Blame This Arctic Superstorm For Brutal U.S. Winter Weather

NASA managed to look inside a 12-mile-high cake slice of the storm

satellite images of the top and interior of a Bering Sea storm, 2014

Top and Interior Views of a Bering Sea Storm

NASA Earth Observatory image by Jesse Allen, with data courtesy of the CloudSat team at Colorado State University and Suomi National Polar-orbiting Partnership

Got a lot of snow last week—or yesterday? You can blame this guy, above. The satellite image, taken November 8, shows a superstorm over the Bering Sea. The storm was one of the most intense ever recorded in the region, creating hurricane-force winds and 26-foot-tall waves. The storm was also a part of a series of meteorological events that eventually led to the recent cold snap in the American Midwest and northern New York State.

Weather Underground's Jeff Masters explains:

The intense cold blast is being triggered by an unusually extreme jet stream pattern, featuring a sharp ridge of high pressure along the U.S. West Coast and a deep trough of low pressure diving to the south over the Central United States. This configuration allows cold air to spill out of the Arctic behind the trough into the Central U.S. . . . This extreme jet stream pattern is due, in part, to the influence of Super Typhoon Nuri, which caused a ripple effect on the jet stream after the typhoon became one of the most powerful extratropical storms ever recorded in the waters to the west of Alaska ten days ago.

NASA's Suomi-NPP satellite captured this image on the day the Bering Sea storm peaked in intensity. Minutes later, NASA's CloudSat flew over the storm in a straight path, marked in red in the Suomi-NPP image. CloudSat's instruments recorded what the storm would look like if viewed in cross-section, from the ground up. You can see CloudSat's data in blue, below the Suomi-NPP photo. It's a 12-mile-tall cake slice of the storm.

The lighter blue parts of CloudSat's image represent thin ice clouds, while the darker blue parts represent thick clouds and snow. Scientists hope to use this data to learn more about how processes inside winter storm clouds affect the storm's strength and lifecycle.

CloudSat has been observing clouds over Earth since 2006 and has made a number of notable images. Here's the interior of Superstorm Sandy, as imaged on October 29, 2012. The freezing line is the line in the clouds above which ice particles form, and below which rain forms:

satellite data, showing bands of dark and light blue, from inside Superstorm Sandy

Inside Superstorm Sandy, October 29, 2012

NASA Earth Observatory image by Jesse Allen, with data courtesy of the CloudSat team at Colorado State University

And check out this image, from 2009, of the inside of Super Typhoon Choi-wan. That dip in the middle is the eye:

satellite data, showing bands of light and dark blue, from inside Typhoon Choi-wan

Inside Super Typhoon Choi-Wan

NASA Earth Observatory image by Jesse Allen, with data courtesy of the CloudSat team at Colorado State University