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2012 Meteorological Images of the Year

By: Stu Ostro , 11:01 PM GMT on December 29, 2012

It's time for my annual "Meteorological Images of the Year" blog, which I look forward to doing every December!

This is the 7th one, with these being the previous entries on weather.com:

2011 (Also this slide show with additional images.)

2012 produced some iconic photographs, esp. those taken during Sandy and its aftermath; here I've selected my choices for top meteorological images -- radar and satellite, maps, charts and graphs -- based on how stunning or interesting they are visually and/or what they represented in terms of weather.

They are in chronological order, except for the final three, which are my picks for the top ones of the year due to their importance.



In January, a rotating thunderstorm in west-central Georgia perfectly took on the shape of the hurricane symbol!

Image credit: Gibson Ridge


On the next-to-last day of the month, large area of sinking, exceptionally dry air over the tropical Pacific Ocean shows up brightly in this water vapor image, along with an embedded little swirly thing southeast of Hawaii.

Image credit: UW-Madison SSEC


I love the high resolution and infrared temperature curve on images such as this taken by the VIIRS (Visible Infrared Imager Radiometer Suite) instrument aboard NASA's Suomi NPP (National Polar-orbiting Partnership) satellite. They really capture the roiling detail of cold tops of tall thunderstorms. This one is of storms which produced flash flooding in Texas during the early morning of February 4.

Image credit: UW-Madison SSEC/CIMSS


That evening, storm chaser Andy Gabrielson, while traveling on I-44 in Oklahoma and not chasing storms, tragically lost his life when his vehicle was struck by a wrong-way driver. In a moving (both the motion and emotion sense) tribute coordinated by the chaser community, vehicles were driven into an arrangement by which their locations, when plotted via GPS on a map, formed his initials.

Image credit: The Spotter Network


Far out, man. Like, real far out. As in millions of miles away. This was a dust devil in February on Mars!

Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona


The image below shows something on radar you don't ever want to see bearing down on your town or city, but that's what it looked like with this spectacular "hook echo" appendage on a nasty supercell, moments before a vicious tornado hit West Liberty, Kentucky on March 2.

Image credit: Gibson Ridge


These red dots, representing all of the daily high temperature records broken in March 2012, make it look like the U.S. is burning up. It figuratively was during the extraordinary mid-late month off-the-charts warm wave during which many temperature records for the month of March were broken, and literally was in Colorado late in the month with the Lower North Fork Fire that killed three people.

This was the warmest March for the contiguous 48 in records going back to the late 1800s, and with ongoing warmth and increasingly dry weather during spring, that led to a rapidly worsening and expanding drought and set the stage for other bad wildfires such as the Waldo Canyon Fire in June.

Image credit: NOAA/NCDC


Speaking of swirly things, this was a big one on April 2 with a particularly vivid circular appearance on water vapor satellite imagery.

Image credit: UW-Madison SSEC


Winter 2011-12 itself didn’t bring much snow to the Northeast U.S., but storms in late October and late April, dubbed "Snowtober" and "Snowpril," respectively, did. Both caused power outages resulting from heavy wet snow falling on leaved trees. This is the April cyclone in its formative stage over the Gulf of Mexico.

Image credit: NCAR/UCAR


Another extreme surge of high temperatures occurred in June, with more than 80 locations breaking their previous record high temperature for any month, including this 109F reading in Nashville on June 29.

On the same day, a new record for anywhere in South Carolina was set. From a December South Carolina Department of Natural Resources press release: "The temperature observation of 113 F recorded that day at the Columbia University of South Carolina National Weather Service (NWS) Cooperative site has been approved as the new state of South Carolina record maximum temperature. This value breaks the long-standing record of 111 F first set on September 4, 1925, at Blackville, at Calhoun Falls on September 8, 1925, and tied at Camden on June 27, 1954. South Carolina’s first state temperature record was recognized in 1887, 125 years ago."

Image credit: The Weather Channel


A strong, hot, dry ridge of high pressure to the north of Isaac in late August blocked the hurricane and slowed its movement, prolonging and exacerbating its impacts. Here, Isaac, having weakened to a tropical depression, pokes northward into that ridge.

Image credit: NCAR/UCAR


At the end of September, Jelawat was the latest in a series of what in the western Pacific are known as "super typhoons," with sustained winds of at least 150 mph.

In addition to this overall being one of the most spectacular satellite images of a tropical cyclone this year, note the interesting straight-edge boundary in the cold cloud tops just north and northwest of the eye.

After the time of this image, the intensity became less extreme but Jelawat nevertheless hit Japan hard including Okinawa.

Image credit: Daniel Lindsey / CIRA


This ECMWF (European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts) model forecast was jaw-dropping both in what it showed, and in how accurate it ended up being eight days in advance.

Image credit: WSI


So much can and has been written about Hurricane/Superstorm Sandy (and I recently posted a long entry).

This is an image which represents the extremity of the coastal flooding, along with the measurements suddenly and chillingly stopping.

The blue line is the normal astronomical tide level, the green line is the amount above that -- the storm surge -- and the red line is the total height of the two, the storm tide, in feet above MLLW (Mean Lower Low Water). Here is an NWS statement which was issued:

1140 PM EDT MON OCT 29 2012



Image credit: NOAA-NOS-CO-OPS


An eerie water vapor image of Sandy the day after landfall.

Image credit: NERC Satellite Receiving Station, Dundee University, Scotland


An intensifying Bopha in early December, at a latitude unusually close to the equator, on its way to being a super typhoon with the equivalent intensity of a Category 5 hurricane and taking a terrible toll on the Philippines.

Image credit: UW-Madison SSEC/CIMSS


The pink/lavender shades burst even more in this colorized infrared satellite image of Severe Tropical Cyclone Evan on December 16 as it brings damage to Fiji after hitting Samoa hard, and show small-scale wavy detail to the north and east of the center of the storm.

Image credit: UW-Madison SSEC/CIMSS


On Christmas Day and on into the night, a vicious jet stream trough produced everything from blizzard conditions to a tornado outbreak. It was déjà vu for Mobile, Alabama, which had been hit by a tornado just five days prior.

Image credit: Gibson Ridge


We are in the midst of one of the most severe and expansive droughts on record in the U.S.

And, as Dr. Masters blogged about yesterday, the situation is disconcerting as the new year arrives.

This is the time of year climatologically most conducive to significant alleviation of drought, as evaporation is relatively less with the sun low in the sky and the air not hot, and precipitation tends to be less localized than it typically is with summer's thunderstorms, even though they can be torrential.

Yet despite this month's weather systems with all their snow, rain and tornadoes, the most substantial precipitation has generally fallen outside of the core of the drought. Hopefully that will change, but it won't be long before the sun gets much stronger, the air heats up, evaporation increases and precipitation becomes on average less widespread.

Image credit: U.S. Drought Monitor


Not only is this a stunning water vapor satellite image, but it represents the immense size of Sandy, and, in what was an epiphanous moment for me, the central pressure was staying down around 960 millibars, very low, despite the storm being virtually devoid of deep convection. As I described in my blog on Sandy and the 2012 hurricane season, it was like when in Alfred Hitchcock's North By Northwest the guy says to Cary Grant, "That plane's dusting crops where there ain’t no crops." This storm was doing things that storms don't usually do, and it was now clear that the size, strength, and central pressure at landfall being predicted by some model runs were not overdone.

Sandy was becoming the ultimate hybrid (at least so far in the known meteorological record), a catastrophic combination of a tropical, subtropical, and extratropical (non-tropical) cyclone.

Image credit: UW-Madison SSEC/CIMSS

The calamitous impact from Sandy was a result of its size/strength and its unprecedented (in the known historical record) track.

The swerve toward the west and square-on into the northeast United States was the result of this exceptional blocking ridge, yet another case along with so many others I've documented in recent years in which a strong ridge of high pressure aloft has been associated with extreme temperatures, precipitation and/or storminess, in the context of the background state of pressures aloft rising concurrently with temperatures.

And recent published research by Jennifer Francis and Stephen Vavrus identified specific connections between loss of Arctic sea ice and changes in general circulation patterns downstream including ridges of high pressure aloft.

The map shows departure from average "500 millibar heights," with the ones centered just south of Greenland being exceptionally far above average, in the context of record-smashing such heights overall for October in that area.

Image credit: Wright-Weather.com

Which leads me to ...

Last but not least, arguably the most disturbing image of all meteorological/climatological ones this year.

The extent of arctic sea ice in 2012 (light blue line at the bottom of the graph) shattered the previous satellite-era record low (2007, dashed green line), as the ice thickness & volume also get even lower.

The water, ice and atmosphere don't care about politics, they observe the physical, thermodynamic and chemical laws of the universe. Yes, climate models can be wrong, and they have underestimated the rapidity with which the Arctic is changing.

Image credit: National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC)

The views of the author are his/her own and do not necessarily represent the position of The Weather Company or its parent, IBM.

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9. WunderAlertBot (Admin)
8:49 PM GMT on January 02, 2013
stuostro has created a new entry.
8. originalLT
2:40 AM GMT on December 31, 2012
That last graph or chart is telling, but nah, the earth is not warming.
Member Since: December 31, 1969 Posts: Comments:
7. beaudodson
8:11 AM GMT on December 30, 2012
Stunning images - I guess Sandy will be the memory for my brain - that and the severe drought. Incredible year. The Texas thunderstorm image is quite amazing - the detail. Can't wait until the new satellites come online with their full suite of data. Interesting weather years ahead of us - never a dull moment. Scary at times. Beautiful at other times. Thanks, Stu - for all of your work.
Member Since: December 31, 1969 Posts: Comments:
6. TropicalAnalystwx13
2:33 AM GMT on December 30, 2012
Weather is amazing.

Thanks, Stu.
Member Since: December 31, 1969 Posts: Comments:
5. Stu Ostro , Senior Meteorologist
2:27 AM GMT on December 30, 2012
Thanks, everyone!

Chris, I'd like to see that too with this resolution, but with the NPP being a polar-orbiting satellite with only occasional passes, not a geostationary one with its relatively frequent images over the same map grid, it wouldn't produce a fluid loop.
Member Since: December 31, 1969 Posts: Comments:
3. bappit
1:56 AM GMT on December 30, 2012
Fantastic collection of images!

"Snowtober" and "Snowpril" are great names, names that you can remember a winter-like storm by.
Member Since: December 31, 1969 Posts: Comments:
2. Christopher C. Burt , Weather Historian
12:56 AM GMT on December 30, 2012
Great selection of images Stu! I would love to see a time lapse of the Texas T-storms sat image. I imagine it would resemble a boiling pot of water.
Member Since: December 31, 1969 Posts: Comments:
1. whitewabit
11:54 PM GMT on December 29, 2012
Great weather pictorial of the year .. Tks !!
Member Since: December 31, 1969 Posts: Comments:

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About stuostro

Proud to be a weather-obsessed weather geek! \m/ Senior meteorologist at The Weather Channel. If not a meteorologist, would be a DJ ♫

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