Tornado Deaths 1875-2011

The destruction from tornadoes in the US this year has been tragic, especially for those in Joplin, MO.  Amazingly, we haven’t set a record yet for tornado deaths, but clearly this has been the worst year in modern times and the 4th worst year on record.

Tornado related deaths 1875-2011

Tornado related deaths 1875-2011

We’ve had 550 so far in 2011, which is the most since 1936.  The most we’ve ever had is in 1925 (794).  It would be interesting to compare the total number of tornadoes and/or their strengths against the deaths to see if we’ve gotten better at surviving them.  The data seems to indicate that, but that would make 2011 all the more unusual.

The tornado graphic above is showing off a simple new line graph.  I’m going to add in versions that include scales and multiple lines.


Software Updates

I’ve been working on a lot of behind the scenes boring stuff, mostly related to auto-sizing and scaling the charts.  3/5 will size themseles properly now and the Treemap never will, so I just have one left.

One thing I’ve been keeping pretty consistent is my variable naming convention.  Traditionally, I use camelBack for all variables, but this time I am using all lower case for one and two word variables and camelBack for anything longer.  I think the readability is better.

Total Dominance by the Phillies in 2011

Here’s an update to the games above .500 graph I posted earlier. It shows just how good the Phillies are this year.

Games above .500 for the NL East up until 9/9/2011

Games above .500 for the NL East up until 9/9/2011

Automobile Deaths Fell Due to Alcohol

Looking back it should have been obvious. In my previous post about the falling automobile fatality rate I hinted it might be due to recessions and/or advances in car technology and their introduction rate to the road. The answer turned out to be much simpler.

From 1979-2010 the number of automobile related fatalities fell from 51,093/year to 32,708. In 1982 the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration started tracking which of these deaths were alcohol related. In 1982 the percentage was 59.6%, but by 2008 it had fallen to 37.2%.


Automobile Deaths 1982-2008

From 1982-2008, not only did all the gains in highway safety come from a reduction in alcohol related deaths, they even offset an increase in non-alcohol related deaths.


Change in Automobile Deaths 1982-2008

To avoid confusion, positive values in this chart are always “good” (ie. unemployment rate going down is green, death rate going up is red, etc).

In retrospect this seems like an obvious answer, but during my search for the cause of the trend I checked against population change, total miles driven, recessions, unemployment, and other factors. The thing that lead me to track alcohol vs non-alcohol related fatalities was that I found a strong correlation between a drop in deaths and higher unemployment, but a weak correlation between fewer deaths and fewer miles driven. Also, the fatality rate didn’t spike back up once unemployment started to go back down. There’s a strong correlation between spikes in unemployment and non-alcohol related fatalities, but you can see the fatality rate return once employment comes back. It’s not shown in the chart above, but strangely we don’t see a large decrease in the miles driven per person when unemployment is high. I can only guess that having free time during the day leads to more opportunities to drive that are for, whatever reason, less likely to result in a fatal accident.

Alcohol related deaths, however, see fluctuating but continuous improvement with one notable exception, 1984-1985 when the number of deaths increased by 1,850 (7.4%) from the previous year.  I’m not sure what happened there.

Now that we know the primary cause of the reduction in deaths, the question becomes how did we do it?  My guess is a consistent anti-drinking and driving media campaign resulting in fewer drunk drivers on the road?  Governments and manufacturers have put a lot of effort into making cars safer, but it doesn’t appear to have had much of an effect over the last 30 years.  Future improvements in the fatality rate will be harder and harder to come by.

Sources:,, FARS-NHTSA, Wikipedia,

We’re Winning the War on Automobile Deaths

In 1979 there were over 51,000 autombile related deaths in the United States. Since then we have made dramatic improvements to auto safety. The data clearly shows this.

US Auto Deaths 1975-2010

US Auto Deaths 1975-2010

Where did this improvement come from? If we track improvement in auto deaths and control for population, we can show the year to year improvement.

Year to Year Improvement in US Auto Deaths 1975-2010 Controlled for Population

Year to Year Improvement in US Auto Deaths 1975-2010 Controlled for Population

The large improvement zones are ’79-82, ’88-91, and we seem to be in the middle of a monster improvement since 2006.

I don’t have the answer yet for what is working, but here are some interesting dates.
Year the drinking age became universally 21: 1984
First mandatory seat belt law (NY): December, 1984
Passive restraints (Airbags or Automatic seat belts) required in all cars: 1989

I think there’s a time window between something like the 1989 airbag law and when a significant number of airbag equipped vehicles make an appearance on the road.   I have no data on that yet, but the case for a delayed  effect seems accurate.  Another hypothesis isn’t drivers or cars, but improvements to roads and/or law enforcement.  Most major highways around me have added reflectors, signs, and rumble strips to help prevent accidents.  If you have any other hypotheses, post them in the comments.

Sources: Wikipedia, Wikipedia, Wikipedia, Wikipedia, Wikipedia.

Update: A lot of great comments, thanks! There are also a bunch over at the Hacker News thread. Many point to miles driven and automobile stability systems as good data to incorporate into the model. I also changed the years of “large improvement” which were off before. They now line up pretty well with recessions, but what is interesting is that we don’t give much back once the economy ramps up again. Maybe everyone buys a newer, safer car then :)

Update: Please read my follow up post on this. The answer is alcohol related accidents.

US Federal Budget 2009 Treemap

Figuring out the best way to display the names and values in a treemap has been difficult since their lengths and allowed space vary so widely. I’m getting close, though.

2009 US Federal Budget by Department

2009 US Federal Budget by Department

Border and rounded corners for the treemaps

Some of the better looking treemaps I’ve seen out there use small white borders and rounded corners to call attention to boundaries. What do you think? Does it improve or hinder readability?

GDP by State with spaces and rounded corners

GDP by State with spaces and rounded corners

Classic Tufte thinking would eliminate the borders, but I can’t help but think using them is “better” in this case. Treemap best practices haven’t been established yet.

GDP by State in Green

GDP by State in Green

Putting aside the the color scheme, which treemap looks better?

Monochrome Treemap?

I’m leaning strongly toward going monochromatic for the treemap colors unless they are tied to a data point. As for what data points I could use, some ideas: election results, population levels, avg temperature, SAT scores, etc. Here’s the green treemap:

GDP by State in Green

GDP by State in Green

Improved Treemap

The Treemap is coming along slowly. Text formatting is difficult since the boxes are all different sizes and shapes. Here’s the latest result.

GDP by State

GDP by State

The color scheme is getting better, but will take a lot more tweaking.

On another note, what a great info graphic this is. Over 650 data points to show exactly how and who was killed by Jason in the Friday the 13th series.

GDP by State 2010

I made a few breakthroughs on the Treemap algorithm, so I’m adding some polish to it now. The trick is to get the aspect ratios right for the average datapoint. I also have been working to come up with a good color scheme and get the text as lined up as possible. Below is 2010 GDP data broken down by the top 25 states.

Gross Domestic Product by state 2010

Gross Domestic Product by state 2010

Don’t see your state on here? You didn’t work hard enough in 2010.

Source: BEA