It’s been cold and snowy here in Boulder, but Europe is getting hit far harder: they’re having record freezes, and over the weekend Italy got a huge pile of snow dumped on them too, the largest in about 30 years. It’s closed airports and disrupted a lot of the daily activity… but from space, it’s actually quite beautiful:
[Click to molto embiggiano.]
The clouds and snow make it hard at first to see Italy, but it runs from the upper left to lower right in this picture, taken by the European Space Agency’s Envisat. The Adriatic Sea is above Italy, and the Tyrrhenian Sea below. You can just see a piece of Sicily, and the islands of Corsica and Sardinia are visible as well.
I’m always amazed at the perspective of space. Disasters, trouble, and the frailty of life are so apparent when you’re in their midst, but they fade rapidly with distance. It doesn’t make them any less real or any less terrible, but it does provide a longer view that all of us, perhaps, can use sometimes.
Image credit: ESA
In case you were wondering what the snow was like here in Colorado the other day…
[Click to ensnowflakenate.]
That’s an image taken by NASA’s Aqua satellite on February 5, 2012. I live in Boulder, to the northwest of Denver (which is labeled), right on the edge of the Rockies. We got well over 30 cm here locally, and it was deeper in other places. Typical of the area, though, the Sun was out the next day, and now our yard looks like a fairyland of sparkles.
It’s unusual to get a heavy snowfall like this in February (we do get big ones, but later in the year) and from what I’ve heard this was a record for a February. And not to overextend the post to climate change, but a) weather is not climate… unless you add time, and 2) contrary to any soundbite you might hear, snowstorms will actually become more common as the Earth warms. Warmer weather means more evaporation, so more moisture in the air. It’s still cold higher up in the atmosphere, and it’s still cold in the winter over land, so a warmer planet overall means more snow in some places. I’m not attributing this event to global warming, to be clear. But it’s the kind of thing we can expect in the coming years.
NASA image courtesy Jeff Schmaltz, LANCE/EOSDIS MODIS Rapid Response Team at NASA GSFC
I love living in Boulder. I have pretty much the same routine every morning: get The Little Astronomer off to school, start my coffee, grab a bowl of cereal (generic brand Cocoa Krispies, which I call Faux-co Krispies), walk across the house to my office, and open the window shade.
When I did this yesterday, here was my view:
Yeahup. I’m braggin’. Click to upliftenate.
Those are Boulder’s iconic Flatirons, named for their shape. Their geologic history is fascinating: They’re made of Precambrian rock — 600 million years or more old! — that was exposed to weathering when the first Rockies pushed up about 300 million years ago. That rock eroded and oxidized, forming red sediment. This was laid down flat and was covered by an inland sea 40 million years later. During the time of the dinosaurs this area became a floodplain, but at the end of the Cretaceous a second uplift began, forming today’s Rocky Mountains. This broke through the sediment, cracking it and lifting huge sheets of it nearly vertically: the Flatirons. North of here are similar but much smaller formations, and they aren’t raised as vertically. They really give a sense of the uplift and the incredibly slow march of time.
With the Sun shining so brightly, that snow in the picture hardly lasted until the afternoon. It was gone in the blink of an eye, the flap of a hummingbird wing, compared to the lifespan of those formations. The Earth is old, so terribly old… but events on a human timescale are still worth appreciating.
Just in case you haven’t seen enough snow this week, NASA and NOAA have released an amazing video made from GOES 13 weather satellite images. I present to you Snowpocalypse 2011:
[Set the resolution to 480p to see it best.]
The animation goes from January 31 to February 2, and you can really see how the wet air from the ocean and Gulf of Mexico gets slammed by incredibly cold arctic air that had screamed south, creating this enormous storm front that swept across the nation. I was in Nebraska when this hit; the night before it had been unseasonably warm, but then temperatures dropped a lot — like 40°C (65°F) — by the next day. Nebraska looked like another planet. Boulder didn’t get much snow (you can see from the animation that snow was mostly east of Colorado) but the temperatures were so cold they had to cancel schools; the fuel mix used in school buses wasn’t rich enough to start the engines!
The GOES satellites (Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellites, just so’s you know) orbit the Earth over the Equator at a height of about 40,000 km (24,000 miles) above the surface. This makes their orbital period 24 hours, so they orbit once for every time the Earth rotates once. Read More
As I write this, it’s about -15 C outside where I live in Boulder, and even the snow looks like it’s shivering. So I’m not sure if I’m happy to share the grief or feel badly about the weather for folks in the UK, who generally don’t get (metric, I suppose) tons of snow. But then I saw this image from NASA’s Earth observing Terra satellite:
Holy Haleakala, that’s gorgeous! I won’t say I’m exactly glad they got lots of snow, but still, wow. Sorry, my anglic friends, but your suffering has produced this stunning beauty.
I am the king of all nerds. There can be no other.
What else is a guy supposed to do after a big snowfall and while waiting for "Waters of Mars" to air here in the States? And of course TLA helped, sawing the snowballs in half and shaping the body.
And hmmmm. Dalek and dork both start and end with the same letters. Coincidence?
[More pictures are in my Flickr Snow Dalek set.]
Look. It’s really just this simple. If you live in a place where it snows, and your car/truck/SUV/van/whatever is covered, then I don’t care how late you are, or how tired you are, or how hard it is to reach. You have to get a broom or a brush and GET THE SNOW OFF YOUR WHOLE VEHICLE, AND NOT JUST A LITTLE PORTHOLE IN YOUR WINDSHIELD YOU CAN SEE OUT OF.
Here, let me make it easy:
Oddly enough, I get unhappy when the snow — or, joy of joys, a big ol’ slab of ice — flies off your car and hits my windshield or just sits like a mine in the middle of the road.
Seriously. People who do this are a menace to others. Brush off your whole vehicle.