Eye of the Hurricanes

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Why We Love It

With its projection centered on the South Pole, this Story Map completely reimagines how to visualize hurricane data on a map. Many hurricane maps have been made. This one takes a fresh perspective, and the result is a powerful visual that jumps off the page. You see the warm ocean basins that spawn hurricanes along with predominate storm tracks. We love how this basic map packs some cartographic punch. Yet, it’s super simple to make yourself.

Why It Works

A story map shows how to recreate this hurricane map, revealing the key creative steps in the workflow. This map works because uses an intuitive and beautiful combination of color, size, and transparency to build up the overall patterns. We see the largest, most powerful storms emerging from this mass of historic data. But, we also see that these storms are relatively rare. The use of a dark, muted satellite basemap is key to creating the map’s overall striking, glowing appearance.

Important Steps

Download the data from NOAA.

Choose a meaningful projection that illuminates some aspect of the phenomenon.

Create a custom desaturated imagery basemap (the new Firefly basemap, available from the Living Atlas of the World, is a similar pre-packaged option).

Create custom picture symbology with a white center and faded colorized glow.

Add a radial vignette around the composition to draw the eye into the map and help frame the content.



The locations and strengths of the storms were already contained in the original data, so little analysis was needed except to match the map symbol with the Storm Category number.


As with any creative process, some unknowable amount of time was spent in exploring visual options. However, with an existing design goal, the building of this map takes around an hour.

Basemap Blends


The basemap blends a black-and-white satellite imagery with an 8 to 10 percent transparent color version, adding just a hint of color to the dark image. Learn more here.



The author has created and shared a set of five Firefly Icons used to create the glowing symbols for the five strengths of storm. You can download them here.

Hurricane Tracks


The right map projection is everything - Hurricane tracks circle the globe at certain latitudes, something the circular Polar Stereographic view makes abundantly clear.

Map Author

John Nelsonl

John Nelson

@John_M_Nelson | LinkedIn

I have way too much fun looking for ways to understand and visually present data, engage others, and write about it. Otherwise, I’m chasing around toddlers and wrangling chickens. Life is good.

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