Archive by Author | Jared Rennie

CycloneCenter active all year long

Even though the 2012  Atlantic Hurricane season has passed, CycloneCenter is still up and running, and is making progress through not only classifications on the website, but also promoting awareness to the public as well.

Last week members of the CycloneCenter science team attended the meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in Boston, Massachusetts. There we got to engage with members of the science community, as well as the media. As a result, CycloneCenter has appeared in many different articles on websites, including Discovery News, Seattle Times, and even the French Embassy! It’s great to see that the media is focusing on citizen science. Without you, our efforts would not be possible!

In addition, we have recently passed the 150,000 classification mark! We once again thank you for your participation, and want to remind you to keep on classifying!


CycloneCenter presents at another conference: AMS Annual Meeting

Photo Jan 07, 16 21 11While there are only some results to talk about, the CycloneCenter science team is still active in presenting at national conferences. Last month was the AGU annual meeting, and this month was the annual meeting of the American Meteorological Society. Dr. Ken Knapp of NCDC presented an overall view about the science of CycloneCenter to a nearly packed group of tropical meteorologists. There was a lot of interest in the subject, including some chatter on the official AMS twitter account. This is a great example of how powerful social media can be.

Speaking of which, don’t forget that we have our own Twitter account, as well as a Facebook page. Make sure to like / follow us, as well as tell your friends and colleagues!

Frequently Asked Questions

Our Cyclone Center talk page is a great resource for users to engage in discussion about particular images, as well as get some feedback from moderators and the science team. If you haven’t seen it yet, we suggest checking it out!

Since our launch, we have received a lot of feedback and questions about the project, through members posting on our talk page, as well as comments on this blog. Thank you very much and keep them coming! We have put together a FAQ that we hope will answer many of your burning questions:


How do I pick the right match?

Focus on the shapes of the clouds and their colors. Size and orientation don’t really matter. The key is remembering that tighter spirals and colder colors are signs of stronger storms. It’s a little subjective, and that’s why we’re doing this. Your opinion matters, so give us your best guess.  

If it’s subjective, then what’s the point?

When two opinions about a storm are different, we need to determine which one is best. Cyclone Center has up to 30 volunteers look at each image, and then we’ll combine them statistically. This approach has worked well in other citizen science projects. It’s never been tried with tropical cyclones before, but we are confident that your classifications will help us learn more about these storms.

Hasn’t an expert already looked at these storms?

Yes, but the methods have changed over time and between regions. We have nearly 300,000 satellite images of tropical cyclones for the last 32 years from around the world. You’re helping us classify all of them with one method.  You’re also providing us with valuable new information about the shape of the storm, like whether or not it had an eye. It would take a team of experts years to finish this task, so we’re relying on you to help us do it much faster.

Can a regular person like me really help?

Yes!!  We even have some preliminary data that tells us how great you’re all doing.  The two graphs here show the current estimate of intensity for a particular storm (top), and the estimate that we’ve gotten from your classifications (bottom).  We are just starting this project, so there is more analysis to be done. But it’s clear that your classifications are matching what we expected!  You can find more information on our blog here.

What’s a Cyclone?

The dictionary says a cyclone is a storm that rotates around a center of low atmospheric pressure. That can include tornadoes, winter storms, and the “tropical cyclones” that we’re looking at here. Tropical cyclones are organized systems of thunderstorms that get their energy from warm tropical oceans. They’re often called Hurricanes in the Western Hemisphere, Typhoons in the western North Pacific, or just Cyclones in the rest of the world, but they all mean the same thing.

This doesn’t look like a hurricane. Where’s the eye?

When you think of tropical cyclones, you probably picture the classic circular storm with a clear eye in the middle.  However, eyes only happen in stronger storms, like the ones that make the news. We think about 15% of our images will have those picturesque eyes.  Most of the others will be less organized and harder to classify. In fact, because they’re more difficult, those weaker ones are where we need the most help and you can make the biggest difference!

Are there only these six images for this storm?

Probably not.  Because the images are collected every three hours, and most storms last several days, a storm may have several hundred images that cover its whole life.  In fact, Tropical Cyclone Hondo lasted nearly all of February 2008 and has over 600 images!

You are seeing six images taken from some period within the storm’s life. So in most cases, you’ll see a portion of the storm’s life cycle, but not the entire thing.  

What do I pick when it doesn’t look like anything?

If it looks like there is no organized storm in the image, try looking through the curved band options.  Curved bands are generally the weakest of the storm types, and often appear very disorganized.  However, from time to time there is an error in the satellite location, and there might truly be nothing in the image.  If that’s the case, choose “No Storm” under the “Other” option.

I made a mistake!  How do I go back?!

If you’ve already finished the image, don’t worry! There’s more than one way to classify most of these images. By averaging all your answers together, we’ll still get a pretty good estimate.

If you haven’t completed the classification, you can always go back to the beginning and start that image over.  In the bottom right corner, next to the Detailed Classification checkbox, you should see a small orange arrow.  Clicking it will take you back to the beginning of that image.

I found a neat storm. Can I talk about it or save it for later?

After you’ve finished a set of images, you’ll be shown all 6 of them side by side, and each one will have a “Discuss” button beneath it.  Simply click on that button, and you’ll be taken to our Talk page, where you can post your comments about that image.

Alternatively, you can always go to and see what other people are discussing, or start your own conversation about anything that interests you!

If you’d like to save an image for later, just click the heart next to the “Discuss” button, and the image will be saved to your favorites.  

To get to your favorite images, click the “Profile” button at the top of the page.  You’ll be shown how many images you’ve classified, and here is where you will see the list of all of your favorite images.  From there, you can quickly get to the “Talk” page, where you can discuss that image.

Is there any other way I can help?

Yes!  When it comes to citizen science, strength in numbers is our greatest asset, so recruit some friends!  You can like us on Facebook at or follow us on Twitter at @CycloneCenter. The more classifications we get, the better the science will be in the end!

First Major Milestone: 100,000 Classifications

It has only been a few weeks since Cyclone Center began, and we have already reached 100,000 classifications! We want to extend our thanks to all the users who have helped us reach this milestone in such a quick fashion! Without you, it would take a team of scientists years to classify a 100,000 images. The fact that we have achieved this goal in under two months is truly outstanding!

But of course we aren’t finished yet! Soon we will have enough classifications to analyze tropical cyclones on a global scale. Your clicks will get us there closer, so keep on classifying!

What is the Saffir-Simpson Scale?

Ever wonder what the difference is between a hurricane and a tropical storm? Or why there are five categories for hurricane intensity?

In the early 1970’s, wind engineer Herb Saffir and meteorologist Bob Simpson wanted to develop a method for describing the effects of hurricanes in the Atlantic. They worked on creating a simple scale, ranging from 1-5, that highlighted the type of damage in the United States associated with hurricane intensity. The result was the Saffir-Simpson scale, and has been used by NOAA’s National Hurricane Center (NHC) since its inception.

The original version of the Saffir-Simpson scale incorporated three different criteria. The first was the maximum sustained wind speed of the storm, more specifically, the average wind speed as sampled over a sixty-second period. This is done to remove wind gusts that may bias the result. The other two factors, central atmospheric pressure and storm surge, were once used to help factor the scale, but were removed in 2010.  At that time, it was renamed the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale (SSHWS).

Over the years, the Saffir-Simpson scale has been an excellent tool for alerting the public about the potential effects of a hurricane if it were to make landfall. In addition, there are two classifications below a category one hurricane that are key factors in determining cyclone strength. They are known as tropical depressions (TD) and tropical storms (TS). Similar to the Saffir-Simpson scale, these are also based upon the system’s wind speed.  In the Atlantic, the TD’s have wind speeds less than 34 knots while the classification of a TS begins at 35 knots.

You may also wonder why hurricanes can sometimes be called typhoons. That’s because different organizations have adopted their own methods for classification. The NHC, responsible for the North Atlantic and northeastern Pacific basin, is the only organization that uses the Saffir-Simpson scale. The Joint Typhoon Warning Center (JTWC) and Japan Meteorological Agency (JMA) have developed their own scale and call their strongest systems typhoons. In addition, weather centers in both India and Australia call their systems simply cyclones. It can be quite confusing at times to keep track!

For more information about the Saffir-Simpson scale, check out the National Hurricane Center’s webpage here.

Welcome to Cyclone Center!

Greetings, and welcome to the official blog of Cyclone Center! We are very excited to give users the opportunity to answer questions about tropical cyclones using the same images seen by meteorologists around the globe!

Over the past few decades, technological advances in satellites have given us the opportunity to observe tropical cyclones, even if they never make landfall. NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center (NCDC), one of the world’s leading organizations in the collection of weather and climate information, has archived a dataset of nearly 300,000 cyclone images dating back to 1978. We are asking you, the public, to help us gather information about these images, in order to gain a better understanding about these fascinating weather phenomena.

In this blog, we will keep you updated on how the project is progressing, discuss current happenings in the tropics, and hopefully answer a lot of questions you may have about the weather and tropical cyclones in general!


Cyclone Center is a partnership of:
Cooperative Institute for Climate and Satellites
NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center (NCDC)
The University of North Carolina at Asheville
The Zooniverse

Also, find us on Twitter and Facebook