A Swirling, Whirling Force: This Is What a Map of the Wind Looks Like

For all the leaps and bounds made by wind energy in the U.S. since the 1970s, it still only accounts for about three percent of total electricity generation.

wind map
These are the gales gusting across the United States on July 31, 2013 at 3:55 EDT. (Photo: Screengrab/Wind Map)

Sal holds a political science degree from the George Washington University. He's written about all things environment since 2007.

Wind Map, an undulating infographic of America’s wind patterns, which is updated in real-time, is blowing my mind. I can’t stop staring at all the gusts and puffs that swoop and swirl up, down, and all around the continental United States. 

The brainchild of two Google computer scientists, Fernanda Viegas and Martin Wattenberg, the simply named Wind Map came online in March 2012 and is refreshed hourly based on information culled from the National Weather Service’s forecast database.

This week the map was named by Fast Company as one of the “Top 10 Iconic Data Graphs” of the last decade.

If watching breezes isn’t your thing, if you prefer your wind to be of the tempest persuasion, Wind Map’s got just the feature for you. In a section of the site dubbed “Snapshots of Wind Past,” you can marvel at the zephyrs that fueled Hurricane Sandy and Hurricane Isaac. The winds of March 31, 2012 get special mention too—probably because they resemble a Van Gogh painting.

“A wonderfully elegant and transfixing portrayal of wind,” said Andy Kirk of Visualizing Data to Fast Co. Labs, of the map. “Aside from being widely celebrated across the field, it also became the go-to tool during the severe wind events that struck the U.S. during 2012, elevating it beyond just being a beautiful design into an actual utility that people turned to, learned from, and discussed.”

Given this week’s news—that climate change has already locked in more than four feet of sea-level rise past current levels, which will be enough to submerge at high tide the homes in 1,400 U.S. municipalities in 2100—we ought to be turning fast and hard to renewable forms of energy, like wind.

But while we tell pollsters we’d like more emphasis placed on domestic wind energy production—76 percent of us, according to a March 2013 Gallup poll—and while electricity from wind has increased tremendously in the U.S. since 1970, it still only accounts for 3.46 percent of total electricity generationFrom 2011 to 2012, for example, wind energy production increased by 16 percent, according to a recent report by the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. On the consumption front, gains have also been made, but not nearly enough. In 2012, wind and solar energy combined to account for only about two percent of total U.S. electricity usage.

And, as you’ll see from this recent U.S. Energy Information Administration infographic, wind, and other renewables, like solar, have a very (very) long way to go to before they catch up with coal and natural gas in terms of generation.

Cut to: Coal barons guffawing and doing cannonballs off diving boards made of gold into Olympic-sized swimming pools overflowing with hundred dollar bills.

If this depresses you—not the image of a coal baron pool party, but the fact that, no matter how many times we’re warned, we as a species can’t untether ourselves from the teet of dirty energy—you’ve come to the right place.

We’ve got just the thing you need to zen out, to decompress, to alleviate your global warming worries.

Wind Map.

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