Meteorological images of 2020

Meteorological images of 2020

My 15th annual! So much has changed since I first had the idea to do this in 2006. Advancements in weather technology and the proliferation of social media have made weather geek imagery ever more awesome and ubiquitous. Much harder to keep up with it all, made even more difficult by chronic fatigue I’ve been dealing with for more than a year. Also when I started this I was in my 40s and now I’m in my 60s. And the pandemic reinforces that you can never take a second for granted. So, being in a reflective mood, I don’t know how many more of these I’ll do, but at least for this year, given how intense 2020 has been, how could I not! It was so extreme meteorologically as well as medically and politically. 

Whereas last year I grouped by type of weather phenomena, this time it’s by month, since the chronological progression of everything in our world in 2020 from those first few months through the last couple has been so indelibly stamped in our minds.

The selection of images tries to balance what’s visually compelling with a focus on significant weather events, woven into a chronicle telling the meteorological stories of the year.

Source attribution is in either the image or caption.

And now, 2020…

Images of the year

Tropical cyclones and wildfires were among the weather and related phenomena that were most characteristic of the extremity of 2020. 

To me, this image represents the essence of the Atlantic hurricane season and all of what made this year so surreal. Yes, I’ve been enthralled by pareidolia faces in weather ever since a few years ago when I saw the infamous Hurricane Matthew skull. But this just seems so perfect for 2020. Looking at all of us before hitting land, an eerie face with a sinister grin, in the eye of Iota, the last storm of the year, which was also the strongest of the season and anomalously intense for so late. 

The Weather Channel

This imagery of the Australia fires struck me at the time for the density and sheer magnitude of the smoke plus the pyrocumulonimbus. Looking back at it now, it looms even larger, as this was just a few days into 2020 and it presaged what was to come including in the United States.

Animation: Dakota Smith (@weatherdak) Data: JMA/NICT

The Atlantic hurricane season

A record 30 named storms, and the 31 tropical/subtropical cyclones tied the record set in 2005. Here are all 31 in 31 seconds and 3.1 seconds.

The 2020 season will also be remembered for so many rapidly intensifying storms.
Data: NOAA / Animation by me

And the record number hitting the U.S. This is the average pattern aloft from the date of the first (Arthur on May 18) to the last (Eta on November 12), signifying a pathway to land with recurrent troughs between persistent ridging to the west and east. 

NOAA Physical Sciences Laboratory


There were many others besides the one above; here are a few of the most vivid.

Severe Tropical Cyclone Harold in the Southern Hemisphere.

A 941 millibar nontropical cyclone in the North Pacific. 

In the northeast Atlantic.

Sally, before becoming a hurricane, made a Mr. Bill face. 


Smoke from those Australia fires flowed to South America. In fact, it would go all the way around the world and back to near Australia

Two swirls are blown away (literally) by a third which brought intense winds and record-breaking snow to Newfoundland.

Quite the serial derecho blasted across the South on the 10th11th.


Speaking of swirls, there was this wildness (including one of the faces above).

And these were going on at the same time, one in the Southern Hemisphere rotating clockwise and another pulling dust from Africa.

A vividly narrow swath of snow on the ground in Kansas and the bands which produced it.

In February there was quite the perfectly circular stratospheric polar vortex. The sequence represents three dimensionality from near the Earth’s surface to a few miles up in the wavy tropospheric circumpolar vortex and then all the way up through the stratosphere. 



Reviewing this year’s images, I saw that I had saved this one with the title “Saturday Night Quarantine.”

Another such image, as with each passing day we got deeper into what seemed like a dystopian science fiction movie…

The Weather Channel

Some more trippy cumulus, with cirrus filaments above.

Wavy rolls in Kansas.

Nearby (on a different day) a smoke plume on radar, an omen of what was to come with fires in the U.S.

Source of this and all radar imagery below is Gibson Ridge unless otherwise identified

3-D structure of the tornado-producing supercells which hit the Nashville area on Super Tuesday this year and in 2008. 

High-resolution TDWR (Terminal Doppler Weather Radar) imagery of the tornadic supercell in downtown Nashville.


With GOES-16 high-resolution rapid-scan imagery we get to see stunning 3-D rotation in supercells and their updrafts. Usually though that’s in the central or southern states, not in California like this was. 

The Weather Channel


Ditto with one off the coast of my home state of New Jersey. 

And one over the Gulf of Mexico.

Holy Above-Anvil Cirrus Plume, Batman!

The Weather Channel

Del Rio, Texas seems like a thunderstorm magnet in the spring. This one produced a report of 4″ diameter hail.

Core structure of the supercell which produced the Bassfield, Mississippi EF4 tornado.

Radar rotation of tornadoes following parallel tracks in Mississippi. 

We’re used to seeing Fujiwhara interactions of tropical cyclones. Of tornado debris signatures on radar like these in South Carolina, not so much. 

As the SC thunderstorms moved offshore, structure reminiscent of the 1999 “tornadocane,” also in the eastern Carolinas.

And with actual tropical cyclones, in a foreshadowing of the many quick intensifications that would be coming in the Atlantic basin later in the year, three phases of it with Severe Tropical Cyclone Harold in the Southern Hemisphere. (And yes the face in the eye after the second one.) 

The Gulf of Mexico would see its share of rapid intensification. Meanwhile in April there was this looong rope cloud. 


Bats. Fitting for 2020.

This just looks like some ordinary clouds and showers. What’s so notable about it? The deep ESE flow of humid air from the tropics was more typical of August in the Atlanta metro area where I live. At the time it seemed like it might be an omen of steering currents for storms, and that turned out to be the case. 

Ditto this cutoff low, presaging the recurrent pattern that pulled so many tropical cyclones into the U.S. rather than steering most of them out to sea as happens in some seasons. 

The Weather Channel

Arthur, along with Bertha, made 2020 the 6th year in a row with a named storm prior to the June 1 official start of the Atlantic hurricane season. 

Not a tropical cyclone, but this von Kármán vortex near Guadalupe Island offshore of Mexico, amongst others and with atmospheric waves superimposed, swirled like one.

A much bigger swirl over the northeast Pacific — a tasty cinnamon roll.

It’s not uncommon for clusters of intense thunderstorms to merge, but this was in Oregon, not the most common place for that and with this severity.


PA-NJ derecho.

Actinoform clouds near Hawaii.

From CAG (Central American Gyre) to Amanda to Cristobal.

Cristobal from Mexico to Moosonee.

While this was a strong one, surges of dust and Saharan air are typical early in the season. The organization and robustness of thunderstorms with that African easterly wave already in June though raised an eyebrow. Yet another sign. 


Fay swirling into NJ.

A near-miss of Hawaii by the core of Douglas.


Another Pacific hurricane, Genevieve. 

Isaias, from tropical tumbleweed to landfalling hurricane.

The derecho which blasted across the Midwest and was particularly extreme around Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

Radar reflectivity and velocity at the time of a likely firenado in California from the Loyalton Fire. 

This model forecast for upper-level outflow perfect for intensification was deeply concerning as Laura headed in that direction. 

And the result…

That eyewall raked Lake Charles with major wind damage, while subtleties in the exact track and what that meant for the wind direction mitigated the storm surge there. That led to a misconception that Laura did not bring a catastrophic surge anywhere. Actually, it unfortunately did, on the coast near and east of the track of the center. 


Sally making landfall in almost the exact same place as Ivan.

Teddy from Category 4 to extratropical transition. 

The Creek Fire in California erupts.


Extremity of the warm ridge of high pressure aloft helping to set the table for the western fires.


Eyewall cloud-to-ground lightning in Delta.

Gamma & Delta. Not every day you see two storms with Greek names side-by-side and affecting land.

Delta made landfall in nearly the exact same location as Laura did, evoking memories of when Frances and Jeanne did in the same season in 2004.

Evolution of Epsilon from nontropical system to hurricane.

Resemblance of Epsilon (right) to the unnamed hurricane embedded within the large Perfect Storm circulation in its latter stages in 1991 (left).

What a night. My wife and I were in our basement as the power went out and the outages spread across north Georgia, listening to the wind from Zeta screaming, and looking out at the trees bending, hoping none would fall on our house. We were lucky, while many others in Atlanta metro were not.

While there were pronunciamentos at the time that Goni/Rolly in the Philippines was the strongest tropical cyclone landfall on record, that’s not necessarily the case — it’s more complicated than that, and arguably the typhoon wasn’t the most intense at time of landfall, based on an objective evaluation of all the data. In any event, it was at least in the upper echelon, and devastating.



Fortunately quite a collapse of the deep convective core of Eta as it approached Florida. But one of these days there’ll be a strong hurricane landfall in the Tampa Bay area like in 1921.

Another look at the eye of Iota as it headed toward nearly the exact same landfall location as Eta, a catastrophic one-two punch in Central America.


And another vivid eye, this one with Yasa as it tracked toward Fiji.

From complexity to bombogenesis.

I spy a mesovortex circulating around and into the center of the cyclone.

From east Asia jet stream extension to northeast U.S. snowstorm.

The change in radar colors during the storm represents a change from snow to sleet and/or rain, which held down down accumulations for many people. 


Not to the north though, with 40+ inches from this persistent intense band!

Multiple mesolows over Lake Michigan in an arctic blast late in the month.

h/t Dave Caulfield

Drought at the beginning and end of the year.

Drought Monitor NDMC/USDA/NOAA

The lack of summer monsoon thunderstorms was a significant factor in the escalation of the drought across the desert Southwest. Thus also not as many haboobs as in some past years. But here was one recently in the Southern Hemisphere summer.

Also in the SH, the solar eclipse.

Siberian sea ice in 2020.

Iceberg, 2020 style.

Surface map showing extreme, and not official yet but possibly a new world record, high pressure as converted to sea level. (And updated measurements.)

As the year ends, model forecasts are creating a buzz for exceptionally low pressure in the center of a developing cyclone over the North Pacific. Spectacular imagery expected, to be added before the year ends…