Fun with GIS 132: Hurricane Sandy

Hurricane Sandy is raging. It has been decades since such a storm hit the mid-Atlantic to New England. Sandy has already created havoc, and many will suffer. Yet it is exciting to me, because for days meteorologists have predicted it would be serious. How could they know? Science and geography — two elements often derided in the general public, including an unfortunate number who influence legislation, public policy, and education.

If ever there were a clear case to be made for the power of these two ways of thinking, this is it. So far, forecasters have been impressively accurate in predicting Sandy’s path, development, and impact. Days ago, they said it had the potential to become a megastorm.

Learning about the world takes focus, and should not be left to chance. Earth’s forces remain strong, but humanity has three key powers: (1) We can influence some physical phenomena; (2) we can learn; (3) we can influence our own behaviors.


Click the image above to see a larger image or current map

Science is a way of knowing which goes beyond faith and beyond hope. We need to understand as much as we can, about all things large and small, including the things we affect and those that affect us.

Geography is a way of seeing the world, being attentive to patterns and relationships. In this case, it means paying attention to the location, movement, and timing of air masses; the lunar cycle (the impact of a full moon and timing of tides); land use; demographics; engineering; human behavior and the weekly calendar; and events from living memory and more distant past. Up and down the eastern seaboard, people are already trying to cope with the chaos that the physical world can generate for us.

If there is any good to come from chaos, it will be to reinforce the importance of understanding patterns and relationships. Thinking geographically means understanding and integrating multiple phenomena, viewing things holistically. GIS facilitates interpreting vast volumes of disparate data, converting it into information, which can be combined to form knowledge that feeds action. Wisdom is the ability to act intelligently on the basis of knowledge.

Hurricane Sandy is already a troublesome event. We know from science that it will not be the last. We need humility, curiosity, and open-mindedness to learn about the world around us and behave with wisdom.

- Charlie Fitzpatrick, Esri Education Manager

Charlie Fitzpatrick

About Charlie Fitzpatrick

Charlie Fitzpatrick is the K-12 education manager at Esri. Before joining Esri in 1992, Charlie taught social studies in grades 7-12 for 15 years.
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