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Mapping the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill

by Rory Groves        June 26, 2010  |  4:20 pm  |  Category: Tips & Tricks

NWS/NOAA/NASA and most remaining government agencies are exchanging data to facilitate response to the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill. Now that this data is public, it can be incorpated into standardized GIS mapping interfaces, like Weather Defender.

High resolution imagery of Gulf from NASA MODIS

Downloading & Importing High Resolution Imagery


NASA's MODIS technology provides extremely high resolution imagery from around the world in full color and near real-time. Here's how to import it into Weather Defender:

  1. Open a web browser and visit the following URL: 
    This is the MODIS page devoted to northern Gulf of Mexico imagery.
  2. Of the image options, MODIS Aqua is going to give us the best view of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Click MODIS Aqua True Color (recommend 1KM pixel size)
  3. On the subsequent screen there are several download options. Weather Defender can support most of these formats, but GeoTIFF is the easiest to import. Click Download GeoTIFF File and save to a folder on your hard drive.
  4. In Weather Defender, click Map > Add Layer (drop-down) > Import GIS from Disk. Then navigate to the folder containing the GeoTIFF file and select it. If that works you should see the image on your Weather Defender map, as shown:

High-res MODIS imagery imported into Weather Defender

Last step: Drag the new layer into the Background group in the Map Layers window, so it doesn't obscure all your weather data. If you don't know how to do this, see the Wiki entry on re-arranging layers.


Plotting the Oil Rig Position


The Deepwater Horizon rig was mining the Macondo Prospect, Block 252 of the Gulf of Mexico when it exploded. Here's how to plot that location on your map:

  1. In Weather Defender, Click Map > Add Point (drop-down) > Add Point at Coordinate

  2. Enter the following coordinates:

    Latitude:      28.75
    Longitude:  -88.33 (must be negative)

    * These coordinates are approximate. If anyone has closer coordinates, please post a comment
  3. On the label box that appears, type "Deepwater Rig" and press Enter. You should now see a labeled point on your map near the center of the new imagery:


Zoom in closer and you can literally see the oil sheen reflecting off the water: 

Visible oil sheen from the BP Deepwater Horizon rig


Hurricane Tracking in the Gulf


This week we released the 2010 Hurricane Upgrade. If you have that upgrade you can plot the course of tropical storms and hurricanes in the gulf. This is an item of considerable interest to those monitoring the oil spill.

  1. Open the Layer Browser (Map > Add Layers) and click 2010 Hurricane Tracking Layers category.

  2. Find the hurricane or tropical storm currently affecting the Gulf area (if any).
  3. Add the following layers to your map:
    - Current Winds
    - Forecast Points
    - Forecast Line
    - Forecast Winds
    - Error Swath
    - Past Points
    - Watch/Warnings
    (for coastal threats)
  4. Re-arrange the layers in the Map Layers window to preference.

You will now be able to see with great clarity what the precise threat is for each tropical storm or hurricane as it passes through the gulf:

In the case of Tropical Storm Alex, the path is projected to veer west into Mexico and should not pose a problem to the Deepwater Horizon containment effort. However, fringe winds shown in the Error Swath layer are considerably closer to the oil spill than the main track, and should be monitored closely.

As of Sunday, Tropical Storm Alex has been downgraded to a Depression, with winds gusting below 39 MPH.


2010 Hurricane Upgrade now on sale

by Rory Groves        June 25, 2010  |  2:50 pm  |  Category: Latest News

The 2010 Hurricane Season has begun! Already two named hurricanes approach in the Pacific, and the first storm has been named in the Atlantic.

Don't get caught unprepared! Sign up for the 2010 Hurricane Upgrade today and save $70 off the regular price.

  • The 2010 Hurricane Upgrade is an add-on for current Weather Defender subscribers that allows you to track Hurricane and Tropical Cyclones in unprecedented detail:
  • Imagine being able to track hurricanes in real time, with street-level resolution. That is precisely what the Hurricane Upgrade can do for you.

2010 Hurricane Upgrade
reg $199.95 only $129.95
Sale runs from June 25 to July 15

Click Here for details and pricing


2 New Storm Tracking Layers

by Rory Groves        June 23, 2010  |  8:35 am  |  Category: Latest News

A new layer Cell Tops and an upgrade to Warning Polygons was released today.

The new Cell Tops layer displays large-scale storm movements, both direction and speed, and height in 100's of feet. If present, threat attributes HAIL, MESO, or TVS are also displayed. This layer is commonly seen in Radar Summary weather graphics used by pilots.

Cell Tops layer provides an overview of large-storm movements

If present, threat attributes are displayed alongside each cell

Warning Polygons (a.k.a Storm Warnings) has also received an upgrade:

 Direction, speed, and projected path are now displayed
with convective warnings (Severe, Tornado, and Marine Warnings).

Similar to the Storm Tracks layer, mousing over the track icon
will display a projected path out to 1 hour


Both layers are FREE UPDATES for existing susbscribers:

Warning Polygons

  • First remove Warning Polygons from your map (or Storm Warnings if you are using Summer Weather map). 
  • On the Map toolbar, click Add Layers > (Browse All Layers) > Severe Weather category.
  • Find Warning Polygons and click Add To Map.

Cell Tops

  • On the Map toolbar, click Add Layers > (Browse All Layers) > Severe Weather category.
  • Find Cell Tops and click Add To Map.

If you need help re-arranging layers on your map, see:



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