Open Data

Geodata-fueled map relates storms to energy facilities

NOAA storm imagery

A new interactive map for tracking storms in real time, released on July 9 by the Energy Information Administration, aggregates some 30 sets of geodata from a wide range of agencies and organizations -- all in an effort to monitor the effect such storms could have on critical energy infrastructure.

The map, which launched as Tropical Storm Chantal was heading toward Florida, uses ESRI mapping software to layer relevant information such as recent storm paths, current wind patterns and all manner of energy infrastructure -- everything from pipelines and offshore oil rigs to wind farms and nuclear power plants.

The map uses real-time feeds from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to track storms and pulls infrastructure data from the departments of Commerce, Interior, Labor and Transportation, in addition to data from EIA and other Energy Department sources.

"With peak hurricane season approaching, the U.S. Energy Information Administration is introducing interactive maps that combine real-time data feeds from NOAA's National Hurricane Center with more than 20 map layers showing the nation's energy infrastructure and resources," the agency said in announcing the project. "This new tool, available around the clock on the EIA website, allows industry, energy analysts, government decision-makers, and the American public to better see and understand the potential impact of a storm."

hurricane map

The interactive weather map allows users to add and subtract layers of data to fnd the view they need.

Users can add or remove the infrastructure and weather layers to suit their own needs -- showing only active oil platforms in federal waters, for example, or replacing a storm's projected path with current wind speeds. Map users can also zoom in to focus on a specific region of the country.

Mark Elbert, director of EIA's Office of Web Management, said much of the project's development was a matter of integrating information from EIA's state energy portal, putting layers on the map and integrating the real-time feeds from NOAA. He said creating the state maps took about six months, while the national "disruptions" map took about two weeks.

"Once we created all the layers that apply to the U.S., we could create a disruptions map pretty quickly," Elbert told FCW. "That map can be used whether it's a hurricane that's in the Gulf or maybe something that threatens New England in the future or potentially even in the future for other events like wildfires in the West."

Elbert said such a detailed visualization tool was possible because of general increases in server speeds and the amount of information that can be sent to computers via maps. He added that ESRI's software performed the best when it came to handling many different layers.

"Partly it's visual appeal, but partly the integration of weather with energy [and] with different kinds of data really adds value, and I think people are recognizing that," he said.

About the Author

Reid Davenport is a former FCW editorial fellow. Connect with him on Twitter: @ReidDavenport.

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