Western Pacific Typhoons

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Why We Love It

Typhoons are one of the most impressive and devastating forces of nature. They can grow to enormous sizes and cover vast distances. We love how this map makes it easy to visualize the life cycle of a typhoon (known as a hurricane in the Atlantic), and compare one storm to another to find unique details and overall patterns.

Why It Works

Here we see an intuitive and inspired use of 3D depicting the unique signature of every storm in the Western Pacific during the record-breaking typhoon season of 2005. This map works because it shows wind speed as cylinder height and barometric pressure as cylinder colour along with speed of travel, total distance travelled, and storm duration.

Important Steps

Decide which variables make sense to map together in a single symbol (e.g., wind speed and pressure are logically related).

Experiment visually with the height of the symbols so that differences can be seen while keeping the tallest symbols in-scene.

Don’t show everything – for example, although the physical extent of the storm is important, showing it would have cluttered the map with overlapping symbols.

Depict the storm location points at a regular time interval so the spacing of the symbols will convey how fast the storm was moving.

Use text labels and pop-ups to provide quick access to more details, such as typhoon name, aerial photos, and wind speed/barometric pressure values.

Create logical group layers, such as monthly time spans, to simplify the experience of focusing on a few typhoons at a time.



The data is regularly captured storm location points that contain the wind speed, the barometric pressure (hPa), and a URL for an aerial photo. The data was converted from KML placemark points to attributed GIS data.


The value range for wind speed was used to set the cylinder symbol’s height (via a scaling factor), and spacing between the points was used to set the cylinder symbol’s width (constant of 100 km).


Data processing from KML with data embedded in HTML form to GIS point features took a few hours. Authoring the layer (including experimentation) took about an hour, and rendering was real-time.

Storm Origination


Note that many storms originate in the same region, and then travel curved paths northward away from warm tropical waters.

Smooth Color Ramp


The use of a smooth colour ramp conceptually matches our sense of smoothly varying air pressure readings. The colour ramp is applied to all layers with explicit min-max values so we can compare colours.

Third Dimension


By extruding to the third dimension, intersections of storm tracks remain legible due to height differences.

Map Author

Nathan Shephard

Nathan Shephard

@NathanCShephard | LinkedIn

Rugby playing, 3D mapping, scriptwriting, Pixzel Puzzle inventing, son of an Aussie farmer.

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