bigdata hurricane

I have just returned from  Washington DC last week  where I was hit by a big data hurricane- hurricane Sandy.

As well as experiencing some very big weather I really was struck by how the huge mass of data available from multiple weather satellites and climate prediction models was being used to plan for disaster relief and give information to those in affected areas. And it wasn’t the traditional media, there was simply no point in watching the TV weather channels with their reporters standing on windy Jersey shore beach fronts when you could access climate models online and the many, many blogs and twitter feeds from scientists and data analysts- professional and amateur.

In the States Sandy was named ‘Bride of Franken-storm’ because several weather events came together-a tropical hurricane and a nor’easter. It co-incided with Halloween. It was described as a ‘monster’  or ‘perfect storm’. It was certainly a perfect storm  for data geeks. There was a lot of data about that cloud and a lot of it was open.

While the tragic loss of life obviously makes the story a sad one, I have never seen so many friends and colleagues showing an interest in  hour by hour updates, predictions and computer modelling.

Then the power went out.

I was struck  by how the storm and the aftermath quickly became part of the US  elections, with the responses of each of the candidates being used to judge their presidential qualities. In the US such a storm is considered by some to be an act of God.

 ‘In God we trust- everyone else must bring data.’

I was reminded also that the website from which I was getting much of my information was called the weather underground. The weathermen underground of the 1960s were an organisation who aimed for  “the destruction of US imperialism and achieve a classless world’

They took their name from the famous Bob Dylan line:

“You don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows,”

I suggest that this is the perfect time to resurrect that quote, not as revolutionaries, but as users of big data to meet the challenges of  increasingly complex change.

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