[This is a guest post by Nicholas Rougeux*, about his Weather Portraits poster]
With so many options available for visualizing weather, settling on one for my Weather Portraits poster was a challenge, but a fun one. Over three weeks, I experimented with dozens of ideas—most of which are documented here for people like me who like that sort of thing and to hopefully spark some ideas for others.
Inspiration for the poster came from Kim Dembrosky’s colorful Weather Series: Meditations on Climate. I loved the idea of creating something colorful with a data to which everyone can relate. Everyone experiences weather every day and probably has a few stories to tell about their experiences with it. Living in Chicago has given me more than a few. Kim’s work is such a simple concept and beautifully crafted. I’d be remiss if I didn’t give her credit for sparking my interest.
The poster shows diagrams of daily wind and temperatures during one year for the most populated city in each state. Each diagram includes five daily measurements for a full year in a city: wind direction, wind speed, high temperature, low temperature, and range of temperatures.
The goal was to paint unique portraits of each city using data in creative and unusual ways — not to present specific findings based on analysis but. Wind and temperatures are often noticed only during disasters or during extreme conditions. Every-day occurrences can look interesting on their own when viewed in the right light.
The trickiest part was to find a way to show weather data that didn’t illustrate the standard trends: cold at the beginning of the year, hot in summer, then cold at the end (at least in the northern hemisphere). In a sense, I wanted to put all data on equal footing. I didn’t want one aspect to out weigh another because of its nature.
For example, if shapes were sized and color-coded based on temperature, reds and oranges would dominate over greens and blues because they would be larger but greens and blues are important round out the palette. While the temperatures are still color-coded, the sizes of circles containing them are based on the range of temperatures felt during that day. The wide variance in range of temperatures from day to day kept a nice balance between all the colors. Similarly, the strength and direction of the wind didn’t fit any one pattern for all cities. Combining both wind and temperature in a type of wind rose plot resulted in each city having a unique portrait.
The data were collected from the Quality Controlled Local Climatological Data (QCLCD), freely provided by NOAA. NOAA has an API available for collecting data programmatically but I opted to manually copy and paste the data for each city into separate CSVs because figuring out how to use the API would have taken much longer. Data for each city was taken from the main airport for that city (e.g. O’Hare in Chicago, LAX in Los Angeles, etc). These data were the most reliable because it was marked as the final edited data on the QCLCD site.
Once the data were copied into a CSV for each city, a separate CSV was created containing the names, states, and filenames for each city that was then imported into NodeBox for manipulation.
I exclusively used NodeBox to experiment with different ways of visualizing the data and the final image. NodeBox is a free fantastic tool for exploring data because no coding is required, it handles large amounts of data efficiently, and can export PNGs along with SVGs. NodeBox allowed me to quickly experiment and create final graphics without recreating them in a separate program. InDesign was then used to add the title and legend for final composition.
All of the early designs were experiments with Chicago’s daily weather data from 2014.
The fourth version was the first I posted on Twitter to gauge feedback and to share what I thought was an interesting abstract design. The reaction was positive which provided helpful motivation to continue.
Versions 5–7 were technical explorations and not very interesting so they haven’t been included.
The eighth version was an attempt at a more striking arrangement with the goal of reducing white space in favor of dramatic colors. The result was dramatic but not for every city.
After working with just temperatures for many versions, I experimented with wind data in the ninth version—first simply plotting which direction from which the wind blew (measured in tens of degrees) and at what speed (thickness of lines).
Versions 10 and 11 were the first two designs combining both wind and temperatures. Semicircles were used like in earlier designs but with white shapes marking the direction of the wind. Some were more interesting than others.
Version 12 was another technical experiment and not visually different from previous versions.
Version 13 illustrated the range of temperatures and was an interesting concept I wanted to explore more so the full color-coded range is shown—creating a blend between the low and high of each day. For example, if the low for a day was 15°F and the high was 20°F, 6 squares were created—one for each degree (15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20). The result was an interesting waterfall pattern but after creating one for Anchorage and Honolulu in addition to Chicago’s, I found it less interesting. There may still be some potential for an intriguing design. Upper left starts with the low temperature for January, continuing down and back up to the next column showing the color-coded ranges from the low to the high for each day.
Version 14 was a departure in the color palette to a more traditional set of data visualization colors and was more closely related to a wind rose diagram. While simple, this was the first time I noticed that speed and direction created unique shapes when plotted around a central point. The size of each slice is based on the speed of the wind for each day and its rotation is based on the direction from which the wind blew.
Version 15 was one of my favorites accidents. After combining a few nodes in NodeBox while playing with running totals, I produced a spiral of highs and lows that resembled a solar system or electron diagram. The dark background was added for fun to make it look more like a solar system diagram. I liked the dark background and kept it for future versions. Colors were also changed from the bland rainbow palette to a more vibrant one based on ColorBrewer’s palettes.
Versions 16 and 17 were attempts to illustrate ranges, using monthly subdivisions via concentric circles or rows. Both misrepresented the data by forcing each month into the same sizes.
Versions 18 and 19 proved to be the most interesting—using elements from previous versions to really give the data intriguing shapes. Version 18 kept all data anchored to a central point and 19 created a gap in the middle for the location label.
The final version included the full collection of the most populated cities from all 50 states arranged in a honeycomb pattern. The honeycomb pattern was also created in NodeBox, exported as an SVG and re-imported into NodeBox to aide in positioning each city’s diagram. The final poster includes 91,250 points of data.
After the title and legend were added in InDesign, the poster was complete. The poster is available for purchase on Zazzle.
And an updated 2015 version:
*Nicholas Rougeux is a web designer and artist from Chicago. Simplicity and clarity play key roles in his creations. His fascination with digital art has lead to a healthy obsession with data and fractal art, which has been sold and published publications around the world. See more of his works at his personal site, C82.net and connect with him on Twitter, Behance, LinkedIn, Instagram, Facebook, and Flickr.