Severe storms over U.S. seen from space

By Phil Plait | April 30, 2011 7:00 am

On April 27, 2011, huge storms spawned enormous tornadoes which swept across the southeastern U.S., doing severe damage and killing over 200 people. It was the worst natural disaster in the U.S. since Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

The NASA/NOAA Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite, or GOES, takes high-resolution images every few minutes. The animation below shows the southeast U.S. from GOES, and you can watch the storms erupt.

A warm, moist air mass from the south collided with a cold air mass over the States. This is how summer storms usually form, but this situation was amplified by the jet stream, which was blowing between them. This generated fierce local systems that spawned over 150 tornadoes in the course of a single day.

It’s unclear but unlikely this particular event was due to global warming, but many models indicate such storms will increase in number as the planet warms. Despite a lot of political noise, the overwhelming scientific consensus is that global warming is indeed real. We may see more storms like this in the future.

NOAA/NASA, GOES Project Science team. Original animation by Jesse Allen.

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Attack of the Cyclones

By Phil Plait | November 2, 2010 7:00 am

Last week, I woke up in the middle of the night to winds raging outside. I figured they were chinooks — strong, brief winds common this time of year near the mountains — and went back to sleep.

Well, they weren’t chinooks. They were from this:


[Click to coriolinate.]

Holy isobaric imbalance! What a monster!

This was the storm that tore across the US last week as seen by NASA’s GOES Earth-observing satellite. It spawned tornadoes, high winds, and all manners of mischief over more than 30 states. It wasn’t technically a hurricane — it’s actually an extratropical cyclone — but it had the lowest recorded pressure ever seen in the US:

At 5:13 p.m. CDT, the weather station in Bigfork, Minnesota recorded 955.2 millibars (28.21 inches of pressure). Pressure is one indicator of a storm’s strength, and this measurement corresponds to the pressure seen in a Category 3 hurricane.

Yikes. There are also videos of the storm’s development on the NASA page, just in case you think the Earth was tailor-made for us humans to live comfortably and complacently.

Incidentally, if there is some sort of metaphor between this storm marching across the country and today’s elections, I invite you to make the connection on your own.

Image credit: Jesse Allen, NASA GOES Project Science Office

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Cool stuff, Pretty pictures

The cloudy, warming Earth

By Phil Plait | June 11, 2010 7:07 am

NASA just released an interesting picture of our home planet, taken from the GOES satellite:


[Click to massively englobenate.]

This image is in the infrared, and maps out the heat emitted from Earth. Brighter spots are giving off more IR — like the desert region in southwest South America, and the westernmost tip of Africa peaking over on the right — and darker spots show areas where less IR is emitted.

You might think that these dark spots are cooler, but you have to be careful here. The dark areas are actually cool high clouds. But they also trap the heat of the Earth — they don’t heat up themselves, but prevent the heat below them from escaping. High clouds like this are in reality warming us up slightly, even though they themselves are cold!

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Antiscience, NASA, Pretty pictures

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