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Meteorological Images of 2013
By: Stu Ostro, 1:38 AM GMT on December 29, 2013 +7
My 8th annual edition. For 2013, they just happened to work out to be an even Top 20, presented in the chronological order in which they occurred, not ranked except for my choice for the "image of the year" at the end.

Sometime in early 2014 I'm going to post my selections for the top meteorological images of all time!

Previous editions:

2011 (Also this slide show with additional images.)



This might look like sci-fi, and the atmospheric parameter it plots is "Lait potential vorticity at the 550K theta level"; it shows the polar vortex splitting in two after a sudden stratospheric warming (SSW) event. As I mentioned when originally posted early in the year, those have sometimes been sensationalized and misrepresented during recent years in this social media age -- they don't all result in the same extreme outcome weatherwise in a given location -- but the science involved is legit and there have been papers published on the topic for more than 60 years.

This one contributed to cold weather in parts of North America and Eurasia, but the cold wasn't as extreme as the great arctic outbreaks of the past. It produced these spectacular images though!

Image credit: Andreas Dörnbrack


The shading of this satellite image gives a sense of 3-D, and how deep this cyclone was west of Europe in January.

Image credit: University of Bern


Extreme moisture along with record high temperatures, explosively unstable air, and strong winds aloft led to a supercharged atmosphere, heavy rain & flash flooding, an extraordinarily massive outbreak of severe thunderstorms, one of the largest January tornado outbreaks on record, and the banding structure on this satellite image shortly before an EF3 tornado hit Adairsville, Georgia the morning of January 30.

Image credit: UW-Madison SSEC/CIMSS


Two systems interacted to produce a meteorological bomb (formally defined as a non-tropical cyclone having a central pressure which falls at least 24 millibars in 24 hours) and huge amounts of snowfall in the northeast U.S along with powerful winds.

Image credit: The Weather Channel


Fractures of arctic sea ice, even in winter, are not uncommon, but the set of them which occurred last winter was extreme. It was a result of how thin the ice has become as the Arctic warms, and the wind pattern during late winter associated with a persistent strong high pressure system.

This image from late February shows the fracturing process which started in late January and continued through March. The area pictured extends from the coast of Alaska in the lower left across the Beaufort Sea to the islands of northern Canada.

Image credit: NASA Earth Observatory


This looks like a satellite image of a hurricane, but it's actually a high-resolution small-scale image from a portable research radar, showing the tragic El Reno tornado on the last day of May. And not only is there an eye-like spot in the middle of the swirl, there's another spot to the left of it, which was another vortex within the overall circulation. The radar measured wind speeds close to 300 miles per hour.

Image credit: Howie Bluestein / University of Oklahoma RaXpol


A hook echo (top image) along with a debris ball that shows up in purple on this radar color scheme, unfortunately representative of pieces of people's homes; and a 3-D image (bottom) showing a tube of tornado rotation.

Image credit: Gibson Ridge


A low pressure system aloft moving backwards (east to west rather than west to east) from West Virginia to New Mexico?? Yes, in mid-July that's what this one did! You can see that in the animated GIF as an area labeled "L" in the cooler colors, being forced to take an unusual path, the key being an exceptionally strong ridge of high pressure represented by the purple shades. Perhaps the most bizarre case so far of the hundreds of extreme and/or unusual weather events in recent years I've documented that might be related to the changing climate.

Image credit:


Speaking of weird weather, you're not seeing double -- those radar images are separated by several weeks! The one on the right was the remnant circulation of Tropical Storm Chantal on July 13 as it approached the coast of the Carolinas, incredibly similar in its appearance and location on radar to an unnamed system on June 22, at left.

Image credit: Gibson Ridge


This graphic shows a cross section of the atmosphere over/near western North America on Sept. 11, 2013, the day that extreme rainfall began producing a flash flood disaster in Colorado. The bottom of the diagram is close to the Earth's surface, and the top is high in the atmosphere; left is to the south, extending as far south as the Pacific to the west of Central America, and north is to the right, the edge being up in northern Canada. It's as if you're up over the central U.S. looking west.

The colors represent whether the atmospheric pressure is above or below average, and how much. That big red thing is a monstrous ridge of high pressure over western Canada and the northwest U.S., which was totally dominating a low pressure system aloft shown by the blue near Las Vegas, Nevada.

That ridge was strong, persistent, and deadly, as it prevented the low pressure system from moving, and the combo sucked deep moisture up from the tropics day after day and squeezed it out via heavy rain. The situation escalated during the evening of Sept. 11, and kept going, with the exceptional rainfall spreading from Colorado to New Mexico.

This was another case I added to the compendium to which I linked above in the new species section. I am working with collaborators on adapting my research to a paper to be submitted to a peer-reviewed publication, and in the process will be presenting a poster of initial results of the rigorous analyses of trends in ridges of high pressure aloft at the Climate Variability and Change Conference within the American Meteorological Society Annual Meeting in Atlanta in February. The abstract is here.

Image credit: NOAA/ESRL


Another flood disaster from extreme rainfall during September 2013, this one in Mexico from Hurricane Manuel at various stages of its life on the country's west coast and a contribution by some moisture from Tropical Storm Ingrid on the Gulf of Mexico side.

That was tragically ironic, given the juxtaposition with a massive area of extremely dry air as shown by the dark shades on this satellite image.

Image credit: Image credit: UW-Madison SSEC


Dry air pushed east across northern Mexico, mercifully shutting off the heavy rain there, and then over the Gulf of Mexico, squashing an attempt by a system to develop into a tropical storm. Here a few rain clouds in yellow/orange/red shades just offshore of Texas are overwhelmed by dry air represented by white and blue. Dry air was also a factor in the exceptionally quiet peak of the hurricane season in the central and eastern Atlantic Ocean.

Image credit: Texas Commission on Environmental Quality


This "Band 31 brightness temperature" satellite image looks like it's of smoke billowing up and downstream from a volcano; actually it's of Tropical Storm Karen's convection trying to attach itself to the center of circulation but getting blown downstream by shearing upper-level winds, another factor in the low number of tropical storms near the U.S. this year.

Image credit: NASA/GSFC MODIS Rapid Response


The purple spots near Washington and Brookport, Illinois, are debris picked up by the tornadoes which hit those communities during the big outbreak of severe weather on November 17, one of several this fall which extended unusually far north for the time of year. I have added that event to this list, and am starting to analyze/quantify trends of cool season tornadoes, with some interesting initial results.

Image credit: Gibson Ridge


I was mesmerized by these satellite images of different water vapor "enhancement curves" as the storm was bringing heavy precipitation and gusty winds to the southwest U.S.

Image credit: UW-Madison SSEC/CIMSS


Behind a strong cold front in early December, cloud cover in northeast Mexico, southern Texas and the western Gulf of Mexico had exceptionally sharp edges and resembled the shape of a tornado.

Image credit: NASA/GSFC MODIS Rapid Response


Twin tropical cyclones in the southern Indian Ocean - Amara and Bruce - at the time they were the equivalent of Category 4 hurricanes. Fortunately the strongest part of neither ever hit land. Note how these systems spiral the opposite way in the Southern Hemisphere!

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


The colors on this map represent wind speeds about six miles above the Earth, and this was one of the strongest jet streams I can remember seeing on weather charts, 285 mph.

The jet strength and pattern were conducive to low pressure and rising air over the east-central/northeast U.S., cold high pressure to the north, and warm, moist unstable air sweeping up from the south, all ingredients for a stormy weekend before Christmas with severe thunderstorms & tornadoes, heavy rain, snow, and a major ice storm.

Image credit: Plymouth State University


The leading edge of the strong jet stream in the previous image went on to contribute to rapid intensification of a storm enormous in size which hit northwest Europe on Christmas Eve and produced one of the lowest barometric pressure measurements on record in the UK, which Chris Burt blogged about. The system extends from Africa in the bottom of the image to multiple swirls from north of Scotland across the North Atlantic.

For full effect, see this full-size image, and here's another stunning view of the storm and its swirls.


One of the strongest tropical cyclones on Earth in the known historical record, and one of the most extraordinary satellite images I've ever seen of the eye of a tropical cyclone, with catastrophic results.

Image credit: William Straka, UW-Madison SSEC/CIMSS

Full-size version is here.
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1. TropicalAnalystwx13 1:49 AM GMT on December 29, 2013    
Great photos, Stu. The retrograding upper-level low in July was epic -- though I remember looking at the models a few days beforehand and thinking to myself they were crazy.
Member Since: July 6, 2010 Posts: 107 Comments: 29253
2. Patrap 1:51 AM GMT on December 29, 2013    
For 4 hours I sat here on wunderground and watched Haiyan's Impact on the Philippines including Tacloban and Westward,

Awe, complete awe and terror.

Total inundation from Surge and the equivalent of a 747 V2 Pitch Climbing Wind/Air Speed.

Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 403 Comments: 121902
3. KEEPEROFTHEGATE (Mod) 2:00 AM GMT on December 29, 2013    
this is a good year end entry

Member Since: July 15, 2006 Posts: 157 Comments: 46885

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About stuostro
Senior meteorologist at The Weather Channel. Proud to be a weather-obsessed weather geek. Would be a DJ if not a meteorologist.

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