In satellite imagery, the dangerous nor’easter battering the U.S. East Coast is a beastly beauty of a storm

By Tom Yulsman | March 2, 2018 3:22 pm
Satellite image of the nor'easter that's battering the U.S. East Coast today. (Source: RAMMB/CIRA)

Satellite image of the nor’easter swirling along the U.S. East Coast today. (Source: RAMMB/CIRA)

A nor’easter with winds ranging up to hurricane strength is causing misery along much of the U.S. East Coast today. But from space, it’s a strangely beautiful sight to behold.

The fierce storm is causing flooding, power outages, suspension of Amtrak rail service, and hundreds of delayed or cancelled flights in and out of area airports. New York’s LaGuardia airport has closed down completely due to high winds.

The storm may even turn out to be more damaging than the “Bomb Cyclone” that struck the region in early January.

The view of the storm at the top of this post was acquired by the GOES-16 weather satellite just after sun up on the East Coast. The image captures something of a decisive moment — the storm swirling along the coast during the transition from nighttime to daytime. 

This is what’s known as a “GeoColor” image — a hybrid view based on light from both the visible and infrared portions of the electromagnetic spectrum. This allows the image to clearly depict sun-lit areas as well as regions still shrouded by the darkness of night.

In the sun-lit portion, the colors look about as they would from space to human eyes. In the nighttime areas, the blue colors are indicative of  liquid water clouds, while gray to white indicate higher ice clouds. In GeoColor imagery, city lights are added using a static database derived from other satellite imagery.

Here’s an animated view of the storm from GOES-16:

It may be beautiful when seen from space, but on the ground it is anything but, as these videos posted to Twitter today show:


Make sure to stick with this one until you see the car pushing its way through floodwaters:

  • Michael Billingsley

    Large areas of sea surface temperature off the NJ and the northeast US coast has been running anomalously 6°C warmer than typical for several months. No one seems to mention this factor as contributing to the sudden uptick in wind speeds & dropping pressure as cyclonic storms leave land off New England. Is this not a factor in “bombgenesis?”

    • OWilson

      The answer of course is yes!

      The factors contributing to weather are almost infinite!

      Is the flapping of a butterfly wing in Africa a factor in Atlantic hurricanes?

      Weather is just the Earth’s way of balancing out her chaotic extremes!

      • Michael Billingsley

        I was rather thinking that large areas (300+ mile stretches) of open ocean off New England with 6°C/11°F warmer surface waters would have more affect than butterfly wings. The Gulf Stream is being partially-blocked by fresher-than-usual surface waters coming down from the Davis Strait and the Labrador coast, sufficiently forceful in its southern movement to interfere with the North Atlantic Water. Papers about this (4-year) strengthening trend are just being published… and the impact upon both the Gulf Stream & New England/Maritimes weather is not yet understood.

  • Charlotte Copp

    Are you interested in remote sensing and want to learn more? If so, please participate in this project, Stories Through the Bird’s Eye: Engaging with Remote Sensing. The aim of this project is to engage around a topic that could be considered debatable, and I want to hear (I really do) what you have to say! So please contribute your ideas! You are also welcome to share with others if this project is interesting to you



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.

About Tom Yulsman

Tom Yulsman is Director of the Center for Environmental Journalism and a Professor of Journalism at the University of Colorado, Boulder. He also continues to work as a science and environmental journalist with more than 30 years of experience producing content for major publications. His work has appeared in the New York Times, Washington Post, Audubon, Climate Central, Columbia Journalism Review, Discover, Nieman Reports, and many other publications. He has held a variety of editorial positions over the years, including a stint as editor-in-chief of Earth magazine. Yulsman has written one book: Origins: the Quest for Our Cosmic Roots, published by the Institute of Physics in 2003.


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