Although Joaquin Is Increasingly Likely to Stay at Sea, It Is Still Expected to Produce a “Truly Historic” Wind Event

By Tom Yulsman | October 1, 2015 8:29 pm
Hurricane Joaquin as seen by the GOES West on October 1, 2015. (Source: NOAA)

Hurricane Joaquin as seen by the GOES West satellite on October 1, 2015. (Source: NOAA)

With 130 mile per hour winds, Hurricane Joaquin has now spun up into a dangerous Category 4 storm — and some additional strengthening is possible, according to this evening’s forecast discussion page of the National Hurricane Center.

But despite that unsettling news, the weather models have increasingly nudged Joaquin’s forecast track to the east. Although it is still too soon to say with certainty that the storm will stay at sea, that is looking increasingly likely.

Infrared data from the satellites of EUMETSAT and NOAA have been laid over a computer-generated model of the Earth, containing NASA's Blue Marble Next Generation imagery, to create this full-disk image of the Earth. Hurricane Joaquin is visible near the center of the image. (Copyright: 2015 EUMETSAT)

Infrared data from the satellites of EUMETSAT and NOAA have been laid over a computer-generated model of the Earth, containing NASA’s Blue Marble Next Generation imagery, to create this full-disk image of the Earth. Hurricane Joaquin is visible near the center of the image. (Copyright: 2015 EUMETSAT)

Even if Joaquin stays offshore, it is now conspiring with a ridge of high pressure far to the north to bring a very long period of sustained onshore winds above 20 miles per hour. They are expected to stretch along an extraordinary length of the coast, from the Carolinas to New Jersey, and bring accompanying storm surges, beach erosion and flooding. Read More

Latest Update: Strong El Niño Persists, And It’s Likely to Continue Into Spring. Here’s Why.

By Tom Yulsman | October 1, 2015 11:23 am
strong El Niño

A spear of abnormally warm water extending along the equator off the coast of South America shows that the strong El Niño of 2015 continues.

Even as El Niño has strengthened over the past few months, it has always been possible that it would stall. But the latest report, released on September 29 by the Australian Bureau of Meteorology, shows that it is still going strong:

The tropical Pacific ocean and atmosphere are reinforcing each other, maintaining a strong El Niño that is likely to persist into early 2016. Tropical Pacific sea surface temperatures are more than 2 °C above average, exceeding El Niño thresholds by well over 1 °C, and at levels not seen since the 1997–98 event. In the atmosphere, tropical cloudiness has shifted east, trade winds have been consistently weaker than normal, and the Southern Oscillation Index (SOI) is strongly negative.

That 1997-1998 event was a monster. If the current El Niño continues on its current course, it may well surpass it. And as I’m sure you know, this would have ripple effects far from the tropical Pacific Ocean, where El Niño itself resides.

These include, of course, the potential for above normal precipitation during winter in parts of California and across the southern tier of the United States. That could help relieve the brutal drought in California, but heavy precipitation could also bring devastating mudslides, as occurred in the winter of 1997 and 1998.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has put together a good summary of El Niño’s impacts in North America and elsewhere in the world. You can find it here.

In its report, the Australian Bureau of Meteorology notes that a strong El Niño has persisted because both the ocean and atmosphere in the tropical Pacific have been reinforcing each other. How so?

First, there are those trade winds: Read More

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

Dramatic Evolution of Hurricane Joaquin Captured By a Rapid-Scanning Satellite

By Tom Yulsman | October 1, 2015 1:21 am
dramatic evolution

The GOES-13 weather satellite documented the evolution of Hurricane Joaquin during Sept. 30, 2015. (Source: Cooperative Institute for Meteorological Satellite Studies)

Drawing energy from record-warm waters at the surface of the Atlantic Ocean, Hurricane Joaquin has grown into a dangerous Category 3 storm with sustained winds of 115 miles per hour.

You can watch it’s evolution during Wednesday in the animation above, from the Cooperative Institute for Meteorological Satellite Studies. The animation consists of images from the GOES-13 weather satellite.

Ordinarily, the satellite acquires an image about every 15 minutes. But for the animation above, the satellite was put into “rapid scan” mode, which meant that it captured an image of the storm every five to seven minutes.

I think you’ll agree that the result is quite dramatic — a highly detailed view of the storm’s dramatic evolution, almost minute by minute.

As I’m writing this late on Wednesday night, Joaquin is bearing down on the Bahamas. Its center is expected to move “near or over portions of the central Bahamas on Thursday,” and then the northwestern part of the Bahamas Thursday night or Friday, according to the National Hurricane Center.

Joaquin is also expected to intensify, with peak winds of 140 miles per hour forecast for Thursday night.

Until today, Joaquin’s track was highly uncertain. Now, most computer model runs show Joaquin making landfall in North Carolina or southern Virginia on Sunday night.

There is one outlier: the ECMWF model, which takes Joaquin out to sea with no landfall in the United States. It can’t be discounted because unlike other models, it correctly forecast the very unusual and dramatic left turn that deadly Hurricane Sandy took before pummeling New Jersey and New York in 2012.

In the next 12 hours, forecasters should get a better fix on what is likely to happen.

dramatic evolution

Probabilities of sustained surface wind speeds equal to or exceeding 39 mph, which is tropical storm force. (Source: National Hurricane Center)

Despite the remaining uncertainties, residents of the Carolinas and Virginia would be wise  to make plans for strong winds that could knock out power, high storm surges, torrential rainfall, and flooding.

The map above shows the forecast for precipitation out to five days. Note that 9.4 inches over North Carolina.

That’s a whole lot of rain.

Watch Out For Joaquin

By Tom Yulsman | September 29, 2015 9:35 am

An animation of satellite imagery shows the birth of Tropical Storm Joaquin in the tropical Atlantic Ocean. (Source: NASA GOES Project Science)

| Please see updates and a correction below |

A tropical depression that formed Sunday in the Atlantic has strengthened into a tropical storm that could bring a lot of rain to parts of the U.S. East Coast later this week — possibly on top of a big rainfall event that’s already cranking up for the northern Appalachians and New England over the next several days.

Click on the image above and say hi to Tropical Storm Joaquin.

The forecast for Joaquin is highly uncertain at the moment, thanks to difficulties the weather models are having in dealing with the evolution of other weather disturbances that will likely affect the storm. This is especially true of a trough that’s forecast to develop over the Southeastern United States, according to this morning’s forecast discussion from the National Hurricane Center.

While a large portion of the East Coast is within the forecast cone for tropical storm force winds, the highest probability right now is between 20 and 30 percent, as this graphic shows: Read More

Spectacular Imagery Reveals Traces Believed to Come From Liquid Water Flowing on Today’s Mars

By Tom Yulsman | September 28, 2015 8:57 pm

The dark, narrow streaks flowing downhill in this crater on Mars are inferred to be formed by seasonal flow of liquid water. The streaks are roughly the length of a football field. (Source: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona)

If you’ve paid attention to the news at all today, you’ve probably heard about the compelling new evidence that liquid water flows on Mars — present tense.

The news has gotten a lot of coverage today. Among the best is a post by Cory Powell, my fellow blogger here at Discover. You can find his excellent summary of the science, and why it is significant, right here.

I decided to dedicate my post to spectacular imagery, including the dramatic image above.

You’re looking at Horowitz Crater on Mars. The image is based on data from the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment, or HiRISE camera, on NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.

Look for the dark streaks fanning out from the base of the more rugged terrain. These “recurring slope lineae” have been seen on Mars before, and scientists have suspected that they were traces left by running briny water. Now, a spectrometer on the orbiter has revealed hydrated salts on the slopes at Horowitz Crater, corroborating the hypothesis. Read More

Polar Bears May Be Starving in the Barents Sea Area, But Thanks to Russia We Don’t Know If It’s Climate Change

By Tom Yulsman | September 15, 2015 6:37 pm
polar bears

A polar bear keeps close to her young along the Beaufort Sea coast in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. (Source: Susanne Miller/U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)

Arctic sea ice has likely reached it’s minimum geographic extent for 2015, coming in at fourth lowest in the satellite record and continuing a long-term downward trend, according to a just-released update from the National Snow and Ice Data Center.

The news brings to mind a dramatic image of an emaciated polar bear in Svalbard, Norway that recently went viral. The bear quickly become a poster child for climate change.

But posters and scientific evidence aren’t quite the same thing.

While it’s true that shrinking sea ice in a warming Arctic is a plausible explanation for what happened to that poor polar bear, more science is needed to get a definitive answer on whether entire polar bear populations really are declining on Svalbard and Russia’s Franz Josef Land in the Barents Sea region.

That science was supposed to come from a joint Norwegian and Russian project to count polar bears last July — the first such census since 2004. But poor weather as well as intransigent Russian authorities have stood in the way of getting the counting done. Read More

As Summer Finishes as Warmest on Record, A Postcard From Global Warming’s Ground Zero

By Tom Yulsman | September 14, 2015 10:05 am
ground zero

The calving front of Esmark Glacier in Norway’s Svalbard archipelago, as photographed on Sunday, Sept. 13, 2015. (Photo: ©Tom Yulsman)

The summer of 2015 — the months of June, July and August — was the warmest on record for the globe, according to the latest figures from NASA. And at this point, it’s difficult to imagine a scenario that would prevent the entire year from entering the record books.

This news comes as I’m visiting the high Arctic, which is warming twice as fast as the rest of the world, making it ground zero for global warming.

I’m here in Svalbard, a Norwegian Arctic archipelago about 800 miles south of the North Pole, to co-teach a field module of a journalism course focusing on climate change. As part of the course, we visited the Esmark Glacier yesterday. This impressive river of ice flows into a bay that opens onto Isfjorden, a large fjord on Svalbard’s west coast.

We journeyed there by boat, traveling through mist and choppy waters from Longyearbyen, Svalbard’s largest town. You can see the glacier’s calving front in the mosaic of iPhone photos above, which I shot as our boat cruised to within about 100 yards of the ice.

While we watched — and as if on cue — a modest chunk of ice broke free. It was an example of what glaciologist Penny How calls “nibble calving” — little bits and pieces of ice breaking free from a glacier’s face.  Read More

Arctic Sea Ice Heading for One of Lowest Extents on Record

By Tom Yulsman | September 4, 2015 2:47 pm
Crew members of the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Healy dip their feet in a melt pond on Arctic sea ice during NASA's ICESCAPE mission in 2011.  (Source: NASA/Kathryn Hansen)

Crew members of the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Healy on Arctic sea ice during NASA’s ICESCAPE mission in 2011. (Source: NASA/Kathryn Hansen)

When I heard the news from the National Snow and Ice Data Center that Arctic sea ice will likely reach its third or fourth lowest minimum extent on record in coming weeks, I started looking for a compelling image to illustrate what’s happening — one a bit more interesting than a map or graph.

The photograph above is what I’ve come up with. These two crew members from the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Healy are taking a break from their work on NASA’s ICESCAPE mission in 2011. They’re dangling their feet in a melt pond atop Arctic sea ice.

I find the photo symbolic of humanity’s relationship with the Arctic. Right now, we’re dipping our feet into a region that is warming faster than any other on Earth, causing sea ice to shrink in extent and beckoning us to move even farther into this new “frontier,” as some call it, to exploit its resources and potential sea routes. Read More

First Time on Record: Three Category-4 Hurricanes Swirl East of the International Dateline at the Same Time

By Tom Yulsman | August 30, 2015 4:53 pm
three hurricanes

Three hurricanes are seen in this screenshot of an animation of images from the GOES-15 weather satellite. From left to right: Hurricane Kilo, Hurricane Ignacio and Hurricane Jimena. (Source: Scott Bachmeier, CIMSS)

The unusually warm waters of the Pacific Ocean have helped spawn three hurricanes in the Pacific Ocean.

And according to Scott Bachmeier of the Cooperative Institute for Meteorological Satellite Studies, this is something we haven’t seen before: three hurricanes rated at category-4 swirling east of the dateline at one time.

You can see them lined up in the screenshot above, from an animation of satellite images. Click it and be mesmerized by this synoptic view of hurricanes Kilo, Ignacio and Jimena all kicking it up together in a kind of cyclonic chorus line.

Click here for the latest reports on the three hurricanes from the Joint Typhoon Warning Center.

Here’s another view of the three hurricanes, acquired by NASA’s Terra satellite on Saturday, Aug. 29:

three hurricanes

NASA’s Terra Satellite captured this image of three hurricanes in the Pacific Ocean on Aug. 29, 2015. From left to right: hurricanes Kilo, Ignacio and Jimena. (Source: NASA Worldview)

Read More

U.S. Wildfires: Glow is Bright Enough to be Seen From Space

By Tom Yulsman | August 21, 2015 8:27 pm

A nighttime image of most of Washington state acquired on August 19 by the Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS) sensor on the Suomi NPP satellite. Wildfires are circled in red. (Cropped and annotated version of an image from NASA’s Earth Observatory.)

Wildfires are burning hot and bright across portions of the Western United States — so much so that their glow is visible from space.

The image above was captured by the VIIRS instrument on the Suomi NPP satellite early in the morning of Aug. 19, 2015. The lights of the city of Seattle glow brightly toward the left side of the image. To the south, in the lower left corner of the frame, is Portland Oregon.

Just as bright is the glow from four raging wildfire complexes, which I’ve circled in red.

SEE ALSO: Wildfire Smoke Drifts Across 1,000 Miles of the West

To get yourself oriented, have a look at this animation of day and nighttime images (which also afford a broader view): 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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