Tom Yulsman is co-director of the Center for Environmental Journalism at the University of Colorado. His work has appeared in a variety of publications, including the New York Times, Washington Post, Climate Central, the Daily Climate and Audubon.
In a week or so, it will be official: 2012 was the warmest year on record in the contiguous United States. In fact, if a projection by Climate Central turns out to be correct, 2012 will smash the previous record by a whopping 1 degree F.
But for a good portion of the country, 2013 has gotten off to a rather frosty start. On Jan. 3, with much colder than normal temperatures extending all the way to the Gulf Coast, the most frigid spot in the nation (including Alaska) was officially Alamosa, Colorado. Here, the temperature plunged to an astonishing low of -33 degrees.
You can pick out Alamosa in the image above within the pink blob in the southern part of Colorado. In the picture, generated from data produced by an infrared imaging instrument aboard the Suomi NPP satellite, pink and blue colors show colder temperatures, oranges and reds warmer ones (relatively speaking). Click the image itself for a larger version, posted originally on the blog of the Cooperative Institute for Meteorological Satellite Studies.
Much of Colorado’s high country was cloud-free the night of Jan. 3, which allowed heat from the surface to escape into space with relative ease, thereby leading to extreme cooling. In fact, in some spots at higher elevations, the satellite indicated temperatures colder than -40 degrees!
The path of Colorado River out of Colorado, across Utah, and down into Arizona, can be seen clearly in the image. Along the border between Colorado and Utah, it appears as an arc of cold blue. A little further south, you can make out an infrared trace of the river canyon itself, in red tones indicative of relatively warmer temperatures—extending all the way to the Grand Canyon.
The day before Colorado recorded those frigid temperatures, a cold front swept across the middle of the country, extending all the way to the Gulf Coast region. On the evening of Jan. 2, temperatures in Houston dropped to a rather chilly 42 degrees. In New Orleans, the low was 47 degrees that night.
The passage of that cold front was captured in another image—of a gigantically elongated “rope cloud”—posted by the folks at the CIMSS Satellite Blog.
Rope clouds typically develop at the leading edge of an advancing cold front. According to the CIMSS, “they are most commonly seen over the ocean, where friction and topography effects that might disrupt the development of a line are minimal.”
Top image by Jeffrey Beall via Flickr