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FROM THE MET DESK | Year in review

Jaw-dropping: Images that wowed our meteorologists in 2018

Caroline Floyd

Monday, January 7, 2019, 5:40 PM - It probably comes as no surprise that The Weather Network has more than its fair share of 'weather nerds', and all of us are captivated by images of the planet in action -- be it a striking image of a massive tropical cyclone, or an explosive reminder of the power of Mother Nature. We've collected a few of the images that amazed us in 2018, along with some of the reasons these images stood out, below.


Early 2018 was remarkably stormy in eastern Canada, as a parade of powerful nor'easters slammed the region in March -- four in the span of three weeks. Pictured below, the third storm swirls off the coast of New England, south of Nova Scotia. 

Weather Network meteorologist Matt Grinter appreciated the views provided by one of the newer tools in the forecaster's arsenal -- the GOES 16 satellite. "These nor'easters posed for the new satellite, GOES 16, showing the wonders of the technology. From the winter time convection to the clear center of the low wrapping up, the detail is just a thing of beauty."


For TWN's resident Stormhunter Jaclyn Whittal, it was a much more up-close-and-personal event that stood out.

"I was talking with fellow chaser Tim Millar -- who has chased more than 25 hurricanes -- and we see it intensifying on satellite right before landfall on October 10. It was intimidating and I felt so small seeing this beast of a storm trying to strengthen right upon approach. Knowing that we were about to face a possible Category 5 landfall in a parking garage was starting to sink in here," Whittal said. "I was trying to joke around with Tim trying to act like I wasn't scared. I was a bit scared, but it turned out to be the best chase of my life. Tropical storms have now become my favourite type of weather to forecast and cover in the field."


When severe weather specialist Kelly Sonnenburg began her shift on August 3, she wasn't expecting to be covering the strongest tornado to be recorded in North America in 2018. "I was tracking this storm live on TV when the tornado touched down," Sonnenburg recalls. "We starting watching a nasty squall line come into radar range over the Manitoba Lakes and rotation started to become evident on radar. Environment Canada issued a tornado warning and shortly after photos of damaged homes appeared on Twitter."

"We aired the first videos of the tornado on the ground while we were live and I think I went speechless for a moment or two. Talking about a tornado warning is one thing, seeing a tornado on the ground in its full fury is another. It reminds us just how important keeping the public informed during severe weather really is."


2018 was a blockbuster year for tropical cyclones around the globe, as mid-September saw a jaw-dropping nine tropical systems active at the same time. For the first time in a decade, four named storms swirled simultaneously in the Atlantic Basin, while -- half a world away -- Super Typhoon Mangkhut barred toward the Philippines with peak winds in excess of 250 km/h.

Image courtesy Dr. Marshall Shepherd/Facebook

Between all basins combined, the world saw 24 major hurricane strength storms in 2018.


Meteorologist Erin Wenckstern was wowed by a similar-looking phenomenon, but on a much smaller scale. "A von Kármán vortex swirled off the California coast and to the untrained eye, you may think it's just a miniature version of a destructive hurricane, but in reality, they form under very different atmospheric conditions," said Wenckstern.

Von Kármán vortices are created when flowing air bumps into an obstacle, in this case San Clemente island near San Diego, California. The increasingly turbulent flow casts off a vortex in the island's wake and developing clouds make the vortex visible.

"While it's just a simple swirl, the fundamental math behind it is anything but. Fluid dynamics, the backbone of weather, is one of the most complex areas of study, but visually, it's simple beauty."


The much more destructive Kilauea eruption also stood out in Jaclyn Whittal's memory. On May 3, a fissure -- a crack associated with the Kilauea volcano -- opened right through people's backyards in Leilani Estates, on Hawaii's Big Island. Lava from the crack fountained more than 150 feet (50 m) into the air and spread to encase an area more than 200 m wide in newly-hardened rock.

"The reason I find this so fascinating is because normally when we see video or pictures of volcanoes, it's from far," said Whittal. "This was so shocking because there were fissures and eruptions literally in people's backyards. People were getting dangerously close, not really understanding the threat that was right before their eyes."


Part of California's vicious 2018 wildfire season, the Woolsey Fire, north of Los Angeles, scorched nearly 97,000 acres in November and left a charred scar on the landscape.

Image courtesy NASA Earth Observatory.

This kind of image, known as a false-colour infrared image, is enhanced to better demonstrate features. In this case, the burn scar appears as brown, unburned vegetation shows up as green, and developments like roads and buildings are white or grey. Parts of the Pacific Coast Highway through the burn region have already been closed in early 2019 due to mudslides; a common event in the aftermath of these wildfires.

The 2018 wildfire season killed more than 100 people in California, and burned nearly 2 million acres.


The wildfire season wasn't any kinder on this side of the border, as back here at home British Columbia saw the worst season for fires on record. Meteorologist Tyler Hamilton remembered this dubious distinction: When his home province saw the worst air quality on the planet. Fine particulate matter -- PM 2.5 -- values reached 20 times the provincial standard in August 2018 for parts of the southern Interior, and turned the skies a sickly yellow-orange for many places in the province.

"All told, the destructive and relentless wildfire season ultimately charred over 1.3 million hectares," says Hamilton, "NEARLY half the size of Vancouver Island."


Deadly tornadoes also swept through the National Capital Region in September 2018, giving Kelly Sonnenburg her first up-close experience with tornado damage. "Seeing people's homes completely destroyed is something you hope to never see again. I will forever remember the stories people shared about heeding the warnings, taking shelter and what it was like when the tornado hit."

The tornado was rated EF-3 after Environment Canada's damage survey, with maximum winds estimated to be around 265 km/h.


And last, but by no means least, Super Typhoon Yutu provided stunning visuals as it ravaged parts of the south Pacific and the Philippines. This monster storm surged to super typhoon intensity in just three days, and reached its peak intensity -- with 1-minute sustained winds of a staggering 285 km/h -- on October 24, just in time to cross the tiny island of Tinian, part of the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands.

"For me, no image from 2018 even comes close to this one, which shows the eye of Super Typhoon Yutu passing directly over the tiny island of Tinian in the Pacific Ocean," said TWN's Brett Soderholm. "The odds of this happening are staggeringly low, and to see it captured so perfectly here really is incredible."

Thumbnail: Courtesy NOAA


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