December 31, 2020

This Is Your World Today | December 31, 2020


Today is the 366th day of the longest year we've been through in a long time. Fires, floods, tornadoes, excessive heat, bitter cold, massive snows, and hurricanes upon hurricanes upon hurricanes—and that's just the weather. It's hard to find beauty amid the chaos, but it's there if you know where to look.

If you're a longtime reader (hi!), you might remember that I used to write "Here's Your World Today" posts in a previous blogging life. I originally started those posts as filler to get through quiet days, but it turned into an enjoyable (but short-lived) series to gawk at happenings around the world. In that spirit, and 'cause goodness knows we could use it, here's a loosely affiliated sequel: This Is Your World Today.


A: Today's big weathermaker in the United States is this blobular (totally a word) winter storm in the southeast. It's producing severe thunderstorms along the northern Gulf Coast, complete with an enhanced risk for tornadoes across parts of Louisiana and Mississippi. The cold side of the storm will bring snow and ice to communities from Texas north through the Midwest. Temperatures will briefly jump into the 60s along the East Coast before the system's cold front sends things back down to a more reasonable level for the beginning of January.

B: It's tough to see the Great Lakes through the clouds—but they're part of the reason there are clouds there in the first place. It's been such a (relatively) warm couple of months in the eastern United States that there's hardly any ice on the Great Lakes. The latest analysis from NOAA showed that just 2.2 percent of the Great Lakes were covered by ice. Ice cover percentages are usually in the double digits by this point in the winter.



C: A strong cold front moving over relatively warm waters of the Atlantic Ocean is a recipe for brilliant streets of cumulus clouds. These are always a sight on satellite imagery. They form as air warms up near the surface of the ocean, forming cumulus clouds as its rises and gets organized into rows (or "streets") by the prevailing winds. 

D: The Amazon's hot and humid climate affords us the opportunity to admire thousand-mile fields of cumulus clouds. Particularly active days will see raucous thunderstorms blow up over the Amazon, raging and randomly scooting around until the instability of the day wanes after sunset. 

E: Actinoform clouds (a close-up is seen at the top of this post) are a near-daily occurrence in the southern Pacific Ocean. These marine clouds take on a radial pattern, kind of developing littles spokes and trippy chains as they form over frigid waters. These clouds weren't discovered until weather satellites first spotted them—it's hard to see their shape from below—and it's still a bit of an open question why these clouds take on their distinctive shape. Some of the clouds over the northern Atlantic in "C" above are also actinoform clouds.

F: It's the sun! Well, the sun's reflection. Each day for about the next six months, the sun's reflection on the ocean surface will tick a little higher in latitude. Maximum sunlight reached its southernmost extent over the Tropic of Capricorn on last week's winter solstice. It's always cool to watch the sun's reflection glisten across the oceans in long satellite loops. (The loops are too sizeable to upload here, unfortunately.)


G: This swirling low-pressure system in the Bering Sea is the strongest storm in that part of the world in years. The system's central pressure dropped to a staggering 921 mb on Thursday, which is about as low as you'd expect in a powerful category four or category five hurricane. I explained on Forbes yesterday how this storm got so strong—and why it's so different from a hurricane.


H: Hey, look, Hawaii! Very pretty. It's always interesting to look at the islands on satellite imagery because it's obvious which way the winds are blowing. Moist winds blowing out of the northeast dry out as they pass over the islands, leaving clear skies downwind.

[All satellite images from NOAA.]


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I graduated from the University of South Alabama in 2014 with a degree in political science and a minor in meteorology. I ran Gawker's The Vane for two years and I've contributed to Mental Floss, Forbes, Popular Science, and the Washington Post's Capital Weather Gang. I also teamed up with Outdoor Life to write a book called The Extreme Weather Survival Manual, which came out in October 2015.

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