NASA Goddard Rapid Response
On Jan. 20 at 2:30 p.m. EST the VIIRS instrument aboard NASA-NOAA’s Suomi NPP captured this image of the winter storm moving through the central United States.
Now that winter has more or less fully descended across the Northern Hemisphere, we are once again reminded of the various modern technologies that help us stave off the cold. But what about the really rough environments, where winter gets especially cruel?Winter Storm Hercules: Photos
Navigating ice-covered waters is a very old dilemma indeed -- cold-weather mariners have been developing ice-breaking ship technology for more than 1,000 years. Modern icebreaker ships use reinforced hulls to clear waterways for other vessels and to keep trade routes open. Above, the Russian nuclear-powered icebreaker Yamal ("End of the Land") heads out for the North Pole.Antarctic Ice Loss Tripled in the Last 10 Years
Despite the name, icebreaker ships rarely use their bow to literally cut into sheets of ice. Rather, the weight of the super strong hull causes the ice to bend and break as it passes under and around the vessel.How Icebreakers Work and Why They Get Stuck
British Antarctic Survey
Hundreds of nations and research groups maintain permanent research stations in various Arctic and Antarctic locales. Britain's Halley VI Research Station, pictured above, is a mobile facility with eight modules built atop ski-fitted hydraulic legs. Modules can be towed independently and the facility regularly moves around to avoid crushing snow accumulation.Photos: Crossing Antarctica: Making the Journey
British Antarctic Survey
About 70 staffers occupy the station in the summer season, with a skeleton crew of 16 "winterers" holding down the fort year-round. The wintering team includes a chef, a doctor, mechanics, several electronics engineers and a heating and ventilation engineer. They all get very, very good at foosball.Coldest Places on Earth Found -- In Antarctica
International Polar Foundation
Belgium's Princess Elisabeth Antarctica research station uses wind power, solar power and a sophisticated battery storage system to harness renewable energy at polar extremes. The zero-emission station's solar panels get 24 hours of sun in the summer months, but must rely on wind power in the winter.Why Do We Go to Antarctica?
International Polar Foundation
Deliveries to the Princess Elisabeth Antarctica can be a challenge. One per year, a ship from Belgium travels to the coast of Antarctica to deposit building materials and supplies on the ice shelf. Since the station is 200 kilometers (124 miles) inland, the delivery process becomes an expedition in itself with snowmobile scouts picking a path through obstacles and crevasses for the convoy.8 Great Snowmobile Vacations Even a Skier Would Love
Earth's poles are plenty cold, but we're actually in a good spot, solar-system-wise. Some researchers are planning for even colder climes. The Flashline Mars Arctic Research Station (FMARS) is a simulated Martian habitat in the polar desert environment of Devon Island in Nunavut, Canada. The research station was established in the summer of 2000 by the Mars Society to test possible methods of colonizing the Red Planet. It's still active -- the 142nd crew rotation just completed its field rotation in November.NASA Eyes Crew Deep Sleep Option for Mars Mission
U.S. National Park Service
Back on Earth -- and down here in the less insane latitudes -- plenty of communities must also make concessions to the snow and cold. At Yellowstone National Park, traditional vehicles are modified with snow treads and ski mounts to create the park's famous snow coaches.
The head of the National Weather Service has urged that “people should pay attention” to the developing snowstorm that is threatening the Washington, D.C., region and beyond. Speaking at a press briefing at NOAA’s Center for Weather and Climate Prediction in College Park, Md., Dr. Louis Uccelini advised that, “if people haven’t taken action and they’re driving on (the I-95 corridor) on Saturday, they’re at risk.”
For those who might harbor some skepticism over the accuracy of the predictions for the upcoming storm, Uccelini explained that he was struck by the consistency of the forecasts.
“I don’t remember seeing four of five modeling systems having this much consistency,” from seven days to one day out, he said.
The latest NWS forecast predicts a 73 percent chance that more than 18 inches of snow will fall on the Washington area, beginning Friday evening and continuing through Saturday. That would be the city’s biggest snowstorm in almost 100 years and the third largest in its history, although some outlier models suggest the total could even reach 30 inches, which would be a record. The weather service has upgraded existing blizzard watches for the DC area to blizzard warnings, and has issued blizzard watches for New Jersey and the fringes of the New York City area.
“The heaviest snow should start falling in the mid-Atlantic area late Friday evening and move steadily up the coast to New York Saturday morning,” Uccelini said. “Expect winds to be very strong, especially along the I-95 corridor.”
The expected impacts are likely to begin as early as Thursday evening, farther south in a range from eastern Texas to the Florida panhandle, where the weather system — to some extent fed by El Nino conditions — is gathering force before moving north. These impacts include the possibility of tornadoes in Louisiana and ice and freezing rain in Kentucky and North Carolina.
In addition to ice, snowfall and extremely strong winds, there is concern over the possibility of coastal flooding particularly in the Delaware Bay region, and perhaps farther north to New York City. The potential for severe flooding is exacerbated by the fact that the storm is expected to persist for several tidal cycles and is coinciding with a lunar tide.
However, Uccelini said that the weather service was not ready to offer specific flooding forecasts, and encouraged residents to “pay attention to local authorities.” Another area of forecast uncertainty includes the exact location of the snow/sleet/rain line — which, with just a small amount of variance, could make the difference between New York City experiencing as little as 5 inches of snow (as currently forecast) or substantially more.
Uccelini underlined that “I am not trying to scare people.” But he warned the storm “has the potential to be a major snow producer. We want to highlight this storm for people to be aware of the risk factors and to be prepared.”
For ongoing information on the storm’s development and how to prepare, visit www.ready.gov and www.weather.gov.