If you have a social media account, chances are you've seen someone share one of those beautiful streamline maps that people commonly say show "real-time" winds flowing around the world. There's just one li'l problem: nobody is using them correctly.

The most popular site that shows these wind streamlines is simply called "earth," hosted at nullschool.net. Almost everyone who looks at these maps (sadly including some meteorologists) really believe that these are showing you real-time wind maps; when you look at these streamlines, you're actually watching air flowing across the earth's surface.

Excuse me while I pull my hair out.

Now, it's not exactly the map's fault—it's people who are misled about what the maps show that are fooling you. Just like every other weather map in existence, these animated streamlines are a snapshot of the winds at a point in time. If you click the word "earth" on the bottom-left side of the image, it brings up a legend with information and the ability to change the chart to different products. The top of the legend box should show you from what time the server pulled that wind data.

I created the above gif of Hurricane Odile over the Gulf of California at around 2:15 PM EDT. According to the website, that image is from surface observations and model data taken at 1100AM EDT. Not only is the wind data not live, but it's three hours old!

Let's take a look at another example.

The distance from Cleveland to Toronto is about 190 miles as the crow flies. It takes 2.69 seconds for one of those wind streamlines to get from Cleveland to Toronto. If we were really looking at air moving across the surface of the earth, it would mean that the wind is going something like 250,000 MPH. The space shuttle orbits at 17,500 MPH. That wind could get to the moon faster than you could drive from D.C. to Baltimore.

If you know anyone who actually believes that these maps show winds in real-time, tell them I've got some chemtrail detox pills I'd like to sell them. When people share these pretty streamline maps, remember that you're looking at an exaggerated, animated snapshot of the atmosphere and a general depiction of how the wind was moving at that moment in time. Our technology isn't that advanced. Yet.

[images via earth]

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