Last year was downright biblical when it came to weather and climate disasters — particularly in the United States

By Tom Yulsman | January 15, 2018 7:09 pm

North America on Aug. 25, 2017, as seen by the GOES-16 weather satellite. Hurricane Harvey is seen along the Texas Gulf Coast toward the bottom middle of the image. And above the Great Lakes, smoke from wildfires is drifting across a large swath of Canada. (Source: RAMMB/SLIDER)

I’m a bit late to this story, but it’s significant enough that I didn’t want to let it pass by without posting something about it. The long and short of it is this: 2017 truly was a horrific year for weather and climate disasters, both in the United States and the world as a whole.

Floods, tornadoes, hurricanes, drought, fires and freezes in the United States claimed at least 362 lives and injured many more in 2017. In total, the nation experienced 16 weather and climate disasters with losses exceeding $1 billion, tying 2011 for most in a single year, according to an analysis by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Total costs from these disasters amounted to $306 billion. That set a new U.S. annual record, beating out 2005, the year of hurricanes Katrina, Wilma and Rita.

Since 1980, the United States has sustained 219 weather and climate disasters with costs reaching or exceeding $1 billion each. Collectively, these 219 events have cost the country more $1.5 trillion.

Globally, losses from weather and climate disasters also set a new record in 2017, according to Munich Re, one of the world’s leading reinsurance companies. Insured losses were almost three times higher than the average of $49 billion. The U.S. share of global losses in 2017 was particularly high: half of the global total, as compared to the long-term average of 32 percent.

“For me, a key point is that some of the catastrophic events, such as the series of three extremely damaging hurricanes, or the very severe flooding in South Asia after extraordinarily heavy monsoon rains, are giving us a foretaste of what is to come,” says Torsten Jeworrek, Munich Re Board member responsible for global reinsurance business. Read More

While parts of the U.S. are wet and frigid, the Southwest is bone dry and still waiting for winter to arrive

By Tom Yulsman | January 8, 2018 4:18 pm

A wide area around the Four Corners region of the U.S. Southwest is now in severe drought — and the three-month outlook is grim


When it comes to snow cover, a comparison of satellite images shows just how much a difference a year can make. (Images: NASA Worldview. Animation: Tom Yulsman)

While downtown Boston streets were flooding and then freezing as a result of the powerful bomb cyclone that pummeled the U.S. East Cost, folks in the U.S. Southwest were no doubt wondering when they might get even just a little taste of winter.

From October 1 to January 5, an almost non-existent 0.01 inches of precipitation was recorded in Flagstaff, Arizona, according to an update from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The September 1 through Christmas period was the driest on record.

Flagstaff is no fluke. From NOAA’s update:

A wide area around the Four Corners region of the southwestern United States is currently in a severe drought according to the January 2 United States Drought Monitor. An even broader area, including Arizona, most of Utah and parts of Colorado and New Mexico, is currently experiencing moderate drought.

With so little precipitation falling on the Southwest, snow cover in the region is very thin. The animation above offers a dramatic visual sense of that.

It consists of two images acquired by NASA’s Terra satellite almost exactly a year apart. The first was acquired on January 6, 2017. Much of the region is obviously covered in snow.

The second was captured on January 4, 2018. There’s some snow in the mountains of Colorado at upper right. Otherwise, nada. Read More

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

On the very day the bomb cyclone exploded, we learned that 2017 was one of the very warmest on record

By Tom Yulsman | January 4, 2018 6:37 pm

One verdict on global warming in 2017 is in: Warmest year with no temperature boost from El Niño, and second warmest overall

Global temperature anomalies in 2017

This map shows how air temperatures at a height of two meters varied in 2017 from the 1981–2010 average. (Source: Copernicus Climate Change Service, ECMWF)

Today brought another lesson about the difference between weather and climate.

While winds were howling, snow was blowing, and temperatures were plummeting thanks to the bomb cyclone off the U.S. East Coast, a European science agency announced that 2017 was the second warmest year in records dating back to the 1800s. Only 2016 was warmer, according to the Copernicus Climate Change Service.

That year received a very significant temperature boost from a strong El Niño, which is characterized by high surface temperatures in the tropical Pacific Ocean. Among all years without an El Niño, 2017 was the very warmest in the Copernicus analysis.

This finding is particularly noteworthy because 2017 saw cooling in the tropical Pacific from La Niña, the opposite of El Niño, both early and late in the year. Read More

The view from space as the so-called ‘bomb cyclone’ exploded into a dangerous winter storm

By Tom Yulsman | January 4, 2018 2:18 pm
bomb cyclone

An animation of images acquired by the GOES-16 weather satellite shows a strong winter storm undergoing a phenomenon known as “bombogenesis.” Click on the image to watch the animation created by the Cooperative Institute for Meteorological Satellite Studies. (Source: CIMSS Satellite Blog)

Last night, my daughter called me from New York City to ask worriedly about the so-called bomb cyclone that was threatening the northeastern United States. “What is this about a bomb?,” she asked.

I explained that the term comes from a meteorological process called “bombogenesis.” It happens when a midlatitude cyclone rapidly intensifies, dropping in pressure by at least 24 millibars over 24 hours. A millibar is a measure of atmospheric pressure. This can happen when warm, moist air streaming up from the south collides with cold, dry air dropping down from the northwest.

That’s exactly what happened overnight off the U.S. Eastern Seaboard on Jan. 3 and 4, 2018. You can watch the evolution of the bomb cyclone by clicking on the image above to access an animation created by the Cooperative Institute for Meteorological Satellite Studies. Read More

Curiously aligned cloud formations stream across the Atlantic as Arctic air blows above warm ocean waters

By Tom Yulsman | December 30, 2017 2:40 pm
cloud formations

An animation of nighttime images captured by the GOES-16 weather satellite on December 28, 2017. Long, parallel bands of cumulus clouds are seen streaming out over the Atlantic. (Images: RAMMB/SLIDER. GIF animation: Tom Yulsman)

Baby, it’s cold outside!

If you live pretty much anywhere in Canada, or in the United States east of the Rockies, that wonderful song from the 1940s pretty much sums up the conditions as 2017 draws to a close. And when revelers watch the ball drop in New York City’s Times Square on New Years Eve, they will have to endure forecast temperatures of 10°F – with a wind chill of -5°F.

The brisk northwesterly winds that have carried the bitterly cold Arctic air have given rise to beautiful cloud formations over the Atlantic Ocean. You can see them in the animation of above, consisting of GOES-16 satellite imagery: long, parallel rows of cumulus clouds pouring to the southeast.

These cloud formations are a well known phenomenon known as “cloud streets.” This graphic from NOAA, along with the explanation from NASA’s Earth Observatory, can help you visualize what’s going on: Read More

Right before Christmas, a gargantuan black fissure opened on the Sun. It was shaped like a question mark.

By Tom Yulsman | December 28, 2017 6:44 pm
question mark

An animation of images acquired by NASA’s SDO spacecraft shows a coronal hole developing and dissipating on the Sun between Dec. 18 and 22, 2017. (Movie created on

It doesn’t really take much imagination to see the dark question mark forming and dissipating across most of the Sun’s surface in the animation above.

The images that make up the animation were acquired by NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory spacecraft between Dec. 18 and 22, 2017. And if you’re thinking that the question mark is some sort of optical illusion, guess again. The feature is very real: an unimaginably large fissure in the Sun’s atmosphere.

There’s nothing to be alarmed about. Features like this are completely normal. Scientists call them “coronal holes.”

I’ve written about coronal holes before, most recently almost exactly a year ago. Here’s my explanation of the phenomenon from that story, A new ‘hole’ in the Sun’s atmosphere has sparked stunning displays of the northern lights here on Earth”: Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: select, Sun, Top Posts

Say hi to the GOES-East satellite—already a ‘game changer’ for tracking threats like wildfires and extreme weather

By Tom Yulsman | December 18, 2017 6:44 pm

A view acquired by the new GOES-East satellite on Monday, Dec. 18, 2017. Click on the image to see the latest view of the Continental United States. And then hit the Play button on the left of that web page to watch an animation of recent images. (Source: RAMMB/CIRA/SLIDER)

A brand spanking new advanced U.S. satellite is now fully operational and monitoring weather, wildfires, lightning and other phenomena.


The satellite formerly known as GOES-16, now renamed GOES-East and fully operational. (Source: NOAA)

Okay, technically speaking it’s not really brand new. It was launched on Nov. 19, 2016. But until today it has been on something of a shakedown cruise. Now the testing is over.

And so today, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration made it official: After a final shift in its orbit, the spacecraft is in what’s known as the “GOES-East” position of 75.2 degrees west longitude. And it is fully operational, “providing forecasters with sharper, more defined images of severe storms, hurricanes, wildfires and other weather hazards in near real-time 24/7,” according to NOAA. Read More

Watch California’s Thomas Fire metastasize into a monster likely made more ferocious by climate change

By Tom Yulsman | December 17, 2017 2:48 pm

An animation of satellite imagery offers a revealing perspective on the day-by-day growth of the Thomas Fire

Thomas Fire

False-color imagery from NASA’s Terra satellite reveals the growth of the Thomas Fire from Dec. 4 through the 16th. (Images: NASA Worldview. Animation: Tom Yulsman)

“Firefighters achieved huge successes yesterday during a BIG firefight to hold their line & SAVED hundreds of homes in Montecito.”

That was the news this morning about the horrific Thomas Fire burning in Santa Barbara and Ventura counties, as described by the Public Information Officer of the Ventura County Fire Department.

Unfortunately, many of the heroic firefighters will have no rest today, as the weather situation looks grim: Read More

A major federal report finds that the speed of Arctic warming is unprecedented in 2,000 years

By Tom Yulsman | December 13, 2017 11:58 am

The peer-reviewed report involving 85 scientists finds that the Arctic environmental system has reached a “new normal”

Arctic warming

An iceberg off the west coast of Greenland. A new report finds that Arctic warming continues to drive declines in sea ice and ice sheets. (Photo courtesy of Greenland Travel)

It’s a common refrain doubters of human-caused global warming: Temperatures now are no higher than they were during the Medieval Warm Period from about 800 to 1400 AD.

Never mind that a major paper put this idea to rest in 2013. I still have this flawed argument thrown at me when I write about climate issues. And I would not be surprised if that happens again with this post covering a major federal report about the Arctic released yesterday.

The report finds that the current rate of Arctic warming is unprecedented in at least the past 2,000 years. And the pace of Arctic sea ice loss experienced in the past few decades has not been seen in at least the past 1,450 years.

What’s happening in the far north cannot be explained simply by invoking natural variability, the report concludes. Thanks to our influence on the climate through our emissions of greenhouse gases, we’re well beyond the range of natural changes to the Arctic climate system over a timescale of millennia.

From this year’s Arctic Report Card, an assessment published every year by the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration:

Despite relatively cool summer temperatures, observations in 2017 continue to indicate that the Arctic environmental system has reached a ‘new normal’, characterized by long-term losses in the extent and thickness of the sea ice cover, the extent and duration of the winter snow cover and the mass of ice in the Greenland Ice Sheet and Arctic glaciers, and warming sea surface and permafrost temperatures.

Read More

This is among the most appalling satellite images of a wildfire that I’ve ever seen

By Tom Yulsman | December 11, 2017 2:01 am

The obscuring smoke from the Thomas Fire — now 70 percent as large as L.A. — smothers a large swath of SoCal’s coast.

An appalling pall of wildfire smoke from the Thomas Fire

An image acquired by NASA’s Terra satellite shows thick, brownish smoke billowing across a large area of the Southern California coast between Ventura and Santa Barbara on Sunday, Dec. 10, 2017. Please click on the image to enlarge it. (Source: NASA Worldview)

I’ve seen my share of satellite images of wildfires. And whether it has been the size, the intensity, or the massive spread of billowing smoke, quite a few have horrified me.

So when I saw the view above of the Thomas Fire blazing between Ventura and Santa Barbara, it wasn’t as if I had never encountered anything like it. Even so, when I first saw the thick smoke obscuring about a 50-mile swath of the coast and pouring out far over the Pacific, I gasped out loud.

I’m not saying that to be overly dramatic. It’s just true. Perhaps I reacted in that way because I’ve spent quite a lot of time down there along that beautiful strand. So I can well imagine what it must be like under that appalling pall of smoke. 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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