Meteorological images of the year - 2014

By: Stu Ostro , 11:58 PM GMT on December 30, 2014

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Previous years:


And now, my 9th annual edition of a selection of most compelling meteorological images of the year.  These can't capture every significant weather event or striking image, and by nature there is subjectivity involved, but they're meant to at least represent many of the highlights of the year based on the material I am aware of and the time I have available, via applying both science & art to the evaluation, through weather geek eyes!

As in the past, I've generally stuck to satellite, radar, charts and diagrams, rather than photographs, because that would open up a whole other realm.  Such as, these days social media lights up every morning/evening with beautiful sunset photos!   But on occasion I've included a few pics, and have this year, and you'll see why I chose the ones I did.  In fact, one of them is my pick at the end for meteorological image of the year!

I've otherwise again not ranked them; this year it's worked out to group the images by theme. 

Note that the GUI automatically resizes the images to a maximum width; you can see the full-size versions of ones wider than that by viewing just the image itself in your browser.

So with that as background, here are my selections for 2014 ...


Before 2014, that term, first used in print at least as early as 1853, was nevertheless unknown to most people.  In the first days of 2014, that quickly changed.

Although the first two images below have just a bunch of lines and are visually bland compared to all the others, they tell an important story -- about how in this age of virality, it's so easy for things of complexity to quickly become oversimplified, misrepresented and misunderstood. 

The L feature over southeast Canada on the first map below, which is an analysis of the pattern a few miles up in the atmosphere in early January, was what generally became latched onto as "THE polar vortex."

Actually that feature directly associated with the arctic blast was just a dip in the jet stream, a lobe of the tropospheric circumpolar vortex, which is the flow aligned with the broader set of lines undulating around the hemisphere.

The second analysis, of an altitude much higher up in the atmosphere, shows the stratospheric polar vortex at the time: the polar vortex with the truest meaning of those words.  And it had little if anything to do with that stretch of cold weather in the U.S.

Image source: Colorado State University



Additional harsh winter weather conditions ensued in January, culminating at the end of the month with a storm which caused a road travel debacle including in Birmingham and Atlanta.  The later produced this view of roads and the Atlanta skyline which eerily resembled a promotional poster for The Walking Dead.



For 2012 I posted a companion piece to the images of the year, featuring appearances of "faces" on imagery.   A bunch of them, resembling humans and animals, appeared in 2014!

A convoluted flow in July produced eyes, a nose and a mouth:


Owl eyes offshore of the Mid-Atlantic coast in March:


A low pressure system in the Dakotas in November eyeing a low-level jet to its southeast ...


A sinister smile as Hurricane Odile made landfall on the southern tip of the Baja California peninsula:

NASA Earth Science Office

After Hurricane Arthur underwent extratropical transition, a face in the northern part of the orange dry slot:

NASA Earth Science Office


That process of Arthur transitioning from a tropical cyclone to a non-tropical one:


Hurricane Cristobal, which was deadly including from rip currents on the East Coast, fighting off dry air and being part of a series of swirls:

NASA Earth Science Office

Below is Fay exploding right as it hit Bermuda.  After the season it was officially reanalyzed to have become a hurricane at that time.  On the southwest edge of its clouds on this satellite image the lines emanating away from the center are "transverse bands," a phenomenon that is sometimes observed during intensification of certain kinds of weather systems, as a symptom of that.

Remarkably, two hurricanes, Fay and Gonzalo, made landfall on that small set of islands in the middle of the ocean within a week, during this memorable and paradoxical 2014 Atlantic hurricane season.  In addition to that anomaly, the U.S. was hit by the first Category 2 hurricane (Arthur) in six years (since Ike in 2008), and Gonzalo was the first Category 4 in the Atlantic in three years.  All that despite a perception that it was a "quiet" season. 


Speaking of anomalies, an unusual sight on radar: a tropical cyclone of this strength hitting the Big Island of Hawaii, the most intense there in many decades.  Iselle was destructive despite "only" being a tropical storm.

Brian McNoldy, Univ. of Miami, Rosenstiel School

This year brought many vivid VIIRS satellite images of cores of typhoons; this one, of Vongfong, also had eye-catching outer bands.


The core of another typhoon, Neogori, was captured from the ISS, with a "cloud cliff" feature extending out from the eye.

Reid Wiseman

Intense Hurricane Marie, from which dangerous and destructive waves propagated all the way to SoCal.

NASA Earth Science Office


Extratropical storms also provided their share ...

On colorized water vapor satellite imagery, a blocked flow and cutoff low southeast of the Canadian Maritimes in May took on a 3-D-ish look of a wild swirling vortex:

UW-Madison SSEC

A trough of low pressure aloft and southward dip in the jet stream which were exceptional for so far south so early in the season (day after Halloween), along with a developing surface cyclone, brought snow records for so early in the season in the southeast U.S.

NASA Earth Science Office

This swirl at the end of February with a storm offshore of California looked like a cinnamon bun!

The Weather Channel

A psychedelic computer model forecast of surface pressures with a cyclone over the Aleutians whose central pressure drop rate/amount was exceptional even by meteorological bomb standards.  It contained remnants of Super Typhoon Nuri.

Plymouth State Weather Center

How that superbomb looked on satellite imagery, from vantage points to the east and west:

NASA Earth Science Office

NERC Satellite Receiving Station, Dundee University, Scotland


On a much larger scale, a thunderstorm system in June resembled the appearance of a supercell the day before.

Gibson Ridge (radar), (satellite)

An intense MCS (mesoscale convective system) produced extreme rainfall and serious flash flooding on the eastern Gulf Coast at the end of April.

NASA Earth Science Office

I can't get enough of these super-high-resolution VIIRS color satellite images.  This one is of another MCS, in the wee hours in early June, which at the time in Kansas was producing wind damage, torrential rain, and a lot of lightning, as such systems typically do.  As it was erupting earlier, severe winds hit Hugo, Colorado.


Twin tornadoes in Pilger, Nebraska in June were among the most remarkable of those ever documented, and evoked memories of ones which were part of the 1965 Palm Sunday outbreak.  This photo captured them in the background with damage in the foreground.

Reed Timmer, TVN Weather

Low-precipitation supercells with "mothership" structure are among the most visually awesome weather phenomena on our planet, and this in Wyoming in May was a particularly spectacular one even by their standards.

Colt Forney, Basehunters

Lightning over Mexico in October viewed from the ISS:

Reid Wiseman; Vine


The eruption of Kelut (Kelud) way up through the atmosphere over Indonesia in February:



Though weather was not the cause of the rocket explosion in October, the smoke plume was detected by weather radar as it rose in the atmosphere and was blown downstream by winds aloft.

Matthew Travis; YouTube

Gibson Ridge


Under the influence of a "ridiculously resilient ridge," the percentage of California in extreme drought increased from 11% in early November 2013 to 62% by mid-January 2014.  This sequence shows the difference in snow cover in the southwest United States in mid-January 2014 vs. mid-January 2013.

NASA/GSFC MODIS Rapid Response

Whether or not this event in mid-December was a true "pineapple express" was a topic of conversation amongst meteorologists.  (Seems as if it was, as there was a tropical moisture connection from Hawaii to the west coast of North America, and although more short-lived than some, there aren't specific duration criteria.)  In any event, this rainstorm represented a big difference for precipitation in Cali compared to how the previous winter began. 



For land + ocean global temperatures, NASA data indicate that the 12-month period from December 2013 through November 2014 was the 2nd warmest in the period of record going back to 1880; NOAA has this year so far (Jan-Nov) as the warmest.

This shows the bigger-picture context of 2014's persistent below-average temperatures in the east-central U.S.


Amidst that was "weather whiplash" during the past few months, with summer snow in Calgary and Rapid City, then shortly thereafter record heat in that region and additional extreme heat in Canada in October, and a daily record temperature of 87° in Columbia, South Carolina late in the month, followed by the earliest snow on record there the day after Halloween as mentioned in the cyclone section above.

That was the start of a series of southward surges of cold air from the Arctic, resulting in November 2014 being the coldest in many years in the Lower 48 and one of the coldest Novembers on record in the Ohio Valley and Southeast, and leading to the largest November snow cover extent in North America in 49 years of record.  Then, more whiplash, as a storm blasted warm air northward and Allentown, Pennsylvania went from a record low temperature to a record high in two days

December featured persistent warmth including an exceptional surge of it, pictured below, which included 850 millibar temperatures over International Falls, Minnesota, "The Nation's Icebox," that shattered the previous record there for meteorological winter (Dec-Jan-Feb).  And now as the year ends, a pressure-record-setting arctic high is whiplashing frigid air back south, with snow accumulating down to rather low elevations in SoCal.

NOAA (top), WSI (bottom)


During the November cold, extraordinary back-to-back lake-effect snowstorms hit the same locations in western New York. 

Déjà vu:

Gibson Ridge

With the first band, there was an incredible snowfall gradient from 3.9" to 60" within six miles.  


That north edge of the first band was exceptionally sharp, and was captured at night from an airplane over Buffalo in this amazing view ...

James A Fry

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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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