2018 Site Updates

Some links and images are no longer available in our older site updates. Additionally, some information is no longer applicable.

For the latest site updates, click here.

September 14th, 2018

Google has agreed to temporarily increase the amount of free desktop map loads that our site offers. Each dynamic Google Maps map load on desktop computers costs $0.007. (loads from mobile devices are free) Google gives all accounts $200 free each month to use toward mapping. That works out to 28,571 desktop map loads. (though various pages on their site say either 28,000 or 28,500) Google has agreed to give us an additional $250 in credits this month and next month (October 2018). That is an additional 35,714 free desktop map loads in each of those months. I don't think that rolls over. In addition, as part of an introductory trial, which doesn't cost anything after it ends, we have $300 in credit to use over the next year. That is an additional 42,857 map loads. That can be used in any month, or months, until it runs out or the year is up, whichever comes first. That should allow us to be fine for the next year. If it isn't, Google says we can contact them again and we may be able to look into additional options. We will continue to switch our mapping to ArcGIS, though we don't have to be in as big of a hurry. If ArcGIS ever starts costing money, then we'll still have the code we used to display Google Maps and we can make adjustments as needed to have some maps use one service and some use another. None of this applies to our live recon system, which uses CesiumJS. That gives people the opportunity to choose from multiple mapping providers. That means if one option is no longer available, another option can be used.

September 13th, 2018

I have talked to Google today. We might be getting a temporary increase over the next two months, being considered under the category of crisis response in the short term as the fastest way to possibly qualify for credits, possibly looking into a longer term option. Thankfully our map usage has been low since we switched the main maps on our front pages to ArcGIS. The total map usage over the past 6 days has only been 19,039 as of 7:30pm EDT today. We only get 28,000 free map loads per month ($200 of map loads is free each month), but when there are no storms our usage is less. An initial signup bonus had $300 extra in credits that can be used anytime over the next year, which would be an 42,857 map loads. Hopefully that alone will be enough until we switch more maps. Our maps usage has decreased to about 2,000 map loads per day so we continue to reduce the quota limit. Currently at 7,000. I keep setting that lower so that in case we receive a lot of traffic for some reason, such as a popular website links to us, I don't use all the free map credits. I want to keep it higher than the traffic I expect, but not too high.

September 12th, 2018

As of about 11am EDT today, we are at just over 15,000 Google Maps map loads for the month. (That might only be on desktop computers.) We continue to average about 5,500 Google Maps map loads per 24 hours. We get 28,000 desktop Google Maps map loads free. And we have an additional 42,857 Google Maps map loads free within the next year due to a free trial. The front pages of the recon and model system now use ArcGIS (which is free) and that has decreased the Google Maps map load tremendously from last year. The Google Maps maps that we had removed are now restored. The rate of usage will likely increase further and if needed we'll raise the quota of 10,000 if needed.

September 11th, 2018

We have further increased the quota on Google Maps map loads to 10,000 per day. Since we can have an additional 42,857 map loads within the next year due to a free trial, we could use them all this month if needed. That would allow 70,857 map loads this month. We're trying to make sure that unexpected usage doesn't wipe out all the free map loads in a single day or two, which is why we're monitoring the quota closely. If needed, we will remove more maps so that if the temporary quota is met, the next day we will still have additional free map loads.

As of about noon EDT today, we've reached 10,000 Google Maps map loads so far this month. (Not counting the first week in the month when we had not yet added billing.) The current rate is now about 5,500 map loads per 24 hours, but that is likely to continue to increase.

September 9th, 2018

The quota on Google Maps map loads will normally be set at 903 desktop map loads per day. We are setting it higher temporarily (6,000) since this week will be a busy period and the end of the month may not be as busy. Also, due to a free trial, an additional 42,857 map loads over the next year are free. We are waiting to hear from Google to see if we can qualify for more free map loads per month. We already had increased the quota to 4,000 earlier in the day, but raised it as map loads have increased. We may raise it even higher since we can use up to an additional 42,857 map loads sometime this year. Hopefully we will have some of the most used maps on our site transitioned to ArcGIS by the time the remaining Google Maps maps receive a lot of usage. We still have some maps removed. We are transitioning those maps first, from Google Maps to ArcGIS.

September 8th, 2018 - Update 2

We now only allow a total of 903 desktop map loads per day across all Google Maps mapping on all of our tropical websites. (There are also some other limits on usage per 100 seconds and usage per 100 seconds per user.) This is in response to Google reducing the amount of free maps usage, from 25,000 map loads per day to about 28,000 desktop map loads per month. Map loads on mobile devices are free. (Last year on our busiest day we had over 25,000 map loads in a single day.) Most maps in the model system other than the Google Maps model plots, have been removed. The map on the front page of the recon system has been switched to ArcGIS. We had worked on that a month ago and while the code still needs to be improved some for uses in other parts of the model and recon systems, it works for there. We have contacted Google to request additional free map loads so that our site can return the maps we have had to remove and so that our site's Google Maps won't shut off as easily when our site is busy.

September 8th, 2018 - Update 1

Because of recent changes in Google's business model, Google started blocking our site from offering any Google Maps products as a strong arm tactic to make us enable billing in our account. They previously allowed up to 25,00 free map loads per day. It is now allowing about 28,000 desktop map loads per month free, with map loads from mobile devices not counting toward any limit, meaning they are free. On September 8th, 2018 Google set our daily map quota to 1 until we enable billing. We are now in the process of doing that. However, now that we are forced to add billing our site will now have to enable strict quotas in order to not be charged hundreds of dollars, or even more, during storms that drive a lot of traffic to our site. This limit will be a little over 900 desktop map loads per day across all products on our site that use Google Maps. (mobile devices do not count toward the map load limit) We will be removing certain mapping on our site until we can replace it. We will be contacting Google to see if they think our site is worthy enough to the general public to allow us to have mapping free of charge since we have never asked anyone else to pay to use our site. If they do not allow us to do that, certain features of our site will not be available without error messages until we can replace all Google Maps products on our site, which could take a year or more. Google Earth data and mapping in CesiumJS is not impacted by these changes. Eventually we will convert all current Google Maps mapping to ArcGis (Esri). Long term, we will also likely display hurricane models in CesiumJS as well, which is what we use to display live recon. We apologize for the current inconvenience, especially during a time in which activity in the tropics poses a significant threat.

July 29th, 2018

Due to changes in Google's business model, Google no longer allows the number of free Google Maps map loads that they used to. Previously you could have 25,000 map loads per day before mapping would automatically shut off, without charging us. Now you can only have up to about 28,000 map loads per month from desktop users. Map loads from mobile devices will be free, at least for now. After that, Google starts charging you automatically for each additional 1,000 map loads from desktop users if you have a billing profile associated with your account. Google is trying to force sites to add a billing profile. This has been a confusing point. Some of our projects are not currently required to have a billing profile. However, our recon mapping project was required to add a billing profile. Until we did, it would only allow a single map load per day without an error notice. We switched the Google Maps API key we were using for recon mapping to the one we were using for model mapping, which did not require billing to be added, at least as of now. If Google succeeds in forcing us to add a billing profile to that project as well, we will be forced to set a daily quota of about 900 map loads to not be charged. They do not allow setting a monthly quota. Because our site often experiences a surge in map loads over a few days for a storm, a quota of 900 is way to low. We can experience tens of thousands of map loads for certain storms, sometimes exceeding over 100,000 map loads in a month. On rare occasions we have previously hit 25,000 map loads in a single day and had mapping shut off under the old billing rules. However, that included mobile and desktop users, and under the new billing terms map loads from mobile devices are free.

All Google mapping on our site will eventually need to be moved to another mapping service, likely ArcGIS. However, to do that fully could take a few years, most especially for the model mapping in the model system. Other mapping will not be as difficult to switch. Until a particular map is switched, certain areas may have mapping removed if we need to avoid hitting a certain quota. We can't allow ourselves to be charged thousands of dollars when we don't even have ads on our site. Live recon in the recon system, using CesiumJS, is not impacted as it does not use Google in any way.

Our site has other issues as well.

Our site can no longer directly download obs from the NHC's recon archive. Our site cannot connect to their "https" site due to outdated software on our host's server that we can't upgrade. We would have to pay a lot more for hosting, maybe four times as much or more, if we switched to a new server and we might not even be able to do what we could before due to the demanding nature of our site. We plan to retrieve the obs through HurricaneCity's recon system. We hope to have this implemented this summer. Until then, if obs are missed in our system when checking individual product files from NOAA's FTP server they will not appear unless they are manually added later.

We also have to switch all Adobe Flash diagrams to being JavaScript based, a major undertaking it we can't use a 3rd party charting app. (We might even use the free Google Charts, but the way Google is going, that might not be free for long either.) That must happen by the end of 2020 when Flash will no longer be updated by Adobe.

There are also issues with our live recon display. When selecting a satellite layer in the CesiumJS display in Google Chrome, the panel will scroll to the bottom in most cases. In addition, satellite data does not currently automatically update in the Cesium display. You must refresh the page to update satellite imagery. We want to also add the time of the latest available imagery.

We also need to update satellite imagery options in the Google Maps model display. (For the Atlantic, satellite overlays are not available.)

We need to rewrite the NOAA P-3 radar feature to download less files as it stores twice as much data as it needs to. We're not even sure we'll be able to have this imagery in the future. The data is stored in two places on NOAA's FTP server. One place only has it when they make it available there. Imagery is every 5 minutes. The other location might always have it. It is every minute. But the data we need is stored in a single file. To have the imagery in real time we would need to download a massive file constantly, which we can't do. It would take too much bandwidth, among other likely technical problems. The file would probably be too big to download automatically after the mission is done.

We're also in the process of rewriting the HTML in the model and recon systems so that the sites can be more mobile friendly in the future. Then a lot of these issues above happened. And there are other smaller issues.

We also have to update the other pages on our site as links get out of date. And the satellite overlay feature.

All of these issues are going to take years to fix. And we have other projects we're working on too. As a result, this site is going to become less stable moving forward. There is simply no choice.

May 28th, 2018

Our site can no longer, as a backup, download obs from the NHC's recon archive. Our site cannot connect to their "https" site. We are trying to work on this issue, which may be related to being on an older server. If we can't get it resolved, our site may have to move. If obs are missed in our system when checking individual product files from NOAA's FTP server they will not appear unless they are manually added later.

May 24th, 2018

The vortex decoder has been rewritten to allow for the new vortex format. The new version went online this evening. Future updates are likely to occur over the next week or so.

May 23rd, 2018

The "SSEC Overlays for Google Earth" file we have has been updated with GOES-East imagery. We still have to update other areas of our site to use the new GOES-East imagery.

The vortex decoder has been completely rewritten. For now, it is being tested offline. Within a few days, to a week, the new version will replace the old version online. The new decoder will still be able to decode older versions of the URNT12 vortex message.

May 15th, 2018

We are currently in the process of rewriting the vortex decoder in the recon system. There is a new vortex format which adds new information, as well as reorders some of the old information. For now, each vortex message in the 2018 format will be mostly undecoded. You can learn more about the vortex message change here.