Info Design :: Blog Post #3

Snowzilla

It’s very easy to recognize when information is challenging to present and digest. When a communication challenge presents itself as difficult, an infographic may be the best way to proceed.

Consider the following data points about the ‘snowzilla’ snow storm on the East Coast, reported by Digital Meteorologist Ryan Maue:

Valuable information! Unfortunately, while it sits in an excel table in scientific notation, it’s not going to turn the heads of any laymen. Thankfully, Dr. Maue has already done a little bit of information digestion and distillation for us. There’s a great hero statistic for us to communicate to a curious public: 6.6 Trillion cubic feet of snow was dumped on the United States by the recent snowstorm that ravaged the East half of the country.

That’s great, but it’s not feasible for anybody to consider what that means in any real capacity. 6.6 trillion of anything is basically a thought experiment… Which makes it a perfect candidate for being represented through an infographic. Thankfully, that’s what Vox Media’s Javier Zarracina has done for us in this article. In his own words, he describes why he took this approach:

These are absurd numbers, too big to really comprehend. To make them more understandable, I used a 3D modeling program to show what all that snow would look like in one snowball.

He gives us two layers of comparison. First, he presents the amount of snow dropped only in Washington D.C. as a large sphere, suspended above the US Capitol building:

Snowzilla_DC1.0

And then, he compares this to the total amount of snow dropped:

Snowzilla_US2.0

While it’s still impossible to comprehend the incredible amount of mass that this volume of snow contains, it’s easier for us to compare it to both a familiar building and another amount of snow by seeing them all laid side to side. Further details and context, like the map of Washington D.C. and the shadows of the ‘snowballs’ help us to understand the monolithic amount of water and ice the East Coast dealt with. Zarracina drives his conclusion home with the above graphics:

This really was a big snowstorm.