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8 Extreme Weather Events As Seen From Space

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Most of us have seen at least one extreme weather event in our lives. But no matter how things look from the ground, these events look drastically different, even surprisingly peaceful, from above. Here are some of the biggest weather events of the last few decades, as seen from space.

1. Hurricane Katrina

Most of us remember the severe devastation Hurricane Katrina (top image) caused, and it’s easy to see why the storm presented so many problems when seen from above—the arms of the hurricane expanded across most of the Gulf of Mexico. When this image was taken on August 28, 2005, winds in the storm were recorded traveling at about 160 mph.

Katrina was not only one of the five deadliest hurricanes in U.S. history—it was also the most expensive natural disaster in the country's history, causing more than $108 billion in damages.

2. Superstorm Sandy

Just last year, the Floss headquarters was closed for weeks thanks to this massive hurricane that caused over $75 billion in damage. 

3. Ireland and Britain’s Winter of 2009-2010

While not due to one storm in particular, the winter of 2009 through 2010 was unusually cold throughout Europe, earning the season the title of “The Big Freeze.” This satellite image from January 7, 2010 shows the extent of snow covering over England and Scotland.

4. Snowmageddon

Europe wasn’t the only area hit hard by winter that season. On February 5, 2010, the North Atlantic coast was hit by a category 3 (major) blizzard. Up to 35 inches of snow was dropped on the East Coast of the U.S. The area was already suffering from the effects of a blizzard that had occurred in December, and when another category 3 blizzard happened only a few days later, bringing another 20 inches of snow, the media began pronouncing the event “snowpocalypse,” “snoverkill” and “snowmageggon.” Catchy nicknames aside, the storms resulted in the snowiest winter on record for much of the Mid-Atlantic, which is easy to imagine given how much snow is visible in this satellite image taken on February 11.

5. Cyclone Gafilo

While it might not be as famous as many of the other storms on this list, 2004’s Cyclone Gafilo is the most intense cyclone to ever form in the south-western Indian Ocean and the strongest cyclone to strike Madagascar. With winds reaching over 185 miles per hour, the storm caused more than $250 million in damages and resulted in 172 deaths.

This image shows the cyclone on March 6, after it reached peak speed and was about to strike northwest Madagascar.

6. 2009's Australian Sandstorm

When someone says “extreme weather,” you probably think of wet conditions, but when high winds hit sand, they can result in massive dust storms that can be just as intense as a blizzard. In September of 2009, a dust storm hit Eastern Australia, sweeping dirt and debris across New South Wales and Queensland. Typically, air particle concentrations register at 20 micrograms per cubic meter of air. During bushfires, the air particle concentration raises to about 500 micrograms per cubic meter. So you can imagine how concentrated the dust must have been for the air concentration levels to reach 15,400 during the storm. It’s been estimated that the storm carried over 16 million tons of dust from the desert to the coast, at a peak level of 75,000 tons per hour.

7. 2003 Firestorm

Many would hesitate to call wildfires a weather event, but in most cases, weather is at least partially responsible. This was definitely the case in the California wildfires of October 2003, where over 15 wildfires broke out throughout Southern California and Baja, Mexico. I was in San Diego when the fires first broke out and there was so much thick, white ash in the air that even 20 miles from the fires, it looked like the roads were covered in snow.

8. 2007 Wildfires

I was also present for the 2007 California wildfires, which were a result of many of the same weather conditions as the 2003 fires, which have become a seasonal problem for the region.

Were any of you witness to these events, or do you have any extreme weather stories of your own? While everyone loves a good story, you might consider yourself lucky if your answer is “no” this time.

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The Roomba's Creator Invented an Underwater Vacuum That Sucks Up Invasive Lionfish
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Invasive fish can be a major issue for waterways, since they can devastate native species and take a toll on environmental diversity. The red shiner, for instance, is a hardy fish that can survive basically anywhere, and in the process, outcompete and kill native fish species. Invasive species can travel far and wide, hopping across continents with human help (whether on purpose or by accident).

Colin Angle, who co-founded iRobot, the company that invented the Roomba, has an answer. It’s kind of like a robot vacuum, but for invasive fish, according to Fast Company. The Guardian, developed by Angle’s nonprofit Robots in Service of the Environment, is an underwater robot designed to stun lionfish, suck them up, and bring them to the surface.

Lionfish, native to the Indo-Pacific, are considered an invasive species in the Atlantic and the Caribbean, where they have few predators and huge appetites for both crustaceans and other fish. The fish can eat up to 20 other fish in half an hour, lay up to 40,000 eggs every few days, and live up to 30 years, making them a formidable foe for environmentalists. They may have been introduced in the mid-1980s by personal aquarium owners in Florida releasing pets that got too big for their tanks.

As part of the effort to rid Atlantic waterways of lionfish, the U.S. government has tried to encourage people to catch and eat them. If other species can be overfished, couldn’t lionfish?

The Guardian isn’t the only robot with a mission to eradicate invasive fish. Queensland University of Technology’s COTSbot is designed to kill crown of thorns starfish in the Great Barrier Reef. Unlike COTSbot, though, The Guardian isn’t autonomous. Someone above the water has to control it remotely, directing it toward fish to suck up using a camera feed.

That’s by design, though. The idea is that like the Roomba, the Guardian will be affordable enough for fishermen to use so they can hunt the fish and sell them in restaurants. (One unit currently costs about $1000.) The Guardian's ability to reach depths of up to 400 feet will aid fishermen in waters and reefs that can't be easily accessed.

Each Guardian can bring up about 10 live lionfish at a time. And while one robot cannot eradicate lionfish from the ocean alone, a huge number of them could make a dent.

The Guardian is currently in testing in Bermuda.

[h/t Fast Company]

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Climate Change Could Resurrect the Dust Bowl
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Three Lions / Stringer / Getty Images

The billowing dust storms we know from black-and-white photos of the Great Depression could become a reality for future generations, scientists warn. As Gizmodo reports, climate change is grooming the southwest and central Great Plains for a new version of the Dust Bowl that plagued the region in the 1930s.

After gathering 12 years of satellite data (2003–2015), researchers at Princeton University and NOAA's Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory predict that dust clouds will increase in parts of the U.S. in the latter half of this century. As they lay out in their study in Scientific Reports, prolonged drought and barren landscapes caused by deforestation are set to create the perfect conditions for the same type of storms that drove people from the Great Plains nine decades ago. At its worst, this phenomenon could be deadly; when they're not breathing in dust, residents in the affected areas could be exposed to dangerous pathogens and chemicals carried by air currents.

Dust storms occur when winds stir up dirt particles into dark, massive clouds. During the so-called Dirty Thirties, soil loosened by over-tilling was a major contributor to the dust that enveloped land. Even with more sustainable farming practices, dry summers could create the same arid, dusty landscapes required for a repeat of the Dust Bowl.

While there's still much research to be done on the subject, the study authors hope their findings will get people thinking about how to prepare for the consequences. "Our specific projections may provide an early warning on erosion control, and help improve risk management and resource planning," co-author Bing Pu said in a Princeton University press statement.

That seems like an improvement over ideas for fighting the Dust Bowl that were proposed in the 1930s, which included paving over the Great Plains and bombing the sky. Fortunately, we still have a few decades to come up with better strategies this time around.

[h/t Gizmodo]

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