Visual Cortex – the good, the bad and the ugly

Visual Cortex is the weather visualisation system used by the UKMO which “enhances the weather forecasting experience for both presenter and audience“. It’s very configurable and can produce great graphics of NWP data, but being highly configurable doesn’t mean that all of the visualisations that are produced using it are good, some of them are bad in my opinion.

Courtesy UKMO

This is an example of the good – an animated MSLP layer that includes fronts overlaid on what looks like color filled contours of 850 hPa temperatures, absolutely lovely, especially with the black coastal outline which really enhances the spaceview projection of the underlying map.

Courtesy UKMO

This is an example of the bad – a zoomed in UK map of hourly precipitation rates of both rain and snow. There are a couple of things I think that area bad about it in my opinion (a) it should use a Mercator rather than a spaceview projection, which would give a better representation of Scotland, and give the 5,463,300 people who live up here a fighting chance to see if where they lived was going to get some snow, (b) never ever attempt to animate falling snow (or any kind of 3D fly though effects) in an animation, it just doesn’t work and can obscure the coastal outline and place names. I like the animated streamlines but the ‘particles’ display on the Windy site is much better.


Because the ITV and Channel 4 still use the UKMO for their TV weather forecasts it doesn’t’ stop their. Look at these truly awful examples of the graphics from Visual Cortex on the STV site and notice the map projection they are using!

Courtesy STV

The Channel four graphics are a little better than those at STV, obviously Liam Dutton has been told not to confuse the Channel Four viewer so no isobars to keep things simple in their graphics as far as I can see. It’s the same old map projection though what is up with these people? Because clouds are white and rain is blue in Channel Four land snow has to be shades of grey right? At least the snow animation is a little better but it does look like the north lies under a pall of smoke from those dark Satanic mills.

Courtesy Channel Four

This is my annual moan about Visual Cortex and the map projections they use with it, but despite criticism from me and many people north of the border, the UKMO still stubbornly refuse to relent on this issue, despite the fact that Visual Cortex is so configurable and changing it I’m sure would be so easy to do. You might have noticed that I never did mentioned what I thought was ugly about the Visual Vortex system, please don’t get the idea that it’s Aidan McGivern who looks a thoroughly nice chap and not in the least bit ugly.

What do you think?

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