A Colorful Winter Storm

A major winter storm made its way across the continental United States this week, dropping snow across the Dakotas, then the Midwest and the Mid-Atlantic before finally heading out to sea over the Northeast. While snowfall from the storm was difficult to forecast precisely, nonetheless it still caused major damage across many states.

The image above shows what the storm looked like at 9am EST on March 8, 2013, through the false-color eyes of the AVHRR instrument on board satellite NOAA-16. Unfortunately, AVHRR was not designed to measure visible light as many more modern satellites do. It’s primarily used for measuring the surface temperature of land and the ocean. The colors in the above image were approximated with a computer algorithm that converted AVHRR’s red, near-infrared and infrared channels into red, green and blue, creating this non-traditional colorful image of the Mid-Atlantic.

While the colors in this image can not be regarded as real, they are still useful. The white clouds are colder and generally higher in the atmosphere, while yellow clouds are slightly warmer and lower. Most of the clouds connected with the storm system are yellow. Storm bands are also visible as semi-circles pushing in towards Massachusetts and on down into New Jersey. This counterclockwise rotation is a common feature of a Nor’easter.

In advance of the storm, scientists at Rutgers deployed an underwater glider to measure how the storm will mix sediment in coastal waters. The glider certainly saw a lot of action, as wave heights reached 14 feet at the New York Harbor entrance, 24 feet off the coast of Virginia Beach, and 30 feet at the Hudson Canyon as the storm’s center passed by late on March 6th.

Special thanks to Steve Miller at NRL-Monterey for the code used to create this image.

2 replies
  1. Jason Draine
    Jason Draine says:

    I would love to figure out a way to implement a lesson around this into my Art class. Or even team up with scientist to create collaborative Art work based on “real-time” data/ imagery.


    • Sage Lichtenwalner
      Sage Lichtenwalner says:

      This would be awesome. You could always start with “painting by number,” where students develop their own color palette to visualize a set of data. I would think this might be a fun way to delve into discussions on color theory and the effectiveness or aesthetics of different approaches.

      I have a few other ideas for potential physical pieces, and would love to work with a more artistically inclined collaborator, so let’s brainstorm together soon!

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