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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Photos of Hurricane Florence from space are truly scary to behold

Hurricane Florence churns through the Atlantic.
Hurricane Florence churns through the Atlantic.
Image: NOAA via Getty Images

Hurricane Florence is poised to hit the mid-Atlantic coast and the Carolinas this week, and satellite images of the storm are nothing short of terrifying.

Astronauts at the International Space Station, for example, struggled to fit the enormous storm into one frame. 

“We could only capture her with a super wide-angle lens from the Space Station, 400 km directly above the eye,” astronaut Alexander Gerst tweeted on Wednesday. “Get prepared on the East Coast, this is a no-kidding nightmare coming for you.”

If Florence hits North Carolina as a Category 4 storm, it will be the strongest storm to make landfall in the state since Hurricane Hazel in 1954. 

States of emergency have been declared in North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, Washington, D.C., and Maryland in anticipation.

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Wildfire smoke engulfing a storm in the Atlantic is an ideal metaphor for 2018

Subtropical storm Ernesto engulfed by wildfire smoke on August 16.
Subtropical storm Ernesto engulfed by wildfire smoke on August 16.
Image: Colorado State University/RAMMB / CIRA

Smoke produced by fires thousands of miles away is now choking a storm swirling in the Atlantic Ocean. Welcome to weather in 2018.

Thursday morning, Weather Channel meteorologist Jonathan Erdman found that smoke from California and Canada’s record-breaking wildfires has nearly engulfed subtropical storm Ernesto.

Previously, the wildfire smoke had shut down Yosemite National Park, and the National Weather Service watched last week as smoke traveled 3,000 miles across the U.S. 

Meteorologists first spotted the inevitable meeting of smoke and storm after Ernesto formed on Wednesday.

It’s not unprecedented for smoke to waft thousands of miles across the U.S. and beyond, but it certainly is rare, atmospheric scientists explained last week. 

It also takes a lot of smoke to create this kind of global impact.

California alone is contributing its fair share, with three of the largest fires in Golden State history having burned well over half a million acres this summer. 

The easily visible collision of storm and smoke occurred when the formidable Canadian wildfires were added to the mix, with the benefit of high atmospheric winds.

The event is yet another stark consequence of climate change enhancing Earth’s natural processes. 

Wildfires are an expected summer occurrence, but record and near-record heat has resulted in exceptionally dried-out forests and vegetation in the Western U.S. and Canada, enabling vigorous, deadly storms.

Though Ernesto, in the middle of the ocean, isn’t a threat to land and is forecast to peter out in a matter of days, it’s unknown how the wildfire smoke will affect the tempest. 

Erdman cited past instances of smoke both enhancing rainfall, and suppressing storms.

Although this seems like a pretty exceptional event, there’s a reasonable chance that much more smoke will enter the high atmosphere in the coming weeks and months. 

As Yale University fire scientist Jennifer Marlon noted yesterday, robust fires are still raging, and “there’s still plenty of forest out there to burn.”

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