By Elissa Fink 21 Déc, 2008

When the Seattle snowstorms recently caused messy, ugly commutes, Tableau developer Iain Heath seized the moment to recall his own horror of a snowy commute. Inspired by Charles Minard’s graphic (see below) about Napoleon’s 1812 march to and from Russia (of which Edward Tufte said "may well be the best statistical graphic ever drawn"), Iain created a data visualization that clearly justifies why he decided to work from home one day.

Compare Minard's original to Iain's.

data visualization of snowy commute in Seattle

charles minard famous graphic popularized by Tufte

Iain's visualization is made up of 2 images. The first image shows a line of the actual path he followed from downtown Fremont to Redmond. At major points, he indicates the time of day. On a second image, he shows the number of people in his car. But it’s the width of the line in the first that tells his frustrating story. It represents the increasing pressure on his bladder as he slowly makes his way across town.

In Iain’s own words, here’s the story:

"I left the office at 4:15, resolved to a longer-than-usual commute. I had no idea how much longer. It was dark and snowing hard. Around 7pm I phoned my daughter’s pre-school to let them know I was only a mile away. Although it turned out to be a 45 minute mile, so the call probably didn’t help at all. After an *extremely* welcome restroom break at the school, I cautiously pirouetted my way through the streets of Redmond, collecting the rest of my family along the way (plus stranded neighbors, and other hangers-on) for the final 4-wheeled ski ride home, finally skidding into our driveway at 8:15 ...a mere 4 hours after starting out. I guess I shouldn’t complain – that’s about how long it would take to cover the same distance on a warm summer’s day in London these days."

Kudos to Iain for using data visualization to explain why there was no way he would even consider leaving the house during a snowstorm.


After seeing Iain's graphic, Napoleon himself would undoubtedly think twice before attempting to invade Redmond.