Atlantic Hurricane Tracks - 1851 to 2017

Week 23 Datasource and Historical Background

Posted by David Velleca on August 7, 2018

Historical Background

Hurricanes and tropical storms can be devastating events, with impacts that can take years to recover from, or even alter the future of a city.

Prior to September 9, 1900, Galveston Texas was one of Texas' largest cities, home to a large commercially important port and the fourth largest population in Texas. On that day, however, the course of Galveston's future would be changed, making way for Houston to replace Galveston as Texas' most commercially important port.

At the time of the Galveston Hurricane, mechanisms for tropical storm warnings were in their infancy, relying on reports from locations that had already been impacted by the storm or ships that had encountered the storm by chance. Without the benefit of satellites, hurricane hunter aircraft or a series of buoys throughout the Atlantic Ocean, and due to political tension between the United States and Cuba, forecasters did not have a good mechanism for forecasting the path or intensity of tropical storms. So, on September 4, 1900 when a report of the storm passing through Cuba reached the Galveston National Weather Bureau Office, forecasters were already at a disadvantage. Pair that with an incorrect assumption that the storm had begun a curve northward near Florida, and the residents of Galveston were left with very little time to prepare.

When the hurricane made landfall on September 9, the 145 mile per hour (estimated) winds, and resultant storm surge devastated the city of Galveston. A barrier island with a maximum elevation of 8.7 feet above sea level at that time was no match for the 15 foot storm surge. This storm, with its estimated death toll of 8,000 to 12,000 is the deadliest hurricane to ever impact the United States, and with the destruction of more than 3,600 houses and many other structures is the second most costly.

Since this hurricane, we've seen several improvements, both in technology and practice that have led to improvements in the forecasting of tropical storm systems. These improvements, however, cannot account for the sheer force and power of these storms, as we've seen with large storms like Katrina and Harvey (among others) in the past several years. This dataset looks at the 6 hour observations for tropical storm systems in the Atlantic basin for storms observed from 1851 to 2017.

This definitely is not the first time that hurricane data has been visualized in Tableau, but we're curious what new insights or visualizations you can find and create with this dataset. Take some time to post your work to Tableau Public and Twitter with the hashtag #ThrowbackThursday, tagging @TThrowbackThurs. We'd really love to see what you can come up with!

Data Source

This week's dataset comes from the National Hurricane Center. Check out the Data Dictionary for column definitions! Please be sure to cite the source on your viz.