Friday, January 27, 2012

The Whole Earth 2012: Snowless and Drought-Ridden

Yesterday, NASA released a composite photo of the "Whole Earth" as seen from space, like the ones taken by Apollo astronauts of the 1970s. This one was taken on January 4, 2012 (around 4 pm Eastern time, by the looks of it - you can just barely see New England in the upper right corner passing the horizon into the winter nighttime).

Source: NASA (click for the large version)

It's a stunning image, without a doubt. And it got lots of attention yesterday on Twitter and on various blogs.

But the most relevant insights, I think, came from Dr. Jeff Masters at the Weather Underground blog:
The image is very interesting meteorologically, and extremely strange. It is obvious that it is a winter image, as revealed by the large area of stratocumulus clouds off the U.S. East Coast all the way to South Florida, caused by cold Canadian air blowing offshore. However, the U.S. and Canada are virtually snow-free and cloud-free, which is extremely rare for a January day. The lack of snow in the mountains of the Western U.S. is particularly unusual. I doubt one could find a January day this cloud-free with so little snow on the ground throughout the entire satellite record, going back to the early 1960s.
Such is the Earth in 2012: baked and drought-ridden.

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