Gaze Into the Giant Storm Swirling Over the Pacific Ocean

Image: Colorado State University

Forget Bad Winter, a season of Boring Winter is upon us. At least, if you live in the Northeast U.S. Head on over to the North Pacific, and it’s a different story.

There, a massive winter storm is churning that’s been perfectly captured by not one but two satellites. Despite its prodigious size, it has no name. It is just storm. (An unnamed Gizmodo editor said it should be called Oscar.)

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Himawari-8, the Japanese satellite centered over the western Pacific, caught the storm as it ramped up while GOES-17, the spiffy new American satellite over the eastern Pacific caught it as it swirled toward North America. From both sides, the storm is absolutely gorgeous. You can see the Himawari-8 image up top, and here’s the GOES-17 iteration as it wraps toward Alaska’s Aleutian Islands.

I mean just look at that storm.
Image: Colorado State University

Big boys like this bomb out in the North Pacific with some regularity each winter, thanks to sharp gradient of cold air in the Arctic and warm air in the tropics coupled with a potent jet stream. But this sucker is impressive even by North Pacific standards. On Thursday, the storm’s central pressure bottomed out at 937 millibars, pressure commonly associated with powerful hurricanes (Hurricane Florence hit 939 millibars for comparison). It runs from Alaska to California tip to tail.

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The National Weather Service Ocean Prediction Center, which remains in operation despite the shutdown, tweeted that the storm was churning up waves up to 56.7 feet in height in the North Pacific. As it continued its march toward the West Coast, the storm kept its comma-shaped structure that makes it look like a classic nor’easter. The storm is one of a parade of low pressure systems is expected to continue into next week, bringing rain and snow to the West Coast as well as the possibility of more meteorological eye candy.

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NOAA’s New Pacific Satellite Has Sent Back Its First Glorious Images of Alaska and Hawaii

Image: NOAA

When GOES-17 launched, meteorologists’ hearts skipped a beat. The satellite offered a chance to view all of the U.S. in exceedingly high resolution, and with it, the weather forecasting possibilities were endless.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration launched the satellite in March, but it finally got it positioned in its permanent location late last month. The agency has now released the first satellite images from that new spot. And folks, I am here to tell you the images are Very Good.

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In its testing location, it was able to see the western U.S. But its final resting spot 22,240 miles above the Earth’s surface centered over 137.2 degrees West and the equator opens up a whole new world of possibilities. The new images include incredibly high-resolution satellite imagery of Hawaii, Alaska, and a vast swath of the Pacific Ocean.

Behold the clouds skirting over the Hawaiian islands on just another day in paradise. It’s so crisp, I can almost imagine myself on the beach there with a daquiri instead of New York at the height of gray-brown fall, the worst season.

In addition to a real color channel, GOES-17 also does high-resolution infrared imagery. Looking at infrared channels is one of the ways meteorologists can peer into a storm to understand what’s going on. That in turn helps with forecasting, and GOES-17’s all-seeing eye will offer the chance to make real forecast improvements.

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The newly-released infrared imagery shows a powerful storm that rocked Alaska earlier this week with hurricane-force winds. It even had a hurricane-like structure with an “eye” at the center.

On the more unfortunate but equally important side of the spectrum, GOES-17 was able to capture the Woolsey Fire explode in Southern California. The smoke from the fire which has burned Malibu and surrounding areas over the past week is clearly visible from space. In addition, the satellite has the ability to detect fire hot spots. That capability can provide near real-time clues for fire managers and improve how they respond to fires, particularly in hard-to-access terrain.

Right now, we’re in the oooh and aaah phase of GOES-17. The imagery are all dubbed non-operational, which in non-NOAA language means they aren’t being used for forecasting yet. There’s still testing to be done and workflows to be set up. But they do provide a snapshot of what’s meteorologists will have to work with. 

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The satellite will join GOES-16 and Japan’s Himiwari-8, two other high resolution satellites in orbit over the equator. Together, they provide an unprecedented view of the planet. NOAA is planning to launch two more GOES satellites that will further improve our eyes in space.

So, the meteorological hype wave and forecast improvements aren’t going to end anytime soon. And neither will the stream of images of our awesome planet for the rest of us to gawk at.

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This Deep Sea Eel Is the Raddest Thing You'll See All Week

Extremely normal planet.
GIF: E/V Nautilus

It’s been a long-ass week. And next week isn’t looking better. But I would urge you to take a break from our never ending freak show on the surface and feast your eyes on one of the most amazing things you will ever see courtesy of scientists aboard the E/V Nautilus—this incredible eel.

The E/V Nautilus has been exploring the deep seas since 2008, with the twin purposes of doing science and discovering cool shit using remote operated vehicles (ROVs). On Friday morning, the team was poking around a hitherto unexplored area in Hawaii’s Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument—a coral garden full of weird, twisting shapes that emerge in the inky dark 6,200 feet below the surface. But we’re not here to talk about that.

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We’re here to talk about this:

On a Thursday dive, the team happened upon a gulper eel (also sometimes known as a pelican eel for reasons that are obvious if you watch the video). The science team has also dubbed it the “muppet of the deep sea.”

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The video shows a thin, tiny eel that looks fairly run of the mill. But as the ROV approaches, the fun begins. The eels can open their mouths almost like it’s on a hinge, allowing them to hoover up a large amount of prey and appear much bigger to potential predators.

As the ROV nears, the eel goes full horror movie, expanding its mouth and rippling like an optical illusion. The best part of it all is the scientists’ reactions. These are trained professionals who have seen some seriously weird stuff and yet they can’t help gasping, laughing, and exclaiming things like “oh my god.”

It’s like watching Mystery Science Theater 3000 but without the snark. And with good reason—the deep sea is full of wonder.

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