The five Great Lakes can barely be seen in this satellite image captured on Monday, January 6, 2014. The image shows an area that extends from the Minnesota-Canadian border in the upper left to the Chesapeake Bay, including the Great Lakes, where temperatures dipped to an average of -20 degrees Fahrenheit, according to NASA.
In addition to providing viewers with stunning images of winter, the Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite (GOES) adds to the science of meteorology. “GOES satellite imagery helps meteorologists track lake-effect snow, which falls out of such low clouds as to be ‘under the radar,'” said Dennis Chesters of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, MD.
In the image above, you can see the whiteout caused by lake-effect snow, which forms when cold air moves over warmer lake waters. That warm water evaporates and heats up the lowest layer of air. Since warm air is less dense than cold air, it rises and begins to cool. The result? The water vapor condenses into clouds and falls as snow, sometimes as huge amounts, with winds blowing the snow horizontally and causing limited visibility.
In mild blizzard conditions, it’s generally possible to see vague outlines of things like structures, but in a full whiteout it’s hard to tell the difference between the sky and the ground. Because people have difficulty seeing and navigating during a whiteout, it’s possible to become disoriented and lost, even just a few feet away from safety. In regions where whiteout conditions are common, some people run ropes between homes and barns to reduce the risk of losing their way.
Photos: The 8 Snowiest Places on Earth – Check out these places that hold the records for the coldest temperatures ever measured on Earth. The cold temperatures this winter in the Northeastern United States are nothing compared to the ones on the list!
Frozen Fun: Try These Cold-Weather Science Experiments – With absurdly low temperatures gripping the eastern half of the United States and Canada, why not use the extreme cold for some entertainment and sneak in a little science education too.
What is a Polar Vortex? – In the past few days, we have heard all about the “polar vortex” descending on the Upper Midwest and Northeast, with a range of -30 to -60 wind chills and record-breaking cold. But what exactly is a “polar vortex”?