Meteorological images of 2016

Stu Ostro
Stu Ostro
Dec 30, 2016 · 8 min read
NASA launch of GOES-R/GOES-16 November 19, 2016 6:42 p.m. EST

The launch of the GOES-R/GOES-16, the next generation of weather satellite for the Western Hemisphere (like last year’s launch of Himawari-8 on the other side of the world), was an exciting and important milestone in the history of meteorological technology. It will — if all goes well with implementation during 2017 — undoubtedly bring us spectacular images that will be among the highlights of next year.

Meantime, plenty of them from the wild year (weatherwise and otherwise) of 2016 for my 11th annual edition! (Links to all previous ones at the top of last year’s.)

And as in the past, the general guidelines: The sources are radar, satellite, and other meteorological graphics rather than photographs (which are a whole other realm); and this collection can’t capture every significant weather event or striking image, yet do at least represent many of the highlights of the year via such images with their scientific and aesthetic attributes, as seen through weather geek eyes.

And the image of the year, at the end, was an obvious choice this time!


Alex. Yes, an Atlantic hurricane in January.


Not only more typical of January, but a massive winter storm with a total amount of snowfall which was extreme.

NASA Earth Science Office

During the height of the storm (known as Jonas), lightning, indicative of thundersnow, observed from the International Space Station.

Scott Kelly


Another intense winter cyclone, undergoing “bombogenesis” (central pressure drop of at least 24 millibars in 24 hours) on its way to bringing blizzard conditions to southeast Massachusetts.

NASA Earth Science Office

4 rotating supercell thunderstorms as they were lined up near the Mississippi/Alabama border during a Groundhog Day tornado outbreak.

Looks like a landfalling tropical cyclone! Actually it was a non-tropical MCV (mesoscale convective vortex) with a circulation aloft.


This was a tropical cyclone — a nasty one, Winston, at the time it was hitting the Fiji island of Veti Levu. (February is summer in the Southern Hemisphere.)

UW-Madison SSEC RealEarth


Intense weather and complex meteorology in Colorado:


A cutoff low with intense clusters of torrential thunderstorms on its southeast flank produced severe flash flooding including in Houston.

UW-Madison SSEC RealEarth

With a tornado outbreak in late April, preliminary vs. updated storm reports showed how rushes to judgment about a forecast bust were premature.

Initial vs. updated severe reports for April 26 through early April 27 (red=tornado; blue=wind, green=hail, black=high-end) Source: NOAA/SPC

Not a major weather event, just a particularly interesting radar loop of thunderstorm outflow.


Godzilla? Not.

Center for Western Weather and Water Extremes; David Pierce


Most tornadoes spin cyclonically. Once in a while an “anticyclonic” tornado — circulation rotating clockwise in the Northern Hemisphere — occurs. Very rare for one to have a damage path as long as 12 miles, and for a circulation aloft associated with an anticyclonic tornado to be seen on radar (the colors tell which way the wind is blowing), as was the case near Sulphur, Oklahoma.


Tropical Storm Bonnie weakened to a tropical depression before making landfall in late May before the official start of the Atlantic hurricane season; then became just a remnant low; then as seen on this radar loop spun back up in early June on its way to becoming a tropical storm again.

College of DuPage Weather Lab

Multiple rounds of “training” thunderstorms brought a flash flood disaster in West Virginia.


High resolution satellite image of the Sand Fire, which produced stunning nighttime photographs.



Would you like some strawberry swirl ice cream? Actually it’s a color-enhanced satellite image of a cyclone over Hudson Bay which was anomalously intense for summer.


A well-structured tropical system has cyclonic inflow in low levels with anticyclonic outflow in upper levels directly above. With this one (despite not officially classified as a tropical depression), both could be seen collocated, the former as represented on radar spinning counterclockwise and the latter via green cloud shades on satellite spreading out clockwise.

Long full radar sequence of the relentless torrential rainfall which brought catastrophic flooding in Louisiana. While also not officially a tropical depression, notwithstanding its inland location this system arguably possessed all the meteorological characteristics of one.


99L, which became the most well-known tropical “invest” system ever, refused to die despite becoming less organized at times, and ultimately became the first Florida hurricane landfall in more than a decade.

NASA Earth Science Office

Although no hurricane-force sustained winds were actually measured by anemometers on land (that’s a whole other story), a band of strong convection pivoted into and got stuck over Tallahassee, causing widespread wind damage, especially to trees.

Breathtaking sights of the Philippines island of Itbayat in the eye of Super Typhoon Meranti (Ferdie).

Bottom image: UW-Madison SSEC RealEarth

Now that’s a cutoff low. (So termed because of being cut off from the main mid-upper level jet streams.) And unfortunately it resulted in heavy rain in the Carolinas, saturating the soil and exacerbating the flood potential in advance of Hurricane Matthew.

This was the hurricane season of the Invests That Wouldn’t Die. “Invest” is a tropical term for investigative area, disturbances which sometimes lead to tropical cyclone formation. In addition to the aforementioned 99L, there were a number of other pesky, resilient ones. Despite not developing into a tropical storm, the low-level spin with 92L could be tracked all the way from the end of August till September 22.


Super Typhoon Haima (Lawin) can be seen undergoing two eyewall replacement cycles.


A band of convection (deep rain clouds & thunderstorms) in a zone of low-level convergence on the east and southeast side of a tropical cyclone is not unusual. But this one looked like another, stronger hurricane alongside Hurricane Matthew! While not that, it did take on a life of its own for a while with persistent convection that was even deeper than that with the core of the hurricane, and evidence of spin aloft.

NASA Earth Science Office

Then with Matthew, something never seen before because it hadn’t previously occurred during the weather radar era: A hurricane of at least Category 3 intensity moving up along this part of the Florida coast.

And rarely if ever seen: A classic eyewall replacement (inner giving way to outer) within range of U.S. weather radar.

Sequence of Miami→Melbourne radar images


An extreme lack of precipitation combined with persistent autumn warmth contributed to conditions exceptionally conducive to wildfires in the Southeast.


At one point a large area all the way down to Atlanta was surreally shrouded in smoke.

UW-Madison SSEC

Tragically, after most of the fires themselves stayed in remote, unpopulated locations, they erupted near Gatlinburg immediately before heavy rain arrived to dampen the leaves and soil and signal a change in the weather pattern. In this 3-D radar image, an anvil from the approaching convection and its downpours is flowing right over the top of smoke plumes.

Sea ice in both the Arctic and Antarctic plummeted to exceptionally low extents.

This wasn’t a satellite image of a hurricane on Labor Day (peak of season), it was on Thanksgiving Day: The landfall of Otto, which broke a number of records for time of year and location.

UW-Madison SSEC RealEarth


And on Christmas Day in the Philippines, Super Typhoon Nock-ten (Nina).

Greg Diamond, The Weather Channel television network

In the eastern U.S., a textbook representation of a wedge of cold air damming east of the mountains and erosion thereof, as an arctic front moved in from the west.

Rare snow in the Sahara Desert:


Image of the year

The backstory is that after the daily weather briefing I gave that day during the morning editorial meeting at The Weather Channel television network, I checked the latest satellite loop of Hurricane Matthew, did a double-take, stepped through frame by frame, and whoa!

Upon posting the image I figured it’d catch people’s attention, as it did mine, but didn’t know it would not only go viral, it’d break the Internet, and I’d even end up on Inside Edition.

The reaction around the world, despite me stating up front that the image was not doctored, included incredulity about that, and even false accusations.

For the record: I posted it as a meteorological image without intending any other implications, exactly as the weather satellite analyzed the temperatures of the cloud tops, and did not alter that. While being an extraordinarily eerie one, and occurring at the time of catastrophic impacts in the Caribbean and prefacing the others coming including in the United States, it was simply a colorized infrared satellite image with a temperature curve known as IR3 — and I didn’t modify in any way a single pixel.

The Weather Channel

Join our weather community at

Welcome to a place where words matter. On Medium, smart voices and original ideas take center stage - with no ads in sight. Watch
Follow all the topics you care about, and we’ll deliver the best stories for you to your homepage and inbox. Explore
Get unlimited access to the best stories on Medium — and support writers while you’re at it. Just $5/month. Upgrade

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store