WATCH: Here’s the powerful storm that a Royal Caribbean cruise ship literally blundered into — as seen from space

By Tom Yulsman | February 12, 2016 1:53 am
Royal Caribbean

The development and rapid intensification of a powerful cyclonic storm off the U.S. East Coast on Sunday, Feb. 7, 2016, is seen in this animation of images from the GOES-14 satellite. A Royal Caribbean cruise ship sailed into the maw of the storm despite forecasts long ahead of time that it would form. (Source: Cooperative Institute for Meteorological Satellite Studies.)

There’s a good chance you’ve heard about that Royal Caribbean cruise ship that negligently blundered right into the maw of a powerful, hurricane-strength Atlantic cyclone on Sunday. (If not, keep reading — details are coming.)

Now, click on the image above to watch a spectacularly detailed animation of satellite images showing the development and rapid intensification of the storm off the U.S. East Coast on Sunday, Feb. 7.

The animation, originally posted at the CIMSS Satellite Blog, consists of imagery from the GOES-14 weather satellite. GOES-14 actually is a spare that can be put into a “rapid scan” mode in which the satellite captures an image at the speedy pace of one a minute. This is in contrast to its two siblings, which have a much more leisurely pace of one image every 15 minutes.

With one-minute imagery, scientists and forecasters can do a better job of tracking the development of weather, most especially a rapidly developing storm like the one that Royal Caribbean’s Anthem of the Seas steamed right into.

Despite Royal Caribbean’s Tweeted claim that the 168,666-ton cruise ship  — one of the world’s largest — “encountered an unexpectedly severe storm off Cape Hatteras,” there was absolutely no reason whatsoever for that to have happened.

The following graphic is a forecast for Sunday issued by NOAA’s Ocean Prediction Center at 1 p.m. EST on Friday, Feb. 5th — 48 hours before the mishap. It clearly demonstrates that the storm was predicted far enough in advance for the ship to have avoided danger. I’ve annotated the graphic to draw your attention to two aspects: Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Extreme Weather, select, Top Posts, Weather

eARTh: Cloud streets off Kamchatka

By Tom Yulsman | February 10, 2016 9:01 pm
Sea ice and cloud streets in the Sea of Okhotsk, as seen by NASA's Aqua satellite on Feb. 8, 2016. (Source: NASA)

Sea ice and cloud streets in the Sea of Okhotsk, as seen by NASA’s Aqua satellite on Feb. 8, 2016. For a Google map of the sea and surroundings, go here. (Source: NASA)

As frigid air poured out of western Siberia and out over the Sea of Okhotsk two days ago, it helped create one of the atmosphere’s more striking phenomena: long bands of cumulus clouds arranged in roughly parallel rows called “cloud streets.”

When I saw an image of the action captured by NASA’s Aqua satellite, my mind’s eye went to work. I saw that with some cropping to emphasize abstract patterning over immediately recognizable features, as well as modest enhancements to bring out detail, a beautiful work of Earth art (or “eARTh”) could be created.

The result is the image above. Read More

A likely hurricane-force cyclone spinning up in the Pacific is captured in this stunning satellite image animation

By Tom Yulsman | February 6, 2016 5:59 pm
A powerful pacific cyclone

A powerful cyclone swirls in the Northern Pacific Ocean off Alaska in this animation of satellite water vapor imagery. (Source: CIMSS)

I spotted this beautiful animation of a powerful Pacific Ocean cyclone in the Twitter feed of Scott Bachmeier from the Cooperative Institute for Meteorological Satellite Studies. It’s so awesome that I just had to share it.

The storm, as seen in the animation of GOES-15 weather satellite images above, has been spinning up in the Pacific Ocean and is headed into the Gulf of Alaska. As I’m writing this, the National the National Weather Service has issued a hurricane-force wind warning, which means the storm has either achieved hurricane strength (sustained winds of greater than 74 miles per hour), or it is predicted to do so. (For the latest Pacific high seas forecast, go here.) Read More

Dramatic imagery from space and on the ground captures 10 days of extreme weather fueled by El Niño

By Tom Yulsman | February 6, 2016 3:23 pm
Ten days of extreme weather

Data from multiple satellites were used as part of the NASA IMERG program to produce an animation showing estimated precipitation over the U.S. lower 48 states and surrounding areas from Jan. 25 through Feb. 3. The most extreme precipitation — 7.9 inches in total — occurred over Mississippi and Alabama.
(Source: NASA/JAXA/SSAI, Hal Pierce)

Juiced up by El Niño, extreme weather raked the United States from the last week of January through the beginning of February.

And thanks to satellites above, as well as cameras on the ground, we can witness all of the action — with synoptic views of a swirling winter storm and a beautiful visualization of total precipitation; a closer view of the atmosphere bubbling like stew in a cauldron; a look right into the heart of a massive thunderstorm; and right down to an individual tornado touching down near a house in Georgia, prompting a little girl to ask her mom, “Are we gonna’ die?” Read More

‘Absurdly’ high Arctic warmth drives sea ice to record low

By Tom Yulsman | February 5, 2016 8:06 pm

Arctic sea ice extent in January was 402,000 square miles below average — an area equivalent to about 60 percent of Alaska

Warm Arctic temperatures drove sea ice to a record low in January.

The plot above shows how Arctic region air temperatures at about 3,000 feet above the surface varied from average in January 2016. The North Pole is at the center of map. The air temperature for the region at this height was about 13 degrees F above the 1981-2010 mean — a record. At the surface, January saw an average temperature that was 11 degrees above normal, also a record. (National Snow and Ice Data Center, courtesy NOAA Earth System Research Laboratory Physical Sciences Division)

In my previous article here at ImaGeo, I featured a Norwegian icebreaker with no winter sea ice to break in the high Arctic. Since then, the National Snow and Ice Data Center has published its monthly update on sea ice conditions — and the news is pretty dramatic.

Record warm Arctic air temperatures running an astonishing 11 degrees F above average at the surface helped drive sea ice to a record low in January.

A significant part of the 402,000-square-mile deficit came from unusually low ice coverage in the Barents Sea, including off the Arctic archipelago of Svalbard. Here, sailors aboard Norway’s KV Svalbard icebreaker were surprised by just how little ice they saw while on patrol recently.

SEE ALSO: As the ‘blue Arctic’ expands thanks to global warming, an icebreaker finds no ice to break

Read More

As the ‘blue Arctic’ expands thanks to global warming, an icebreaker finds no ice to break

By Tom Yulsman | January 30, 2016 5:36 pm

Shrinking Arctic sea ice — now at record-low levels — has implications for ecosystems, climate, weather, and people


The KV Svalbard, a Norwegian Coast Guard icebreaker. (Source: L. Karsten via Wikimedia Commons )

During a recent mission off the Arctic archipelago of Svalbard, a Norwegian Coast Guard icebreaker encountered unusual winter conditions for an area just 800 miles from the North Pole.

Open water.


Dec. 2015 average Arctic sea ice extent compared to average.  (Source: NSIDC)

At this time of year, sea ice usually closes in around Svalbard’s northern and eastern coasts. But not this year. The sturdy 340-foot-long, 6,375-ton KV Svalbard had no ice to break, reports Oddvar Larsen, the ship’s First Engineer.

I spoke with Larsen and other sailors on board the icebreaker during the kickoff event of the 10th Arctic Frontiers conference in Tromsø, Norway on Jan. 24, 2016. This is the first post of several I have planned based on reporting I did at the conference. (Please see the note at the end for important details about the reporting that went into this story.)

Larsen told me that he has observed “big changes” in the Arctic during his nearly 25 years at sea. In addition to shrinking in extent, “most of the ice we encounter now is young — just one year old.”

In the past, thicker, multi-year ice was dominant, including old ice greater than nine years of age. Today that oldest ice is almost gone.

You can watch the Arctic’s old sea ice disappear, literally before your eyes, in this animation: Read More

Warming of globe in 2015 shattered all previous records

By Tom Yulsman | January 20, 2016 10:25 am



This past year was by far the warmest in records that stretch back more than a century, two U.S. federal agencies announced this morning.

Gavin Schmidt, director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York, began the briefing by saying, “2015 was by far the warmest year in the records we have put together.”

“We’re really looking at a long-term trend,” he said. “This is just a symptom of that long-term trend.” The cause: “increasing burning of fossil fuels and the carbon dioxide that come with that.”

While El Niño contributed to the warmth seen this past year, “the trend over time is why we’re having a record warm year,” he said.


NASA and NOAA reached their conclusions based on independent analyses. Thomas R. Karl, director of NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information in Asheville, North Carolina, said his agency’s analysis concurred with NASA’s.

“In our data set we were by far warmer than any other year, breaking the temperature record set previously in 2014 by a quarter degree Fahrenheit,” he said.

He noted that there was “quite a large separation from the previous record, set just last year.” This was a “rather remarkable part of the story this year.”

I am getting ready to leave for the Arctic Frontiers conference in Tromsø, Norway, so I’ll have to leave it there. But for more detailed information, go here. And I’ll have more to say soon about the warming we saw in 2015 — from a part of the world that has actually warmed twice as fast as any other.

Look! Up in the sky! It’s a flying pancake! It’s a flying saucer! No, it’s a . . . lenticular cloud over Flagstaff

By Tom Yulsman | January 18, 2016 1:10 pm

Alluring atmospheric phenomenon in Arizona and then Colorado, as seen in timelapse video, photos, and a satellite animation


Screenshot from a timelapse video of a lenticular cloud over Flagstaff, Ariz. on Jan. 14, 2016, released by the National Weather Service. Make sure to watch it in high definition. (NWS Flagstaff via Twitter)

Note: If you’re not old enough to know what the headline alludes to, please make sure to read through to the bottom of this post. 

Saucer-shaped clouds are not all that unusual in mountainous regions like the American West. But the ones that formed over Flagstaff, Ariz., on Jan. 14, 2016, and then over Colorado’s Front Range two days later, were particularly long-lasting — and beautiful.

They’re called altocumulus standing lenticular clouds. (But how about we make things easier from here on out by just calling them lenticular clouds?)

Click on the screenshot above to watch a timelapse video of the cloud over Flagstaff, posted to Twitter by the National Weather Service.

SEE ALSO: Flying saucers shoot death rays over Colorado?

Here is a still photograph of the same lenticular: Read More

WATCH: Two hurricane-force lows do-si-do in the Pacific

By Tom Yulsman | January 17, 2016 9:22 pm

Their dance has helped to drive needed moisture into California


Screenshot from animation of satellite imagery showing two hurricane-force low pressure systems swirling in the eastern Pacific Ocean between Jan. 16 and 17, 2015. (Source: National Weather Service Ocean Prediction Center)

Storminess is really kicking into high gear in the eastern Pacific now, helping to drive more rainfall into northern California.

do-si-doAs I’m writing this on the evening of Sunday, Jan. 17, flood warnings are out for rivers and streams in the northwestern part of the state. (Click on the thumbnail at right for a graphic showing predicted flooding on four rivers.)

Over the past two days, much of the moisture has come from two hurricane-force low pressure systems that actually did a kind of meteorological do-si-do off the coast. Click on the screenshot above to watch it happen. (And make sure to watch in high definition.) Read More

Images from Mars and Pluto reveal stark icy landscapes

By Tom Yulsman | January 17, 2016 12:46 pm

Pits and channels on Mars’ icecap, and a giant cryovolcano on Pluto


NASA Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter image of the seasonal cap of carbon dioxide ice on Mars. Open the image in a new tab or window and then click on it for a super closeup view.  (Source: NASA)


The highest-resolution color view yet of one of two possible ice volcanoes spotted on the surface of Pluto by the New Horizons spacecraft in July 2015. Open this image too in a new tab or window so you can zoom in for an extreme closeup view. (Source: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI)

When I first saw the landscapes in these two images, I was struck more by their similarities than their differences.

But of course looks can be deceiving. And while both landscapes do involve ice, each turns out to be very different. At the same time, they are also compelling examples of the amazing diversity of natural processes found on the different worlds of our solar system.

With all of this in mind, I thought I’d put the images together in one post for readers of ImaGeo to enjoy.

On the Martian icecap (the top image), gas flowing beneath the planet’s seasonal carbon dioxide icecap blows out into the atmosphere, creating pits. (NASA calls them “troughs,” but they don’t look that way to me.) Read More



ImaGeo is a visual blog focusing on the intersection of imagery, imagination and Earth. It focuses on spectacular visuals related to the science of our planet, with an emphasis (although not an exclusive one) on the unfolding Anthropocene Epoch.

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