WATCH: Weather satellite video shows a 10-day dance of three powerful Atlantic hurricanes

By Tom Yulsman | September 29, 2017 12:46 pm
dance

This animation of GOES-16 weather satellite images shows three hurricanes in the Atlantic between Sept. 16 and 26, 2017: Jose, Maria and Lee. (Source: RAMMB/CIRA SLIDER)

It has been nine days since Hurricane Maria blasted ashore in Puerto Rico with 150 mile per hour winds, ravaging the entire island and leaving residents without electricity, food and water.

Today, thousands of containers of desperately needed supplies are sitting in ports and warehouses on the island, waiting to be distributed. But the hurricane left Puerto Rico’s supply chain devastated. So pharmacy and grocery store shelves remain mostly empty, raising fears that the death toll, now officially at 16, could soar unless something is done soon to get supplies moving out of the ports.

Maria’s misery was not limited to Puerto Rico, of course. Before coming ashore there, the ferocious storm flattened Guadalupe and Dominica in the Leeward Islands. Then it delivered a second Category-5 blow to the United States Virgin Islands – which had been pummeled by Hurricane Irma just 14 days earlier.

And these were not the only hurricanes to swirl through the Atlantic during September. The month has brought five to the basin: Lee, Maria, Jose, Katia and Irma. These storms have set a new record for “hurricane days” — the total number of days each Atlantic storm has managed to stay at hurricane strength — during a single calendar month. As of today, it stands at an astonishing 40 hurricane days.

September also brought a new record for accumulated cyclone energy, a measure integrating the number, strength, and duration of individual tropical cyclones, or of all the cyclones over a period of time. Before September has ended, the ACE total for the Atlantic has been the highest for any month on record.

SEE ALSO: Already, two significant records have tumbled during 2017’s fevered Atlantic hurricane season

The animation at the top of this story shows three of September’s hurricanes — Jose, Maria and Lee — prowling the Atlantic basin over a period of 10 days. It consists of imagery acquired by the GOES-16 weather satellite between September 16th and 26th.  Read More

Already, two significant records have tumbled during 2017’s fevered Atlantic hurricane season

By Tom Yulsman | September 27, 2017 10:55 am

With two months left, more records could fall before we’re all done

The GOES-16 weather satellite captured this image showing hurricanes Maria, to the left, and Lee, to the right, on the morning of Wednesday, Sept. 27, 2017. (Source: SLIDER by RAMMB/CIRA @ CSU)

The GOES-16 weather satellite captured this image showing hurricanes Maria, to the left, and Lee, to the right, on the morning of Wednesday, Sept. 27, 2017. (Source: SLIDER by RAMMB/CIRA @ CSU)

We’ve known for some weeks now that the 2017 Atlantic Hurricane season has been absolutely brutal.

And now, thanks to new calculations, we have some statistical insights into the raw, howling power of the storms that have caused so much death and destruction — most recently to Puerto Rico, now on the verge of a humanitarian crisis in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria.

On Tuesday, Colorado State university hurricane expert Phil Klotzbach reported that by two measures, September has already been the most active month for Atlantic tropical cyclones in records going back to 1893.

The first is accumulated cyclone energy. ACE is a measure that takes into account the number, strength, and duration of an individual tropical cyclone, or of all the cyclones over a period of time. And already for September, the ACE total for the Atlantic has been the highest of any month on record, according to Klotzbach. Read More

The weak underbelly of a giant Antarctic ice sheet just lost a berg more than four times the size of Manhattan

By Tom Yulsman | September 26, 2017 10:00 am
The Sentinel1 satellite captured this image of a 100-square-mile chunk of ice calving from Antarctica's Pine Island Glacier on September 23, 2017. (Source: Stef Lhermitte)

The Sentinel-1 satellite captured this image of a 100-square-mile chunk of ice calving from West Antarctica’s Pine Island Glacier on September 23, 2017. (Source: Stef Lhermitte)

We’ve now got yet another worrying sign that human-caused warming is causing the behemoth West Antarctic Ice Sheet to come unglued, threatening to raise sea level by 10 feet over time.

You can see that sign in the image above from the Sentinel-1 satellite.

The image shows a 103-square-mile tabular iceberg — equal in size to four and a half Manhattan islands — breaking off from the floating edge of the Pine Island Glacier in West Antarctica on September 23rd. It was posted to Twitter by Stef Lhermitte, a remote sensing expert at Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands.

The glacier is like a cork in a bottle, helping to restrain nearly 10 percent of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet from pouring out into the sea.

As the September 23rd calving event shows, the cork is eroding.

That was not the first time a chunk of the cork broke loose. In a very similar event in 2015, an iceberg twice as large calved from the glacial front. You can see that event in this time-lapse of Sentinel-1 images, as well as growth of the rift that led to the Sept 23rd calving: Read More

Giant blob of cold water rises from the depths of the Pacific, possibly heralding the arrival of La Niña this fall

By Tom Yulsman | September 23, 2017 12:21 pm
La Niña

This animation shows how temperatures at the surface and subsurface of the tropical Pacific ocean departed from average over five-day periods starting in early August 2017. The vertical axis shows the depth below the surface in meters. The cross-section is right along the equator. Note the blue blob indicative of relatively cool water rising from the depths and spreading eastward. (Source: NOAA ENSO Blog)

Here we go again?

Following a mild and short-lived La Niña episode in 2016/2017, the climatic phenomenon stands a 55 to 60 percent chance of developing once again this fall and winter. That’s the most recent forecast from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Based on observations of what’s happening in the Pacific Ocean, and modeling to predict what may be coming, NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center has issued a La Niña watch, indicating that conditions are favorable for its development.

La Niña can strongly shift weather patterns, bringing anomalously cool or warm, and wet or dry, conditions to large parts of the world. In the United States, La Niña tends to bring wetter than normal conditions to the Pacific Northwest and parts of the Midwest. Unfortunately for southern and central California, things tend to dry out. Read More

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

We’re still on track to experience the second or third warmest year globally in records dating back to 1880

By Tom Yulsman | September 21, 2017 10:13 am
A global map from NASA of how Earth's surface temperatures last month departed from the 1951-1980 August average. (Source: NASA GISTEMP. Note: part of Antarctica is gray because data from some stations there were not yet available at the time of this analysis.)

A global map from NASA of how Earth’s surface temperatures last month departed from the 1951-1980 August average. (Source: NASA GISTEMP. Note: part of Antarctica is gray because data from some stations there were not yet available at the time of this analysis.)

Last month was among the very warmest on record, according to two new analyses – and the heat is very likely to continue.

With less than four months left to go in 2017,  the year will probably come in as second or third warmest on record.

Two agencies have produced very slightly different verdicts for this past August. NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies has found that last month was the second warmest August globally in 137 years of modern record-keeping, surpassed only by August 2016. Global temperatures last year received an extra boost from a strong El Niño episode. Read More

After shrinking to a shocking record low at end of winter, Arctic sea ice staged a modest comeback this summer

By Tom Yulsman | September 20, 2017 12:03 pm

But despite claims to the contrary, one warmish summer in the Arctic does not repeal the long-term trend of human-caused warming

This visualization shows how the extent of Arctic sea ice has evolved through time. The animation begins when the ice reached its wintertime maximum extent on March 7, 2017, and it ends on September 13, 2017, when the ice shrank to its minimum extent for the year. (Source: NASA Scientific Visualization Studio/Helen-Nicole Kostis)

This visualization shows how the extent of Arctic sea ice has evolved through time. The animation begins when the ice reached its wintertime maximum extent on March 7, 2017, and it ends on September 13, 2017, when the ice shrank to its minimum extent for the year. (Source: NASA Scientific Visualization Studio/Helen-Nicole Kostis)

Arctic sea ice has staged something of a short-term turn-around this summer.

The underlying long-term warming of the region, caused by our emissions of heat-trapping greenhouse gases, has not abated. But relatively cool and cloudy weather in the high north during summer caused the sea ice to shrink less extensively than in some recent years.

When the ice reached its minimum extent for the year on September 13th, it turned out to be eighth lowest in the 38-year record of satellite observations, according to a preliminary analysis released yesterday by the National Snow and Ice Data Center.

This is especially noteworthy because the melt season began in March with sea ice at a record low for that time of year, thanks to unusually warm temperatures in winter that had caused sea ice to expand very sluggishly. But then the weather shifted.

Another factor was at work too: Relatively warm winter temperatures had enhanced snowfall onto the ice in parts of the Arctic. That slowed its summertime melt-out.

Even so, the minimum ice extent reached on September 13th was 610,000 square miles below the 1981 to 2010 median extent for that day – an area equivalent to about one sixth of the total area of the United States. Read More

The monster in moonlight: striking satellite image shows Irma churning north in the dead of night

By Tom Yulsman | September 12, 2017 12:01 pm
Suomi NPP Day/Night Band Image over the southeast United States showing Hurricane Irma over Florida, 0710 UTC on 11 September 2017 (Click to enlarge) Source: Cooperative Institute for Meteorological Satellite Studies)

The Suomi NPP satellite captured this photo of Hurricane Irma over Florida at 3:10 a.m. EDT on Sept. 11, 2017. (Click to enlarge. Source: Cooperative Institute for Meteorological Satellite Studies)

As Hurricane Irma continued to churn north over Florida early in the morning of Sept. 11, the Suomi NPP spacecraft passed overhead and sent back this dramatic image.

In the image, acquired by a nighttime sensor called the “Day/Night Band” on the satellite’s VIIRS instrument, the hurricane is illuminated by the relatively faint light of the moon.

But the image reveals more than that. “In addition to the cloud structures, this band can help identify power outages,” writes Scott Lindstrom in the satellite blog of the Cooperative Institute for Meteorological Satellite Studies. “Tampa and Miami city lights are still visible. Key West is dark.” Read More

The most extreme damage from Hurricane Irma may come from huge surges of water pushed onto land by wind

By Tom Yulsman | September 9, 2017 11:24 am
This animation shows an experimental forecast for storm surge between Sunday, Sept. 9 at 1 p.m. through Tuesday, Sept. 12 at 7 a.m. (Source: National Weather Service)

Forecast for storm surge Sunday, Sept. 9 at 1 p.m. through Tuesday, Sept. 12 at 7 a.m. (Source: National Weather Service)

Hurricane Irma is a true monster, exceeding the size of Florida itself, and threatening to flatten structures throughout the state with extreme winds. But perhaps the biggest risk is now posed by storm surge – water pushed up onto land.

The animation above shows an experimental forecast for storm surge from the National Weather Service. It shows the height of water above the land’s surface in feet over time, from 7 a.m. EST today through 7 a.m. on Tuesday. (Sept. 9 – 12, 2017.)

“Storm surge is often the greatest threat to life and property and directly accounts for about half of the deaths associated with tropical cyclones in the United States,” according to the National Hurricane Center.

With Irma now forecast to track up the Gulf coast of Florida, the very biggest risk is along the shore in the southwestern portion of the state, with possible surges exceeding 15 feet there, as the animation above shows. That could prove absolutely devastating. But very significant and potentially deadly storm surge is also likely in many other portions of the Florida coast, and farther north as well.

It is very important to keep in mind that uncertainties in the experimental forecast mean that the actual areas that will experience life-threatening inundation may differ from the areas shown in the animation. The weather service emphasizes that regardless of whether or not you are in the highlighted areas, you should promptly follow evacuation orders and other instructions from local emergency management personnel.

The danger from this storm cannot be overstated.

An animation of high resolution GOES-16 weather satellite images shows extreme Hurricane Irma swirling near Cuba on Friday, Sept. 8, 2017. (Source: RAMMB Slider)

An animation of high resolution GOES-16 weather satellite images shows extreme Hurricane Irma swirling near Cuba on Friday, Sept. 8, 2017. (The animation may take some time to fully load after you click on the screenshot above. Source: RAMMB Slider)

Read More

The monster’s eye: satellite video offers a terrifying view of Irma, 2nd strongest storm ever recorded in the Atlantic

By Tom Yulsman | September 6, 2017 10:30 am
Irma

Closeup look at Hurricane Irma’s eye, acquired by the GOES-16 weather satellite. (Source: RAMMB/CIRA)

As I’m writing this on Wednesday morning, the eye of Hurricane Irma — a “potentially catastrophic” Category 5 storm – has passed over the islands of Barbuda, Saint Barthelemy and Saint Martin, and was shortly headed for the Virgin Islands.

I shudder to think what has been happening on the ground with the storm’s maximum sustained winds clocked at 185 miles per hour, according to the National Hurricane Center. This video from Saint Martin says it all:

As Irma continues to grind like a buzz saw toward Puerto Rico and eventually Florida, I’ll try to post regular updates featuring remote sensing images of the storm. The video at the top of this post is my first installment.

It was acquired by GOES-16 as the weather satellite stared into the eye of the monstrous atmospheric vortex. If you watch closely, you can spot swirling shapes within the low-level clouds rotating around the center axis of the eye. Each one is a relatively small vortex itself. Scientists call this a “meso-vortex.” Read More

Dramatic satellite video shows fire and smoke from roaring blazes across more than a million acres of the U.S. West

By Tom Yulsman | September 4, 2017 3:25 pm

Smoke from the fires appears to have blown all the way across North America and more than half way across the Atlantic

Smoke and heat from raging wildfires in Idaho and Montana are seen in this animation of images from the GOES-16 weather satellite on Sept. 3, 2017. (Source: RAMMB/CIRA)

Smoke and heat from raging wildfires in Idaho and Montana are seen in this animation of satellite images acquired on Sept. 3, 2017. (Source: RAMMB/CIRA)

Note: I’ve updated this story to clarify and expand on the role of human-caused climate change in western wildfires. See below. 

As of this afternoon, 77 large fires are burning across 1.4 million acres in eight western U.S. states. That’s an area more than three times the size of Houston.

The burning is part of a long-term trend of increasing wildfire in the West, brought on by a variety of factors, none more significant, according to recent research, than human-caused climate change.

Hardest hit by fire right now is Montana, with 26 large wildfires blazing today across 662,105 acres, according to the the National Interagency Fire Center.  The animation above, consisting of imagery acquired by the GOES-16 weather satellite on September 3, 2017, shows enormous amounts of heat rising many of those fires, detected in the infrared, along with massive plumes of smoke.

Smoke from the fires has been smothering vast swaths of territory. I’ve been looking at a variety of satellite imagery and to my eye it seems that smoke from the western U.S. fires (possibly mixed with smoke from Canadian wildfires) has blown all the way across North America, out over Greenland and across more than half of the Atlantic Ocean.

The following animation of imagery, also acquired by GOES-16, shows the extent of the smoke as day broke across North America today. I’ve circled the smoke in the screenshot. Click on the image to watch the animation. The smoke turns up in something of a salmon color: Read More

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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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