A dramatic view of Tropical Storm Barry unlike any you may have seen before

By Tom Yulsman | July 12, 2019 5:38 pm
Tropical Storm Barry
An animation of GOES-16 satellite imagery acquired in the infrared reveals the evolution of Tropical Storm Barry on Friday, July 12, 2019. The crackling white and blue areas are indicative of lightning activity. (Source: RAMMB/CIRA GOES-16/17 Loop of the Day)

Tropical Storm Barry is now expected to make landfall as a hurricane.

As I’m writing this Thursday afternoon, July 12, Barry is churning slowly over the northern Gulf of Mexico, strengthening as it tarries over warm water. As it nears the coast and then pushes inland, the storm threatens to push up dangerous storm surges and dump up to 20 inches of rain.

Storm surge is already a problem:

The City of New Orleans has ordered people to shelter in place, effective at 8 p.m. local time.

Officials are closing floodgates ahead of what’s expected to be life-threatening flooding along the central Gulf Coast and into the Lower Mississippi Valley.

The distinctive animation of GOES-16 weather satellite images at the top of this post shows Barry over the Gulf between 9 and 11:30 a.m. local time today. Consisting of infrared images collected at one minute intervals, it’s an unusual view (known technically as “Day Cloud Phase Distinction RGB“) showing both the evolution of convective storminess and lightning activity.

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Study shows that Trump’s new “Affordable Clean Energy” rule will lead to more CO2 emissions, not fewer

By Tom Yulsman | June 19, 2019 8:46 pm
Global warming spiral
This animated spiral portrays the simulated changes in the global average monthly air temperature from 1850 through the present relative to 1850-1900, and then where they are projected to head if we do nothing to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide. (Source: Jay Alder, USGS)

The Trump administration has rolled back Obama-era climate change rules in an effort to save coal-fired electric power plants in the United States.

The action comes in the form of the “Affordable Clean Energy rule,” which Environmental Protection Administration head Andrew Wheeler signed today.

Unfortunately, research shows that “clean energy” is the opposite of what this rule will produce.

A story today in the Washington Post summarizes the new plan this way:

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Wildfires rage near Siberia’s “mouth of hell” — a giant depression that’s getting bigger due to global warming

By Tom Yulsman | June 18, 2019 9:09 pm
Siberia wildfires threaten "mouth of hell"
Wildfires blazing in Siberia, as seen by one of the Sentinel 2 satellites on June 11th. (Source: Copernicus Sentinel image data processed by Pierre Markuse)

I started writing this post last week after seeing the stunning satellite image above showing a blazing Siberian wildfire.

When I returned to finish the post today, I learned from a story in the Siberian Times that wildfires in this part of Russia’s Sakha Republic are now threatening a spectacular landscape feature known among locals as the “mouth of hell.”

They regard it as a doorway to the underworld.

Called the Batagaika Crater, it’s actually a giant gash in the local permafrost more than a half mile long and nearly 300 feet deep — and it has been growing, thanks to warming temperatures. If flames should reach it, the ground around it could be destabilized, potentially causing the mouth of hell to gape even wider.

More about that in a minute. But first, some details about the image of the wildfire itself.

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The globe just experienced its second warmest March through May since at least 1880

By Tom Yulsman | June 17, 2019 2:11 pm
March through May temperature anomalies
Overall, the global mean temperature during March through May was 1.02 °C warmer than the 1951-1980 average. This made it the second warmest such period in records dating back to 1880. (Source: NASA GISS)

March through May — spring in the Northern Hemisphere — was the second warmest such period in records dating back to 1880, according to a new analysis out today from NASA.

On its own, the month of May was third warmest.

The map above shows how temperatures around the world varied from the 1951-1980 average during March through May. A swath of territory in North America stands out amidst the yellow, orange and red colors that dominate the map. It was one of the very few places on Earth with cooler than average temperatures.

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After a miserable May with unusual warmth, Arctic sea ice hits a record low for early June

By Tom Yulsman | June 13, 2019 12:28 pm
Sea ice in the Nares Straight between Greenland and Canada
Click on this image, acquired by NASA’s Aqua satellite, to watch an animation of sea ice flowing through the Nares Strait from April 19 to May 11, 2019. This flow usually doesn’t begin until June or July. (Or click on this link. Source: NASA Worldview via NSIDC)

With Arctic temperatures running well above average in May, sea ice in the region continued its long-term decline, finishing with the second lowest extent for the month.

And since then, things have gotten worse.

On June 10, Arctic sea ice reached a record low for this time of year. Its extent was 494,983 square miles below the 1981-2010 median for the date.

Here’s another way to think about this: Sea ice has gone missing from an area exceeding the size of California, Nevada, Arizona and Oregon combined.

Arctic Sea Ice on June 11 2019
On June 10, 2019, the extent of Arctic sea ice reached a record low for the month. This graph shows the situation a day later, on June 11th. (Source: National Snow and Ice Data Center)

In the chart above, the extent of Arctic sea ice during 2019 is depicted with the orange line. On the 10th of June, it dropped below the yellow line showing the trend for 2016, which previously held the record for lowest ice extent at this time of year.

It’s important to keep in mind that what we’re seeing right now does not predict where we’ll be at the end of the warm season in September. This is when Arctic sea ice reaches its lowest annual extent.

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Smoke from Canadian wildfires now covers millions of square miles — and is visible from a million miles away

By Tom Yulsman | May 31, 2019 7:15 pm
Alberta wildfire smoke
As of the morning of May 31, 2019, smoke from Canadian wildfires covered millions of square miles of North America.

Yesterday, I published a story featuring satellite views of wildfires burning in northern Alberta: Striking satellite imagery reveals multiple wildfires blazing across northern Alberta

Since then, things have gotten worse, with one blaze — the Chuckegg Creek fire — exploding to nearly 1,000 square miles by this morning, up from 580. That means the fire has now scorched an area twice the size of Los Angeles. By this evening, it will likely be even bigger.

As described by Alberta wildfire officials:

The Chuckegg Creek Fire experienced extreme fire behaviour yesterday with significant growth to the south. Continued hot and dry conditions along with variable, gusty winds have proved a challenge to firefighting efforts and safety.

And that’s just one of eight fires burning out of control in the province.

Also since yesterday, smoke from the Canadian wildfires has spread far more widely. It has blown 3,000 miles to the east — all the way to Newfoundland. Even more significantly, smoke has now covered more than 2.7 million square miles of North America. (I calculated that by importing data used to make the map above of smoke coverage into Google Earth Pro.)

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Striking satellite imagery reveals multiple wildfires blazing across northern Alberta

By Tom Yulsman | May 30, 2019 11:59 am
Pyrocumulus clouds from Canada's Chuckegg Creek wildfire
A satellite view of the Chuckegg Creek wildfire near High Level, Alberta in Canada on May 26, 2019.

With unusual heat refusing to loosen its grip on Western Canada, ten out-of-control wildfires are now burning in northern Alberta.

Thanks to the hot, dry weather and rising winds, officials in Alberta were concerned on Tuesday (May 29) that the Chuckegg Creek fire near High Level, Alberta could lead to “blow-up fire behavior.” The fire has already scorched 580 square miles — an area larger than the City of Los Angeles.

The Chuckegg Creek fire is seen in the satellite image above, captured by the Sentinel-2A satellite on May, 26, 2019. The image was processed by blogger and remote sensing expert Pierre Markuse.

The image combines natural color with data acquired in the infrared portion of the electromagnetic spectrum. The infrared reveals heat from the flames, which might otherwise be difficult to see through the smoke.

The image also reveals exploding columns of smoke. These have formed as rising air currents have carried water vapor high into the atmosphere, causing it to cool and condense. The result: giant fire clouds, known as pyrocumulus clouds, that resemble thunderheads.

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What’s up with all this wild, weird weather — and is it linked to climate change?

By Tom Yulsman | May 24, 2019 5:21 pm
Extreme weather over Oklahoma, Kansas and Missouri on May 22, 2019, as seen by the GOES-16 satellite.
Violent thunderstorms boiled up across Oklahoma, Kansas and Missouri on May 22, 2019, as seen in this animation of infrared images acquired by the GOES-16 weather satellite. Tornadoes, including one that ravaged parts of Jefferson City, MO, are indicated by blue-colored T’s. (Note: The animation may take awhile to load. It’s worth the wait! Source: CIMSS Satellite Blog)

It certainly has been a wild — and deadly — few weeks for weather.

Since the first and 23rd of May, 340 tornadoes have spun up across the United States, mostly in a swath of territory stretching from Texas up through the nation’s midsection, according to preliminary reports from the National Weather Service. Compare that to an average of 276 tornadoes for the entire month.

Visible light animation showing evolution of extreme weather over Oklahoma, Missouri and Kansas
The same scene as in the GOES-16 animation above but in the visible end of the electromagnetic spectrum. (Note: As with the previous one, this animation may take awhile to load. It’s also worth the wait! Source: CIMSS Satellite Blog)

The past week has brought particularly severe weather, with violent, hail-bearing thunderstorms spawning 206 tornadoes. These include an outbreak on May 22 in Missouri, where one twister near Joplin killed three people, and another ripped through Jefferson City, the state capitol.

Meanwhile, along Colorado’s Front Range where I live, the weather has been more characteristic of the Norwegian Arctic in April than this part of the country in late May.

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From space, spring storminess looks like a boiling cauldron of atmospheric stew

By Tom Yulsman | May 9, 2019 6:48 pm
And the stew is now boiling more vigorously: Heavy precipitation events have grown stronger and more frequent over the long run

Boiling up of a supercell thunderstorm

Growth of a supercell thunderstorm over the Texas Panhandle, as seen in an animation of images from the GOES-16 weather satellite. (Source: RAMMB/CIRA)

With big, boiling thunderstorms spewing hail and spawning tornadoes in the Southern Plains and beyond even as snow once again falls elsewhere, the weather sure does seem wild and weird this week.

Spring often brings a meteorological roller coaster ride, thanks to the tension between lingering cold and spreading warmth. And, in fact, severe weather is the norm in the Southern Plains for this time of year.

You can see an example in the animation above, acquired over Lubbock in the Texas panhandle on May 5, 2019. It consists of high-resolution images acquired at one minute intervals by the GOES-16 weather satellite.

In essence, this is a time-lapse video offering a stunning impression of the growth of the storm over a little more than four hours, ending in the evening. I find the overlay of false-color infrared visual data over the natural-color depiction of the land surface quite arresting.

But this “VIS/IR Sandwich” wasn’t designed just to look pretty. The visual component provides meteorologists with high spatial detail. And the infrared part of the “sandwich” provides key data on the temperature of the clouds as they are boiling up to produce the supercell thunderstorm.

Keep reading below for more spectacular imagery of severe weather outbreaks over the Southern Plains. (And when you click on the animations, please keep in mind that they may take awhile to load up.)

But first, a longer-term context to the storminess we’re seeing this week — and for the past 12 months too, the wettest on record in the U.S. — as laid out in the most recent U.S. National Climate Assessment: Read More

New study reveals “extraordinary change” in El Niño possibly linked to climate change

By Tom Yulsman | May 7, 2019 8:04 pm

The current El Niño features warmer-than-normal surface waters in the central tropical Pacific.

A weak El Niño episode currently in place features warmer-than-normal surface waters in the central tropical Pacific. New research finds that these kinds of El Niño events are becoming more frequent, whereas stronger El Niños, which are rarer and tend to occur farther east, seem to be getting stronger still — a trend possibly linked to climate change. (Source: Climate Reanalyzer, Climate Change Institute, University of Maine, USA.)

|Update: I posed some questions related to this story to Jason Furtado, a meteorologist at the University of Oklahoma. I’ve added them and Furtado’s responses to the end of the post. |

In a first, researchers have used chemical fingerprints locked within coral skeletons to build a season-by-season record of El Niño episodes dating back 400 years — a feat many experts regarded as impossible.

That record, presented in a new study appearing in the scientific journal Nature Geoscience, reveals an “extraordinary change” in the behavior of El Niño, according to the researchers. That shift “has serious implications for societies and ecosystems around the world.” 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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