Wild weather, warming planet

Country/area: Singapore

Organisation: Reuters

Organisation size: Big

Publication date: 23 Dec 2020

Credit: Chris Canipe, Matthew Green and Sam Hart

Project description:


It’s been a year of extremes. Wildfires consumed vast areas of Australia, Siberia and the U.S. West. Flooding in Africa and southeast Asia pushed millions from their homes, while extreme heat and drought hit countries in South America. Cyclone Harold tore through the Pacific, and this year saw an exceptionally intense hurricane season in the Atlantic, including unprecedented back-to-back Category 4 hurricanes that devastated Central American countries in November. And in the Arctic, sea ice shrank back to its second-lowest extent ever recorded.

Impact reached:

This project was widely viewed on Reuters.com and shared across social media, as well as being picked up by other news organizations. By aggregating and contextualizing data across different types of extreme weather events, the piece makes the important case that climate change is already affecting us in unprecedented ways.

Techniques/technologies used:

The temperature and sea ice charts were built with D3.js. The global temperature maps were built using a gridded temperature dataset and plotted with the QGIS mapping library. The hurricane dataset was parsed from NOAA’s historical record of daily storm measurements using Node.js. The final chart was built in Adobe Illustrator.

What was the hardest part of this project?

Whenever we are looking at large disparate datasets, determining what to include vs. what to exclude is always difficult. We tend to collect up to 80% more material than we need, but determining the crucial 20% makes the difference between an effective piece that tells a compelling story, and an exhaustive encyclopedia entry.

What can others learn from this project?

It’s important to consider the wider picture on how unfolding stories relate to each other. The wild fires of 2020 were obviously a huge story. As were hurricanes, and climate change broadly. But it’s looking at each of these stories, which we might be tempted to talk about in isolation, in concert with each other that provides insight.

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