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Participate in Real Science – Help Classify Tropical Cyclone Winds


Cyclone Center, now in its third year, is a website that allows citizen scientists like you to help meteorologists like us determine the maximum wind speed (or “intensity”) of historical global tropical cyclones.   We need your help to complete this ambitious project.

Why am I needed?

Cyclone Center WebpageFirst,  there are way too many images (nearly 300,000!) for us to do it alone!  Second, your responses as a group are almost always just as good as an expert!  And third, there are disagreements in the historical record that must be addressed.    For instance, there are studies in published literature that suggest that typhoon activity is both increasing and decreasing in the western Pacific Ocean. Clearly both cannot be true!

Why are there questions about tropical cyclone data? 

Read More…


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!