the little PHP scripts that grabbed XML from the National Hurricane Center and parsed the massive HURDAT file containing all of the best track information back to 1851.

An excerpt from my first blog post about it, from September 21st, 2004:

National Hurricane Center / Tropical Prediction Center — my latest web project involves hurricanes. Twelve hundred of them to be exact. Well, including tropical storms. Can’t share much detail but the theme of the story is that I’m tired of the cartoon renderings that currently pass as meteorological forecasts and have embarked on a journey to bring information rich interactive displays using hurricane data to the general public. I’ve also been waking up between 4:00am and 5:30am in the morning to plug away at this, as my life with a now-nine-week old is rather full!

And another:

To supplement the quasi-dearth of creative challenge at my workplace, I’m currently coding away for what will be stormpulse.com, a real-time updating hurricane tracking site. Nothing there yet, but my PowerBook is gladly accepting a pummeling of data as I build the MySQL back-end. This is an exciting project in many ways. From a social benefits standpoint, I truly believe people deserve better than the cartoon-like graphics and information they get from their local weather service. Technologically, it’s loaded with challenges of integrating multiple data sources by fetching live feeds and simultaneously calling on the historical data that will be stored as well (all of the tracking information since 1851). For the geeks out there, it looks something like: Original input + fetched data (Cron jobs) –> [MySQL] <– PHP –> [XML] <– XML Connector –> [Flash]. Yesterday I downloaded 32,000 GPS coordinates for the state of Florida. Fun! :-D

That old personal blog also contains a few posts commenting on Hurricane Frances, the storm that most directly inspired me to write the code (my family was and still is in West Palm Beach, near Frances’ ultimate landfall). For those of you interested in startups, you may want to read more about our beginnings here at Stormpulse.com.

What have we accomplished in four years? We’ve launched a site, we’ve heard a lot of great feedback, we’ve assimilated that feedback, and we’ve received more visitors in the last three weeks than we ever thought possible.

Which brings me to a very big ‘THANKS!’ to all of you that have helped spread the word. Thank you!

Like Stormpulse? Leave a tip with Tipjoy.

This morning we released a small update that allows appreciative users to ‘tip’ Stormpulse, Inc. with a small donation. This actually comes at the behest of our audience–that we ought to be making money with the site, or at least covering our expenses. :-) Yes, we really did have a user ask how they could submit a donation. So there you have it.

The default amount is 10 cents. If you would like to give more, you can. When you give any amount, you are asked to fund a tipjoy account with $5, which you can then use to tip any other site in the tipjoy network.

If you change your mind after submitting a tip (i.e. you’re not interested in funding your tipjoy account), you can easily cancel your tip by going to your transaction history page and clicking ‘cancel unpaid items.’  We promise we’ll still let you use the site and treat you kindly.

Stormpulse product page on Facebook

If you’re not too busy tracking the tropics …

For those of you that use Facebook, you can show your support for our site and join the conversation about storms, new features, and bugs by befriending Stormpulse.com.  This is also a great way to subscribe to updates (if you’re not a regular blog reader).

Stormpulse.com Product Page on Facebook

Thanks for all of your continued feedback. We’re putting together a “Testimonials” page to highlight the awesome response we’ve been getting. Later today we’re rolling out a few more bug fixes, and in the days following, U.S. doppler radar.

Thanks for using Stormpulse.com!

Thank you: A summary of Stormpulse feedback in recent days

First of all … with Hurricane Gustav less than 40 hours from landfall, our thoughts are with the people of Louisiana.

I wanted to write a quick post tonight letting all of you know how much we appreciate the flood of feedback and constructive criticism we’ve received, particularly in the last week.  While we read every single character you send our way, we no longer have the ability to respond to every email and continue making progress on the site.  So if we haven’t responded to you personally, we trust you understand …

Since many people claim to be listening to feedback but don’t seem to do much about it, I thought I would prove it by listing the most common (and best) suggestions we’ve heard so far:

  • It’s hard to tell the difference between the various colors in the storm category legend.  Specifically, we need to create a greater distinction between categories 3, 4, and 5.
  • “Please put the category somewhere on the map/info box.”  Done.  We now list “H1″, “H2″, etc. in the information box at the bottom of the map.
  • “Give me some way to make the map bigger“.  Done.  We’ve added a Full-Screen link to the site (look at the top-right), and we’ve made height and width settable parameters in the API.
  • “Let me zoom in farther.”  Coming … we just downloaded imagery from NASA that will allow you to zoom in another one or two steps.
  • Add Little Cayman and Cayman brac to the map!”  Seems reasonable to us.  Haven’t done this yet, though.  Sorry.
  • “Some of the photos for Hurricane Katrina as wrong/false.”  Done.  We’ve gone in and cleared the erroneous ones out, as far as we know.
  • “I can’t see the background tiles/map.”  We’ve narrowed this down, in most cases, to a corporate firewall blocking the traffic or a need to clear your browser cache and try again.
  • Add radar!”  Coming, although it probably won’t animate at first.
  • “Please label latitude and longitude on the grid.”  This is going to be a little tricky, but again, we’ll see what we can do once things calm down a bit.  :-)

All for now.  Thanks again to all of you that have taken the time to write.  And for those that haven’t, thanks for using the site and the API service.  And our fingers are flying fast trying to make it even better.

Spaghetti served fresh: Forecast models on the Stormpulse.com map

This morning we launched a new release of our interactive map and website software.

Features and bugfixes:

  • Added forecast (spaghetti) models to the map. (See below)
  • Added a Full-Screen link from home page to display the map at 100% width and 100% height. You can find it at the top-right (above the tracking map).
  • Added hurricane category to the summary box. Now the title of the box will be “Hurr. (H2) Gustav, +120 hours” rather than just “Hurr. Gustav, +120 hours”. The H2 means a Category 2 hurricane on the Saffir-Simpson scale.
  • Pressure text was being chopped off occasionally in the summary box at the bottom of the map.
  • Fixed incorrect times (e.g. “+12 hours”) when clicking on points in the NHC forecast cone. This is now fixed to show the correct time difference between the latest coordinate and the time of the forecast position.
  • Removed meaningless latitude, longitude locations from the Gulf of Mexico. These were just serving as placeholders for Wind Probabilities and add no value to the display.

SPAGHETTI MODELS FEATURE

To activate the models view, select an active tropical depression, tropical storm, or hurricane and click Forecast Models: ‘On’ in the layers menu at the top-right of the map. After a brief pause (while the data is retrieved from our server), you should be greeted with a view that looks something like this (in this example, for Tropical Storm Hanna):

Click anywhere along a model’s forecast track to see the name of the model, projected position, time, and pressure (if available). Hovering over any of the points along the model’s forecast track will expose a small pop-up box that tells you the geeky acronym of the model–things like XTRP (extrapolated path if the storm continues its current trajectory), GFDL (Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Lab), BAMD (Beta and Advection Model – Deep), etc.

To view the models for Tropical Storm Gustav, click “GUSTAV” and repeat the same step (“On” in the Forecast Models: toggle).

The data for the forecast models comes from the South Florida Water Management District, with the colors for the various paths matching the color scheme they use for their own spaghetti maps.

A special note to all of our API affiliates: we have been receiving emails lately asking how to “get a new map” for Gustav or Hanna. The simple answer is to change “current” in your URL to “tropical-storm-gustav-2008″ or “tropical-storm-hanna-2008″. This will ensure that the map automatically focuses on the desired storm. More examples available here.

Invest 94 to become Tropical Storm Gustav? The early morning report from buoy 42059.

According to a buoy stationed just east of the high-potential tropical disturbance also known as Invest 94L, steady winds of 25 mph and gusts of 31 mph were recorded out of the SSE at 5:50am this morning.  With an observed water temperature of 84.56 degrees F (before sunrise!), there should be plenty of warm water fuel should the storm develop any further.

An Air Force Hurricane Hunter aircraft is scheduled to explore the storm later today.  Current models (something that should be coming to a Stormpulse map near you very soon), indicate a west-northwest progression, with the GFDL turning the storm north over western Cuba.

In case you’re wondering, here’s what that lonely and very useful buoy looks like, bobbing out in the middle of the Caribbean Sea (with 4,900 m of water below).  (You can click the image for complete details).

Cities added to our hurricane-tracking map

This afternoon we added the following cities to our interactive hurricane-tracking map:

  • Montgomery, AL
  • Dover, DE
  • Cedar Key, FL
  • Cocoa Beach, FL
  • Fort Pierce, FL
  • Marathon, FL
  • Panama City, FL
  • Saint Marks, FL
  • Venice, FL
  • Augusta, GA
  • Columbus, GA
  • Buras, LA
  • New Iberia, LA
  • Shreveport, LA
  • Hyannis, MA
  • Nantucket, MA
  • Annapolis, MD
  • Augusta, ME
  • Bar Harbor, ME
  • Eastport, ME
  • Gulfport, MS
  • Jackson, MS
  • Greensboro, NC
  • Morehead City, NC
  • Raleigh, NC
  • Trenton, NJ
  • Newark, NJ
  • Providence, RI
  • Columbia, SC
  • Myrtle Beach, SC
  • Fort Worth, TX
  • Freeport, TX
  • Port Arthur, TX
  • Port O’Connor, TX
  • Richmond, VA
  • St Kitts-Nevis
  • Cape San Antonio, Cuba
  • Grand Bahama, The Bahamas
  • Burgeo, Newfoundland

We also added 34 international cities to our Current Weather Conditions page.

What are the chances? Track Tropical Storm Fay with wind probabilities on the Stormpulse map

This afternoon we launched a new feature on the site that should help answer the question of ‘when can I expect winds in my area?’

The National Hurricane Center publishes a product called “Wind Speed Probabilities” in sync with their Forecast Advisories that provide percentages indicating when a storm’s winds are most likely to affect a particular area. This information is presented in a tabular format like so:

  - - - - WIND SPEED PROBABILITIES FOR SELECTED  LOCATIONS - - - -  

               FROM    FROM    FROM    FROM    FROM    FROM    FROM
  TIME       18Z FRI 06Z SAT 18Z SAT 06Z SUN 18Z SUN 18Z MON 18Z TUE
PERIODS         TO      TO      TO      TO      TO      TO      TO
             06Z SAT 18Z SAT 06Z SUN 18Z SUN 18Z MON 18Z TUE 18Z WED

FORECAST HOUR    (12)   (24)    (36)    (48)    (72)    (96)   (120)
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
MOBILE AL      34  X   1( 1)   9(10)   8(18)   5(23)   2(25)   1(26)
MOBILE AL      50  X   X( X)   2( 2)   2( 4)   1( 5)   X( 5)   1( 6)
MOBILE AL      64  X   X( X)   X( X)   1( 1)   X( 1)   1( 2)   X( 2)

We here at Stormpulse believe this is great information of great value, but the presentation is too complex and non-visual. So we are capturing, storing, and representing it directly on the map, in the form of bar charts and a reduced table with familiar dates and times.

To access this information, click “Wind Probabilities” ‘On’ using the the layers menu in the top-right corner of the map. After a small delay (as data is retrieved from our server), you should see a small multitude of blue boxes appear, with small white, yellow, and orange bars inside.

These miniature bar charts provide a quick glance of wind probabilities for the storm. Clicking on the bar chart will expose a details box that shows the bar chart in a large format, along with up to three buttons labeled ‘CHANCE BY DAY’. The bar chart shows you the overall likelihood that the location will experience tropical storm, storm, or hurricane force winds. Hovering over ‘CHANCE BY DAY’ will show you the chance of a particular wind force distributed over the next 5 days of the storm’s travel.

Here we see that Mobile, Alabama has, as of Tropical Storm Fay Advisory 29A, a 26% chance of experiencing tropical storm force winds in the next 5 days. Hovering over the top ‘CHANCE BY DAY’ button reveals the table at the right, which tells us that Sunday at 5 AM is the most likely time for the onset of these winds. However, just as you should not focus on the center line of the forecast cone, it is wise to look at the overall distribution of these percentages. There is still a 1% chance that the winds will come the night before (Saturday at 5 PM).

We hope you enjoy the extra insight provided by this information. We still have a few tweaks to make to this feature, we would appreciate any feedback or questions you may have. Those of you that are embedding our tracking map on your own site using the Stormpulse API do not need to do anything to take advantage of this new feature. It will appear on the map automatically.

A better buoy GUI: ocean observations on the Stormpulse.com map

This morning we rolled out a buoys feature that we were forced to remove before our initial launch but have been able to bring back (just in time for a new hurricane?). The dataset is sourced from the NOAA’s National Buoy Data Center.

To access the feature, click ‘More’ in the top-right Layers menu to expose the ‘Ocean Buoys’ option. Clicking ‘On’ will retrieve the latest weather reports from all over the Caribbean, Gulf of Mexico, and the Atlantic Ocean, and place them on the map in the form of blue boxes and red boxes. Blue boxes represent sea-based observations, while red boxes represent land-based observations. Clicking one of these boxes will bring up details in a ‘dock’ near the bottom of the map.

We can see that thanks to the high-potential disturbance off the coast of Puerto Rico this morning, NOMAD Buoy 41043 (seen here as the blue box in the northeast quadrant of the disturbance) has recorded wind gusts of 31 mph:

These observations update once every few hours, assuming all of the communication between that little object in the vast blue ocean and our servers works properly.

Since our last release, we’ve also fixed a bug such that the entire description for a tropical disturbance can now be seen–just click ‘More…’ in the description box at the bottom of the map when a disturbance is highlighted.

We’ve also added a small feature that will show you the population of a city if you click the label on the map.

Users of the Stormpulse API do not need to do anything to take advantage of these enhancements.  They should already be visible to you and your web visitors.

Tropical disturbances now appearing on Stormpulse.com, embeddable map

For the last few months, we’ve been guilty of not eating our own dog food. Yes, we admit it, we’ve been visiting the NHC’s Graphical Outlook. Numerous times per day. But we couldn’t help it. The content was just too useful.

We like the NHC, really. But we got tired of that, and we got tired of lamenting Stormpulse’s lack (it was a hidden, internal lament), so we’ve added all of that developing storms data to Stormpulse. We’ve replaced their mainframe-inspired, ALL-CAPS announcements with legible, albeit imperfect text, and we’ve replaced their kidney bean outlines for perfect circles (although the kidney beans are certainly more meteorologically-correct). The text for the disturbance appears in a dock of sorts that can be dismissed by clicking the little ‘X’ at the top-right corner.

So now we’re back to eating our own dog food–using our own services to track weather, the same way we hope you do. Of course, we realize you go other places, and that’s O.K., but sometimes a little content annexation is necessary. Especially when it’s free.

Users of the Stormpulse API don’t need to do anything to implement this enhancement; it will show up automatically for any ‘current’ map.

Enjoy, and let us know what you think!

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