Compelling remote sensing visualizations show Tropical Cyclone Winston just as it was wreaking havoc on Fiji

By Tom Yulsman | March 1, 2016 12:34 pm

The storm probably caused more damage than any other tropical cyclone on record in the South Pacific

Visualization of precipitation from Tropical Cyclone Winston as it made landfall on Viti Levu, the largest and most populated island in Fiji, on Feb. 20, 2016. The data come from the Core Observatory satellite of the Global Precipitation Measurement mission, or GPM. (Click to watch the animation on Youtube. Source: NASA Goddard)

Visualization of precipitation from Tropical Cyclone Winston as it made landfall on Viti Levu, the largest and most populated island in Fiji, on Feb. 20, 2016. The data come from the Core Observatory satellite of the Global Precipitation Measurement mission, or GPM. (Click to watch the animation on Youtube. Source: NASA Goddard)

It has been 10 days since Tropical Cyclone Winston tore into Fiji as a Category 5 storm — and now the full toll of the devastation is coming to light.

SEE ALSO: How Winston became Earth’s strongest Southern Hemisphere storm in recorded history

Weather Underground is reporting today that the death toll from Winston has reached at least 42 people, which makes it the deadliest storm on record in Fiji. Moreover, with homes and businesses wiped out, Winston caused at least at least $468 million in damage, also a record — and a staggering 10 percent of Fiji’s gross domestic product.

Given this news today, I thought I’d share two dramatic remote sensing animations showing Winston just as it was approaching and then plowing into Fiji’s main island of Viti Levu.

The animation above is based on data acquired by the Core Observatory satellite of the Global Precipitation Measurement mission. Read More

California almost out of time for El Niño drought relief

By Tom Yulsman | February 28, 2016 3:32 pm

The state has benefited from El Niño this winter, but not nearly enough

An animation of images acquired by NASA's Terra satellite shows the evolution of snowpack in the Sierra Nevada range of California in late February for each of the four years since 2013. Color-coded snow-cover data comes from the satellite's MODIS instrument, with red showing the highest percentage of snow cover and blue the lowest. (Imagery: NASA. Animation: Tom Yulsman)

An animation of images acquired by NASA’s Terra satellite shows the evolution of snowpack in California’s Sierra Nevada range in late February for each of the four years since 2013. Color-coded snow-cover data comes from the satellite’s MODIS instrument, with red showing the highest percentage of snow cover and blue the lowest. (Imagery: NASA. Animation: Tom Yulsman)

| See update below. Synopsis: Since I published this post, forecasts have been firming up and suggesting a shift toward wetter conditions in March. Will it be enough? Please keep reading, and check out the update at the end… 

The window is closing on California’s opportunity to have El Niño put a significant dent in the state’s epic drought — which one study has shown to be the most severe in 1,200 years.

Snowpack in California’s Sierra Nevada range, a significant source of the state’s water, is definitely doing better than it did in 2014 and 2015, as the animation above shows. But with statewide snowpack standing at just 88 percent of normal for this time of year — the heart of the snow season — it really needs to do a whole lot better. (In the southern part of the Sierra, snowpack is at just 78 percent of normal.)

The problem is that nearly three quarters of the Sierra’s precipitation falls from autumn through February. And, well, just have a look at the calendar…

Great hopes were riding on the soon-to-dissipate El Niño, which earlier in the year tied with the event of 1997/1998 as strongest on record. Ordinarily, a strong El Niño tends to rev up the subtropical jet stream, which in turn sweeps storm systems ashore in California during winter. But here’s what that subtropical jet looks like for the next five days: Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Climate, Drought, ENSO, select, Top Posts, Weather

How Winston became Earth’s strongest Southern Hemisphere storm in recorded history

By Tom Yulsman | February 22, 2016 11:47 am

Winston has killed at least 21 people and caused great damage in Fiji. Here are the roles played by El Niño, climate change, and other factors in the evolution of this fierce — and very strange – storm.

An image captured by the Himawari-8 satellite shows Tropical Cyclone Winston at 15:40 a.m. UTC (10:40 a.m. EST in the U.S.) on Sunday, Feb. 21, 2016. At this time, the storm was making a transition from a Category 4 to a Category 2 tropical cyclone. In this nighttime "geocolor" image, white colors are indicative of ice in the higher parts of clouds; reddish colors show lower-level liquid water in clouds; city lights are shown in yellow. Click on the image to open it in a new tab, then click again to enlarge. If you look closely, you can make out landmasses, such Grand Terre, the main island of New Caledonia. (Raw image: NOAA/RAMMB/CIRA)

An image captured by the Himawari-8 satellite shows Tropical Cyclone Winston at 15:40 a.m. UTC (10:40 a.m. EST in the U.S.) on Sunday, Feb. 21, 2016. At this time, the storm was making a transition from a Category 4 to a Category 2 tropical cyclone. In this nighttime “geocolor” image, white colors are indicative of ice in the higher parts of clouds; reddish colors show lower-level liquid water in clouds; city lights are shown in yellow. Click on the image to open it in a new tab, then click again to enlarge. If you look closely, you can make out landmasses, such Grand Terre, the main island of New Caledonia, and Fiji as well. (Raw image: NOAA/RAMMB/CIRA)

See update at the end of this post concerning Winston’s ranking among tropical cyclones |

Winston was born as a tropical storm a little east of Vanuatu in the South Pacific, way back on February 10th. Little did we know then just how strange — and strong — this storm would become, thanks to multiple influences, including climate change.

This is the story of Winston’s birth and evolution, and the factors that helped turn it into one of Earth’s fiercest storm’s on record.

With initial winds of about 40 miles per hour, Winston cruised south and gathered strength quickly, becoming a Category 3 cyclone by the 12th. Curving to the northeast, the storm waned for a bit.

Winston

Source: JTWC

And then, something really weird happened — a prelude to the cyclone’s scary transformation into the strongest storm on record in the Southern Hemisphere. (Click on the thumbnail at right for a map of Winston’s circuitous trek through the South Pacific.)

Tracking eastward over the warmest waters in the Pacific Ocean basin, Winston strengthened again — and turned on a dime, crossing over Tonga for a second time. Heading due west, it exploded in strength — with Fiji in its crosshairs. Read More

Savage cyclone Winston churns over the Pacific’s warmest waters, heads for Fiji’s two most populous islands

By Tom Yulsman | February 19, 2016 7:44 pm
The Himawari-8 satellite provides ominous views of Severe Tropical Cyclone Winston bearing down on Fiji in the South Pacific on Feb. 19, 2016. (Source: NWSOPC)

The Himawari-8 satellite provides ominous views of Severe Tropical Cyclone Winston bearing down on Fiji in the South Pacific on Feb. 19, 2016. The first part of the video shows the storm in visible light. Next, we see an infrared view of the cyclone. And last, a view showing water vapor. (Source: NWSOPC)

As I am writing this on Friday evening in Colorado, Severe Tropical Cyclone Winston is bearing down on the most populous islands of Fiji, posing a dire threat to the South Pacific island nation with winds that could eventually reach a mind boggling 224 miles per hour.

The cyclone has already made landfall on the small Fijian island of Vanua Balavu — at about 1 pm EST today. This means the storm will go into the record books as the strongest tropical cyclone ever to hit the nation of Fiji. And it is only the 11th Category 5 storm to have been observed in the South Pacific east of Australia, according to Weather Underground.

Since hitting Vanua Balavu, Winston has been churning westward, heading toward the two biggest Fijian islands: Viti Levu and Vanua Levu, which account for 87 percent of the country’s population of almost 860,000. Read More

Concerning news for California: El Niño’s misbehavin’. But there is still time for him to do the right thing

By Tom Yulsman | February 18, 2016 11:32 am
misbehavin'

In this animation of false-color satellite images of California’s central Sierra Nevada range (which runs diagonally through the frames), red and orange tones are indicative of snowpack. On Feb. 5, 2016, snowpack in the area stood at 110 percent of average for the date. By Feb. 16, it had dropped to 91 percent. In the images, acquired by NASA’s Terra satellite, Lake Tahoe is in the upper center; Mono Lake is toward the lower right. (Images: NASA Worldview. Animation: Tom Yulsman)

Woops. Thanks to a dearth of precipitation combined with warm temperatures, snowpack in California’s Sierra Nevada mountains has dipped below average. Given that El Niño was supposed to be California’s great drought-bustin’ hope, this is a little concerning.

I put together the animation above to show what has happened in the Sierra over the past two weeks. The mountains run diagonally through the frames.

The animation consists of false-color images captured by NASA’s Terra satellite. Snow is rendered in red and orange tones so that it can be discerned easily. Water shows up in almost black tones, and you can easily see Lake Tahoe in the upper middle of the animation. Mono Lake on the east side of the Sierra is at lower right.

On Feb. 5, 2016, the snowpack in the central Sierra Nevada region stood at 110 percent of average for the date. By Feb. 16, it had shrunk to 91 percent. That’s a decrease of 17 percent in just two weeks — as dramatized by all that shrinking red and orange in the animation.

As I’m writing this on the 17th, the average for the entire Sierra Nevada range in California is at 91 percent for the date. Given the super El Niño now underway, one would have hoped for better than that.

It’s not unheard of for El Niño to misbehave for a spell. As the National Weather Service pointed out in a Tweet on Feb. 9, California usually does experience some dry periods even during El Niño winters: Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Climate, Drought, ENSO, select, Top Posts, Weather

What home looks like from 22,236 miles away

By Tom Yulsman | February 16, 2016 11:42 am

A new and improved portrait of the home planet, photographed by the Himawari-8 weather satellite in geostationary orbit

True-color image of Earth from the Himawari-8 satellite in geostationary orbit. (Source: NOAA/JMA)

True-color image of Earth from the Himawari-8 satellite in geostationary orbit. (Source: NOAA/JMA)

I don’t know about you, but I never tire of high-resolution images like this one from the Himawari-8 satellite showing the entire disk of our home planet.

It’s a new and improved version of a now-familiar view. So make sure to click on the image to open it in a new window. And then click on it again to zoom in.

This true-color portrait of Earth was photographed by Himawari-8, operated by the Japan Meteorological Agency, on February 10, 2016. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Remote Sensing, select, Top Posts, Weather

Global warming spiked in January, setting new record

By Tom Yulsman | February 15, 2016 12:06 pm

With an El Niño nudge, January saw record high temperatures. But accumulating greenhouse gases are the long-run cause of global warming.

global warming

The pattern of temperature anomalies around the globe in January shows particular abnormal warmth in the high northern latitudes, across Canada, Greenland and Siberia. Overall, the global average temperature was 1.13 degrees C, or slightly more than 2 degrees F, warmer than the long-term average. (Source: NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies.)

| Two updates, 2/16/16. See below. |

January saw an extraordinary, record-setting spike in global average temperature, according to the just released monthly analysis from NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies.

The global average temperature at Earth’s surface for January 2016 was 1.13 degrees C above the 1951-1980 average. That’s slightly more than 2 degrees F. The previous record for January, set in 2007, was .95 C, or 1.71 F above average. NASA’s climate record goes back to 1880.

The super El Niño pattern that we’re still in right now hit a peak in January, and that no doubt played a role in this global temperature spike. You can see it’s direct influence in the form of that spear of very warm Pacific Ocean water jutting out from South America along the equator, with associated warmth over the continent itself.

SEE ALSO: If a La Niña follows the current super El Niño, it will probably be bad news for drought-plagued California

But as Thomas R. Karl, director of NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information, pointed out in a recent press briefing about 2015, which itself turned out to be record warm:

The trend over time is why we’re having a record warm year.

El Niño does cause global average temperature to spike. But the spike for this month, and for all of 2015, came on top of the long-term trend, which looks like this: Read More

Satellite time-lapse video shows an entire year of the Sun in stunning ultra high definition

By Tom Yulsman | February 14, 2016 1:37 pm
This video shows a closeup satellite view of the Sun for almost an entire year (from Jan. 1, 2015, to Jan. 28, 2015), in the form of one time-lapse sequence. The images in the animation were captured by NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory spacecraft. At full resolution on YouTube, the video is ultra-high definition (3840x2160) running at 29.97 frames per second. Each frame represents 2 hours on the Sun. (Source: NASA)

This video shows a closeup satellite view of the Sun for almost an entire year (from Jan. 1, 2015, to Jan. 28, 2016), in the form of one time-lapse sequence. The images in the animation were captured by NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory spacecraft. Try to watch it at full, 4K resolution. (Source: NASA)

Since NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory spacecraft became operational in late April of 2010, it has provided a trove of valuable data — and mind-boggling views of the Sun.

This past year was no exception, as the video above shows. It consists of imagery acquired by SDO from Jan. 1, 2015, to Jan. 28, 2016, in one stunning time-lapse sequence.

Click to play it on YouTube. And if your internet speed is high enough, watch it in ultra-high definition: 3840 x 2160 (in other words, 4K) and  29.97 frames per second. At this level, the video consists of one SDO image taken every two hours for almost a year.

SDO’s Atmospheric Imaging Assembly (AIA) instrument actually captures a shot of the Sun even more frequently than that: once every 12 seconds — and in 10 different wavelengths. The images that went into this time-lapse video were acquired at a wavelength of 171 angstroms, which is in the extreme ultraviolet (and invisible to our eyes).

Viewing the Sun at this wavelength allows us to see the ebb and flow of million-degree-Fahrenheit material in the Sun’s atmosphere, called the corona. Among other things, we can see material aligning in complex ways along the lines of magnetic force that weave through the corona. Hot, active regions glow with particular intensity. Explosive eruptions of radiation caused by the sudden release of built up magnetic energy can be seen too. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Astronomy, select, Sun, Top Posts

If La Niña follows the current super El Niño, it will probably be bad news for drought-plagued California

By Tom Yulsman | February 13, 2016 5:25 pm

La Niña tends to cause drying in California, and it often persists — and deepens — for years afterward

La Niña

As the animation above shows, the strong La Niña of 1999/2000 followed the record El Niño of 1997/1998. El Niño is characterized by a large pool of warmer than average waters along the equator in the eastern Pacific. In a La Niña, the opposite occurs. (Source: NASA)

The El Niño that has been helping to spawn wild and wacky weather in many parts of the world for months now is still very strong. But the latest analysis from the U.S. Climate Prediction Center suggests that it should start to weaken and transition to neutral conditions by late spring or summer.

Then what?

If the cooling of the eastern and central tropical Pacific characteristic of a weakening El Niño progresses enough, we could well find ourselves in a La Niña by next fall or winter. That’s the opposite of an El Niño, and it typically brings dry winters to California. That, of course, would be bad news for the state — which is still struggling to emerge from an epic drought.

Ok. Before I go any further, I need to emphasize an important caveat: Right now, the Climate Prediction Center puts the odds of a La Niña developing at 50/50. That’s a coin flip. Still…

Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Climate, Drought, ENSO, Ocean, select, Top Posts, Weather

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
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ImaGeo

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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