The Tornado History Project
August 19, 2010 2:46 PM   Subscribe

The Tornado History Project: Google Maps meets historical data Tornado data turned into Google Maps that you can slice and dice any way you want: By State, by Date range, by Fujita number. Even records the path of long-track tornadoes. Hours of fun for weather weenies (like me!) and those interested in investigating trends over time.

From the "About page": The Tornado History Project is a free, searchable database of all reported U.S. tornadoes from 1950-2009*. There are over 53,000 tornadoes currently in the database, each with its own map and forum. The project's main goal is to combine historical data with user submitted items (eyewitness memories, photos, videos, etc...) to recreate the history of as many tornadoes as possible.
posted by spock (14 comments total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
Great data, but the interface could use a little polish. Like automatically zooming to the area chosen. And using the little pop up bubbles to provide the basic statistics about the clicked tornado.
posted by wierdo at 3:05 PM on August 19, 2010

This is a cool project, in my mind stuff like this is what the internet is for.

This one came within a couple blocks of where I was living at the time. I can say with complete confidence I was drunk at the time.

They say the paths are approximate, I was hoping it would be more exact. I could swear by the damage I saw it went just south of our house, this one shows it being north of our house. Twenty years later I got be good friends with a guy who lived two blocks away from me at the time (we didn't know each other then). His house got destroyed, his family made it through fine though. Little boy was killed on the same street.

There was a Sting album from a destroyed K-Mart in our backyard the next day.

I'm with weirdo on some tweaks to the interface though.
posted by marxchivist at 3:12 PM on August 19, 2010

Yeah, I'm not sure if it's just that NCDC pares down the points for their database or if this site did so to speed up processing or whatever, but they're not crazy accurate. One I'm particularly familiar with is about a mile off. The chicken houses and propane tank weren't really there after that farm was hit by the tornado. Well, they still existed, but wrapped around trees in the forest that used to be just east of the linked view and as piles of sticks scattered about. The house was half demolished, but thankfully nobody died.

When they rebuilt (which is what is pictured), they rebuilt with an underground tornado shelter.
posted by wierdo at 3:29 PM on August 19, 2010

What is pictured in the Google Street View link. My kingdom for an edit window.
posted by wierdo at 3:30 PM on August 19, 2010

Fewer years ago than I care to admit I was surprised to learn that tornadoes occur in all 50 US States. An F3 struck Seattle on 12/12/69 FFS.

Ditto interface tweaks and what the internet is for. I wrote asking if they were thinking of including at least the name of the popularly named tornadoes where applicable so people could search for other media in case there isn't any posted in the user comments. I'm greedy considering the existence of this data in this form available to anyone with the internet is pretty much a modern miracle. (This is good.)
posted by vapidave at 3:46 PM on August 19, 2010

I watched this one loom overhead before it touched down a half-mile away in Blue Ash.
posted by vkxmai at 3:47 PM on August 19, 2010

The paths look pretty darn close.

Since the F4 that came through here last spring, Google updated their imagery for Rutherford county - the path is visible as a faint brown line (moving from LR to UL) where vegetation hadn't quite grown back.
posted by jquinby at 5:26 PM on August 19, 2010

Weird, it's missing the one that sailed past my old house.

You'd think NOAA would have a record of that one since it was in populated area and fairly well-reported.
posted by madajb at 6:50 PM on August 19, 2010

Was it on the ground? It is only a funnel and not a tornado unless you can see evidence that it is making contact with the ground. Also, the SPC data does not yet include 2010.
posted by spock at 8:48 PM on August 19, 2010

interested in investigating trends over time.

Interested in knowing results of said investigations. Are tornadoes becoming more frequent? Why? Or is it a deceptively simple question to a complex problem requiring special tools to slice and dice the data depending on time frame and region.
posted by stbalbach at 9:24 PM on August 19, 2010

Keep in mind that the vast majority of tornadoes touch down only briefly, often in open country. The SPC data only counts tornadoes that are reported to them. As far as "Tornado Alley" is concerned, in recent years, there has been a big increase in the number of storm chasers and developments that make reporting easier (like spotter network). So what I'm saying is that the numbers could go up for reasons other than more tornadoes: more eyes, better reporting.

The trend that is of most interest to me is to answer the question: Are the tornadoes trending northward? It seems so to many who chase. It used to be that the season would begin in the southern plains in early spring and gradually shift northward. May is traditionally the biggest tornado month in Tornado Alley, while early June is the statistical peak for Nebraska. This year seemed to miss Nebraska completely and go straight into South Dakota/Minnesota. But now we have a tool that can really check that stuff.

If you want to, I believe you can lower the number of data points you work with and simply look at tornadoes of F2 and greater. Keep in mind that the F numbers are DAMAGE ratings and not a rating of the actual strength of the tornado itself. We normally have very little way of judging tornado size and windspeed without examining the physical damage that they do to human structures, for example.
posted by spock at 5:16 AM on August 20, 2010

Really cool, but looking at Massachusetts alone I've already noticed that a major one is missing: The 1995 Memorial Day Tornado in Great Barrington, MA, which was one of the strongest ever recorded in the Northeast.
posted by rollbiz at 8:41 AM on August 20, 2010

Whoops, it actually is listed. I've never seen paginated results overlaid on a map, so I missed it the first time...
posted by rollbiz at 8:44 AM on August 20, 2010

It'd be cool to see an animation or some data comparing the years, instead of showing them all at once. According to KARE11, tornado alley quite well includes Minnesota this year. Maybe it's just the year, but I wonder if there's a general trend of tornado alley shifting northward or whether it's just fluke years that result in something like this.

By comparing some of the years at random it does seem like the majority of the tornados in any given year occurred more south and west than they do nowadays... But, that was just looking at a handfull of years.
posted by taursir at 3:12 PM on August 21, 2010

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