Meteorological images of 2015

Stu Ostro
Stu Ostro
Dec 28, 2015 · 13 min read

My 10th annual edition!

Previous ones:


And now, this year’s selection of some of the most compelling meteorological images of the year.

As I’ve noted in the past, 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 via science, technology and art through weather geek eyes.

People experience the paradoxical beauty and horror of weather and have stories to tell, yet as the saying goes a picture is worth 1000 words, and meteorological images can tell a story too — or can just be awesome to behold.

While I have made exceptions at times, I’ve generally stuck to satellite and radar images, and sometimes charts and diagrams, rather than include photographs, since that opens up a whole other realm. I’ve not included any this year, but wanted to mention this recent spectacular photo of the Mount Etna eruption and the clouds & lightning it created. Personally, my jaw dropped when on a plane I got this view of thunderstorm towers and long anvil in the tail of the remnant of Tropical Storm Bill in June.

While the majority of the images are for weather in the United States, the country in which I reside and for which I forecast the most, there are quite a few from elsewhere around the world too.

As always, I don’t rank the selections. Trying to objectively order them would be futile. In some years though I’ve selected one or a small number to feature as the image or images of the year at the end of the article, and have done that again this year, with three remarkable long satellite/radar loops.



As in the past, there were faces in weather imagery this year.

Such as a sinister-looking one in a hail core near Kansas City in June…

Gibson Ridge

A hail core in western Nebraska in late June looked like a Barney the purple dinosaur. :)

Gibson Ridge

A gnarly-looking thunderstorm on radar over Albuquerque in May with a body, neck, head and eerie face.

Gibson Ridge

A sharp digging trough in early September with cold air aloft (depicted by the colors on the map) eyes its destination.

When this wind flow map was posted in January, people wondered if it was Jabba the Hutt or Oscar the Grouch!

Cameron Beccario,

Thunderstorms and tornadoes

Speaking of hail cores, there was this one:

In April, in a fascinating interaction in central Missouri, a teeny little cell zoomed into a much bigger cluster of storms, which then split.

A July derecho in the Midwest looked eerie on this MODIS Band 31 colorized satellite image.


This storm in Chicago in early August prompted an evacuation of Lollapalooza concertgoers.

Gibson Ridge

There were questions raised about whether sufficient action was taken at a Cardinals game when this supercell hit St. Louis in late June.

Less than a week later, a plane (as shown by my plots from the flight log) tried to make it through two converging lines of thunderstorms, and didn’t quite succeed, the result being a harrowing ride through hail.

Radar: Gibson Ridge; Flight data: FlightAware

Twin supercells near Pampa, Texas, part of a tornado outbreak in November — which is the “second season” for tornadoes, but not usually this far west.

Gibson Ridge

And then in late December, more fatalities in a few days than had occurred from tornadoes the entire year up until that point. The deadly twisters included an EF4 with this rotation on radar as it hit the Garland-Rowlett area of northeast suburban Dallas, also unusually far west for a tornado so strong at this time of year.

Gibson Ridge

Déjà vu

The atmosphere can create a sense of that, even though no two weather events are exactly the same.

In March 2015, there was yet another tornado in Moore, Oklahoma, as illustrated by these radar “velocity couplets” of different colors showing air blowing strongly in opposite directions in close juxtaposition, representative of rotation.

On the same date as in March 1993, an eerie similarity over the Gulf of Mexico with deep convection (thunderstorms) in nearly the same location and orientation. Fortunately the 2015 version didn’t go on to become another superstorm.

A series of systems in the northeast Gulf of Mexico that looked, swam and quacked like tropical cyclones but were not officially designated as such, and at times their existence was not even officially acknowledged.

Very unusual for there to be a tropical cyclone so strong in this part of the Arabian Sea and hitting land, much less two of them in one week.

Tropical cyclones

Tropical cyclones (the generic term for tropical depressions, tropical storms, hurricanes, typhoons, etc.) lend themselves to vivid satellite images given their depth and swirling symmetry, and each year there are typically many such ones, that being the case again in 2015. Here is a selection of those with particularly compelling attributes, starting with an extraordinary, surreal image from the ISS of lightning in the eyewall of Bansi in January (summer in the Southern Hemisphere).

With Mekkhala (Philippines name Amang) in January, colorful cold cloud tops and transverse banding. Winds from the storm collapsed scaffolding which killed a volunteer for a Pope Francis mass.


Maysak in March from the ISS.

Sam Cristoforetti ‏(@AstroSamantha)

An infrared satellite image of Maysak. Imagine being on a remote island in the middle of the night in this.

The Weather Channel

Cyclone Pam in March: exceptionally intense for the South Pacific, and devastating in Vanuatu.

Not a typical Mother’s Day in the Carolinas, with a record early East Coast landfall of a tropical storm, Ana.

In August, the eye of Soudelor.


Taketomi Island in the eye of Goni.

UW-Madison SSEC RealEarth

Erika (top image below) and Joaquin (bottom), causing disasters in late August in Dominica and early October in the Bahamas, respectively, are the latest tropical cyclones to debunk the myths that El Niño guarantees a “quiet” hurricane season (the alleged Godzilla is not omnipotent) and whether that term applies to a season depends just on the number of storms.

NASA Earth Science Office

There has been satellite imagery which shows detail within an eye of a tropical cyclone, but this of Typhoon Champi was different. It was from the Himawari-8, a new generation of weather satellite which will routinely enable sequences with such resolution, and Champi’s eye was particularly large in diameter which allowed the satellite to see so much detail.


In late October 2015 with Patricia, pictured below, I had the same feeling as I did in late October 2005 with Wilma, doing a double-take upon seeing an extreme aircraft recon pressure measurement.


For the first time, this year radar images from tropical cyclone aircraft reconnaissance became available in real-time, including this one from Patricia.

NOAA Aircraft Operations Center

In early November the eyewall of Megh slammed Socotra a week after the island was hit by Chapala.

UW-Madison SSEC RealEarth

A record-shattering year in the Pacific, including the central part, yet it could have been a lot worse for Hawaii.

Kevin Kodama, NOAA/NWS; Naval Research Laboratory

Not something you see every day in November (or any other time): cirrus outflow from a hurricane overlapping an arctic front!


In the final month of the year, each on the same day, stunning images of an intense tropical cyclone (Typhoon Melor) heading toward the Philippines and an intense extratropical (non-tropical) cyclone hitting the Aleutians.


Cyclones and anticyclones

Cyclones of the non-tropical variety; and anticyclones, or high pressure systems including ridges aloft.

In January, a cyclone hitting Europe connected all the way back to another one developing near New England.

UW-Madison SSEC RealEarth

This one moved across the Canadian Maritimes in February after whacking New England with yet another blast of snow during a record-setting season.

NERC Satellite Receiving Station, Dundee University, Scotland

In April in the same region, a massive blocky swirl.

NERC Satellite Receiving Station, Dundee University, Scotland

A blocky pattern over Europe in February with a strong high pressure ridge over the UK and a cutoff low to the south produced an easterly jet in between, in which vortices (the green swirls) developed near and downstream of the Alps.


A cyclone like this, in July? Yep.


This upper-level cyclonic circulation bizarrely looped all the way around and brought flash flooding to the southwest United States — twice.

NWS Elko

A looong S-shaped curve evolved into a deep trough aloft and a surface cyclone which produced the November tornado outbreak. November tornadoes are not uncommon —as noted above this time of year is known as the second season — but that many tornadoes in the Plains as opposed to the Gulf Coast is unusual, much less a strong “wedge” tornado there (an oft-overused and misapplied term, but not in this case).

NASA Earth Science Office

Iceland gets a lot of storms. Most are not as intense as this one was in December.


And despite being a non-tropical cyclone, the center of this one which hit the Pacific Northwest in early December had quite an eye-like appearance on radar.

NWS Seattle [h/t Chris Dolce]


In Florida in January, with fingers of stratocumulus clouds.


And in Turkey, Crete, Cyprus, Lebanon, Israel and Syria.


Mesoscale complexity to the snowfall pattern in and around southeast New England with the winter storm known as Juno.

Gibson Ridge

And with snow in Chicago.

Gibson Ridge

Later in the year in November, early in the 2015–2016 season, snow cover in the Midwest as deep storm clouds exit to the east.

On the day after Christmas, this strong headline on the homepage of the Albuquerque NWS office warned about what was expected in eastern New Mexico from the vicious storm which also caused deadly tornadoes and flash flooding. And extreme blizzard conditions did indeed come, with gusts in excess of 80 mph and phenomenal snow drifts, and the governor describing a “dire situation.”

Smog, smoke and dust

Smog and haze show up as milky gray on this satellite image from early December, when Beijing issued its first ever “red alert” for it.


Smoke in September from peat fires in Indonesia.

NASA Earth Observatory

A severe dust storm in the Middle East in February.


Thunderstorms regenerating upstream of Wimberley, Texas caused a Memorial Day weekend catastrophe.

I experienced first-hand the paradox of weather, observing one of the most beautiful sunsets I’ve ever seen on the backside of the system that produced the Wimberley horror.

In early October, a wild cutoff low, which itself would have produced heavy rain, ingested from Hurricane Joaquin a tropical moisture plume aimed squarely into South Carolina, with the result being extreme rainfall and widespread flooding.

NASA Earth Science Office
The Weather Channel map of rainfall totals


Aurora Borealis in September as seen by VIIRS Day/Night Band imagery.

Radar detected debris aloft from the SpaceX explosion in June moving from over the ocean toward land (east to west) as showers moved from land to ocean.

Gibson Ridge

Earthrise. This breathtaking image of the moon and our planet & its weather was composed of a series of images taken on October 12 and released last week. [Full-resolution here.]

NASA Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter


As 2015 ends, global land+ocean temperatures are on track to far exceed those of any other year in records that date back to the 1880s.

Climate Central

A significant contributor was ocean temperatures, and while the increasingly strong El Niño in turn contributed to that, there was plenty of other anomalously warm water, as this sequence of SST (sea surface temperature) departures from average on the first of each month illustrates.


And as the year ended, stunning Christmas Eve warmth in eastern North America:

December 24, 2015 departure from average temperatures obtained using Climate Reanalyzer (, Climate Change Institute, University of Maine, USA

Images of the Year

What helps make these loops special is the length and dimensions of them — however that also makes the full-size versions too big to embed here. (The amount of images already might be choking your computer’s memory and affecting the playback of the animated GIFs!). So I’ve included separate links below to view the full effect.

The first two are from the new Himawari-8 satellite mentioned earlier, the launch of which has enabled such high-resolution sequences.

This is one showing the complete evolution of the intense massive Aleutian cyclone whose still image is above. [960x720, 80 MB version here.]


This transition of Atsani from a super typhoon to an extratropical cyclone is textbook meteorology and mesmerizing to watch as it goes from the former to the latter. [1280x960, 115 MB version here.]


And last but not least, The Band. As I said in a blog afterward, there have been many other cases of repetitive convection in various places, Pineapple Express type atmospheric rivers into the West Coast, and persistent lake-effect snow squall bands, but I’ve been forecasting the weather since the 1970s and I can’t remember having seen anything in the southeast U.S. or anywhere else quite like the nature of this long solid discrete relentless band of torrential thunderstorms training (from ESE to WNW no less) hour after hour after hour after hour after hour after hour after hour. In fact, this loop is 22 hours long. [1850x929, 152 MB version here.]

NOAA Weather and Climate Toolkit

The Weather Channel

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