Hugo’s 10 Hours of Havoc

William Pitzer Infographics

As Hurricane Dorian drives toward the southeast coast, I thought that we should revisit one of the last major graphics I produced in my newspaper career. In 1989, another major hurricane came ashore and wrote its name in the “history book of infamy” as the most devastating weather event in the Carolinas.

When the 20th anniversary of Hurricane Hugo rolled around, I teamed up with The Charlotte Observer’s Steve Lyttle (our newsroom’s intrepid weather reporter) to develop a single page infographic that recounted the storm’s path as well as some of the superlative mechanics and numbers that serve as a reminder of its impact. Now, 10 years later as its 30th anniversary rolls around, perhaps it’s worth another look as we deconstruct the design of the infographic.

Image of Infographic: Hugo's 10 Hours of HavocThis infographic uses vertical layering to add sub-components of information, designed to be economically divided using repetition and color to its fullest extent. The primary components were a large background map that shows the path of the eye of the storm through the Carolinas. The path itself provides a time component, each of the dashes represent 30 minutes. A color scale shows wind fields and the smaller dashed line indicates the border of the storm’s impact area.

Layered on top of the map are labels indicating key time hacks and a repetitive element that shows damage amounts, number of fatalities, and the approximate number of houses damaged or destroyed. Also included are small text blocks with supplementary details.

A large circular inset at top of the page is another map element that retells the history of Hugo from its development off the African coast to its demise south of Greenland. Another color key indicates its classifications from a tropical depression to a Category 5 storm. Several text blocks add details for key locations and events during the storm’s history.

Hugo's History, inset graphic.

The placement of the background map and the large inset set the stage for designing the rest of the content. At the top a large headline runs across edge-to-edge. On the left is lead-in text that sets the stage for the reader about the graphic. To the right, a small graphic element comparing wind fields was added (that turned out to be the final piece of the design).

Four additional supplemental graphic elements overlay the large background map, with each space designed around the geographic edges of the primary map. Rainfall totals for the Carolinas are shown, along with an inset map comparing Hugo’s rainfall totals to that of Hurricane Floyd, a 1999 storm that decimated eastern North Carolina with massive flooding.

 Inset graphic comparing Hugo to Floyd

One of the interesting mechanics of Hugo, was the description of how the storm was propelled, sort of like a baseball in a pitching machine, into the Carolinas by two pressure systems. That phenomenon is shown, along with a satellite image of Hugh as it made landfall, in Charleston, SC. The bottom of the page is anchored with an illustration of Hugo’s massive storm surge.

 Graphic showing how Hugo was propelled.

Graphic inset about Hugo's storm tide.

Ten discrete sets of information are shown, with four different color scales and 40 different elements. While the overall graphic is designed using top-down, left-right visual sequences, it’s truly a non-linear design as one can enter the graphic through any of the elements and jump around as their eye catches different things of interest.

I think that Hugo’s 10 Hours of Havoc is one of my best infographics and an efficient visual recounting of the storms’ impact.

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