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Dazzling Map Shows More Than 150 Years of Hurricanes

Hurricane map of storms since 1851.
Map shows hurricanes and tropical storms that have churned across the globe from 1851 through 2010. (Image credit: John Nelson, IDV Solutions.)

A new map done up in glowing colors reveals the swirling paths hurricanes and tropical storms have tread across our planet since 1851.

If it looks a little odd at first, it's because this hurricane map offers a unique perspective of the Earth; Antarctica is smack in the middle, and the rest of the planet unfurls around it like the petals of a tulip.

The Americas are on the right, Asia is on the left; the storms plotted on the map grow brighter as their intensity increases.

The effect is not only informative — more than 150 years of hurricane data show that certain regions are consistently in the storms' crosshairs — but also arresting.

Mapmaker John Nelson, the user experience and mapping manager for IDV Solutions, a data visualization company, said that this oddball point of view was the best way to tell the story of the data.

"When I put it onto a rectangular map it was neat looking, but a little bit disappointing," Nelson told OurAmazingPlanet. But the unorthodox, bottom-up perspective allowed the curving paths the storms make across the world's oceans to shine, he said.

Nelson used U.S. government data on tropical storms and hurricanes from 1851 through 2010. A quick glance at the map shows that the number of storms leapt up in the latter half of the 20th century, though that's because of technological advances.

With the advent of satellites and hurricane-hunting aircraft, officials at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration began to see storms that their predecessors in earlier ages would have missed.

Hurricane Chris, the first of the 2012 Atlantic hurricane season, is a perfect example. That storm stayed far out to sea from birth to death, and likely wouldn't have made it into the record in the first half of the 20th century.

In addition, the dearth of storms in the Eastern and Southern Hemispheres is also a product of a lack of data. The United States began to add storms from these regions to the archive beginning only in 1978.

The hurricane map is the latest in a series of maps Nelson has made that showcase the planet's natural phenomena in arresting ways.  A map of the world's earthquakes since 1898 and a map of the rise in U.S. wildfires since 2001 also offer unique, wide-scale looks at natural disasters.

Reach Andrea Mustain at amustain@techmedianetwork.com, or follow her on Twitter @AndreaMustain. Follow OurAmazingPlanet on Twitter @OAPlanetWe're also on Facebook & Google+.

Andrea Mustain was a staff writer for Live Science from 2010 to 2012. She holds a B.S. degree from Northwestern University and an M.S. degree in broadcast journalism from Columbia University.