The winners are in from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's "Weather in Focus" photo contest, picked from more than 2,000 entries taken between Jan. 1, 2014 and March 31, 2015. "From rainbows and sunsets to lightning and tornadoes, the winning photos aren’t just captivating to look at, but inspire us to look at the world in different ways," said Douglas Hilderbrand, NOAA's contest judge and Weather-Ready Nation Ambassador Lead. "It was difficult to pick winners from so many good entries." In first place, from the category "Science in Action," is "Green Bank Telescope in WV" by Mike Zorger, Falls Church, Va.Photos: It's the Crazy-Extreme Weather Season
All 16 winning images will be displayed in aGateway to NOAA
exhibit located on the NOAA campus in Silver Spring, Md., starting in July. Second place in "Science in Action" went to "Photographer captures the aurora" by Christopher Morse, Fairbanks, Alaska.
In third place: "Atmospheric Research Observatory" by Joseph Phillips, Boulder, Colo.Photo: NASA's Extreme Weather Photo Contest
And honorable mention also went to Joseph Phillips, Boulder, Colo. for "Atmospheric Research Observatory."
In the category "Weather, Water & Climate," first place went to "Snow Express" by Conrad Stenftenagel, Saint Anthony, Ind.Photos: Lake Effect Snow Buries Buffalo
"With a Bang" by Bob Larson, Prescott, Ariz., won third place in the "Weather, Water & Climate" category.Top 10 Worst Weather Disasters
Honorable mention went to Alana Peterson, Maple Lake, Minn. for "Raindrops on a Leaf."
A second honorable mention was won for "Fire in the Sky over Glacier National Park" by Sashikanth Chintla, North Brunswick, N.J.Sunsets and Other Sky Wonders
In the category "In the Moment," first place went to "Smoky Mountains" by Elijah Burris, Canton, N.C.
Second place went to "Spring Captured: Freezing rain attempts to halt spring" by Mike Shelby, Elkridge, Md.Unexplained Mysteries of 2014 and Into 2015
And third place went to "Rolling clouds in Lake Tahoe" by Christopher LeBoa, San Leandro, Calif.
Of course the professionals had their own category. First place was won by Brad Goddard, Orion, Ill., for "Stars behind the storm."Awesome Images Make You Feel Amazing
Brad Goddard pretty much cleaned up this category, winning second (and third) place with "A tornado churns up dust in sunset light near Traer, IA."
Third place went for "A tornado crosses the path, Reinbeck, IA" by Brad Goddard.Must-See Planet Pics: Earth Day 2015 Edition
“Fog rolls in from the ocean on a hot summer day, Belbar, N.J.” by Robert Raia, Toms River, N.J., won honorable mention in the pro category.To see all of the images on NOAA's website, go here.
Coral reefs across the Pacific Ocean are being wiped out by this year’s massive El Nino -- a global phenomenon that may be intensified by the effects of climate change.
Scientists just back from tropical areas of the Pacific say they are seeing up to half the reefs in some locations killed by bleaching. This happens when the water gets too hot and the coral expels the algae with which it lives.
Watch "Racing Extinction" on Discovery Channel, Dec. 5, at 9 PM ET/PT.
“We weren’t expecting to see the levels of the destruction that we saw on the reef,” said Kim Cobb, professor of Earth and atmospheric sciences at Georgia Tech, who just returned from a two-week trip to Christmas Island, a large coral atoll about halfway between Hawaii and Tahiti.
“It was shocking,” Cobb said. “To dive on a reef where we had installed monitoring equipment six to eight months ago that was in perfect condition, and to see it with 50 percent death was astounding.”
Cobb has been visiting the same research site for the past 18 years, and says this is the worst she has even seen it. This year’s El Nino, an event that occurs every 7 to 10 years, is one of the biggest on record, according to government scientists. The last big one was during 1997-98.
During El Nino years, equatorial winds that usually blow westward across the Pacific inexplicably die, and as a result, a big slosh of warm water moves eastward toward the coastline of North and South America.
El Nino has caused torrential rains and mudslides in California, for example, where officials in San Diego are asking to declare the region a federal disaster area.
Along the way, the warm water is also changing ecosystems, pushing tropical fish and other marine life northward, while forcing other animals to flee or die. Cobb has published several research papers in recent years linking the intensity El Nino events to climate change.
“The atmosphere is more sensitive to El Nino anomalies under climate change,” Cobb said. “This may already be afoot in the El Ninos of the recent past. It remains a challenging problem because each El Nino is so variable. The records we have are so short that (it's like) chasing a small signal in a very noisy system.”
Hawaii’s corals, too, have been hurt by El Nino’s spa-like waters, according to Andrea Grottoli, head of the division of water, climate and environment at Ohio State University.
“This El Nino is causing bleaching throughout the Hawaiian Islands,” Grottoli said in an interview from her base on Oahu.
The 1997-98 El Nino killed 16 percent of corals worldwide, she said. “It’s too early to know which corals will recover this time.”
Grottoli and her team are trying to understand why some species, and some individuals, are more resilient to the effects of bleaching from warm temperatures as compared to others. This will help in understanding the long-term effects of bleaching.
In addition to hot water -- temperatures around Christmas Island, for example, jumped from 81 degrees to 88 degrees -– corals also face threats from increasing acidification of tropical waters, pollution and overfishing.
Some researchers are trying to understand the future of the world’s coral reefs, massive structures that are home to a rich ecosystem of fish, plants and other marine life.
“Some species will dwindle and others will survive,” said Mark Warner, professor of marine ecology at the University of Delaware, and an expert in coral physiology. The big solid corals that comprise Australia’s Great Barrier Reef or the Florida Keys, for example, may be replaced by sponges, algae and other heat-resistant plants.
“The reefs we see today, 100 to 150 years from now, will be very different,” Warner said. “It’s matter of time if we will have enough warming to push corals over the edge.”