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EARTH OBSERVATION
NASA Satellite Sees An Early Meteorological Winter In US Midwest

The MODIS instrument on NASA's Terra satellite captured this image of snow on December 7, 2010 at 17:05 UTC (12:05 EST). Snow appears on the ground in eastern Minnesota and Iowa, southwestern Wisconsin, northern Illinois, much of Indiana, northern Kentucky and western Ohio. The white area over Lake Michigan and southeast into northern Indiana and Ohio are clouds. Credit: NASA Goddard MODIS Rapid Response Team
by Rob Gutro
Greenbelt MD (SPX) Dec 10, 2010
NASA's Terra satellite captures daily visible and infrared images around the Earth and took a daytime image of a blanket of snow in the Upper Midwest this week. Even though astronomical winter is less than two weeks away, the central and eastern U.S. are already experiencing meteorological winter.

Meteorological winter is basically an identification of the winter season based on "sensible weather patterns" for record keeping purposes.

That means "meteorological winter" happens whenever snow and ice occur, even before astronomical winter arrives on December 21, 2010. Astronomical winter is based on the position of the Earth in its orbit around the sun.

The residents of the upper Midwest are already feeling the effects of winter this week, with high temperatures in the 20s and 30s, and wind chills in the single numbers (Fahrenheit) or colder.

The satellite image of snow on the ground in the upper Midwest is proof of an early meteorological winter.

It was captured by the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer or MODIS instrument on December 7, 2010 at 17:05 UTC (12:05 EST). MODIS is an instrument that flies aboard NASA's Aqua and Terra satellites.

On Saturday, December 4, a low pressure area moved through the Tennessee Valley and generated snowfall from eastern Iowa and Minnesota east through Wisconsin, northern Illinois, Indiana and through the Ohio Valley.

The MODIS image shows snow on the ground in eastern Minnesota and Iowa, southwestern Wisconsin, northern Illinois, much of Indiana, northern Kentucky and western Ohio.

The snow extends farther east, but that area was out of path of the Terra satellite as it captured this image. What it does show, though, is that winter conditions have arrived before astronomical winter did. Residents in these areas of the U.S. hope it leaves early, too.

earlier related report
Arctic blast causes European travel chaos
Paris (AFP) Dec 9, 2010 - Icy roads paralysed much of the Paris region Thursday after the heaviest snow in a quarter of a century, while harsh weather in Germany hit flights and prompted major delays in rail travel.

French Interior Minister Brice Hortefeux asked drivers not to travel unless absolutely necessary the day after 11 centimetres (more than four inches) of snow fell on Paris, the most in one day since 1987.

He said around 1,000 motorists had to spend the night snow-bound in their cars, although that figure paled in comparison with the 60,000 who slept in their cars during a 2003 blizzard.

Thousands spent the night at Charles de Gaulle airport, France's main international hub, after their flights were cancelled, and thousands more stranded motorists were put up in municipal halls and school sports halls around the Paris region.

Police late Wednesday barred trucks from travelling on roads in the Paris region, with around 3,000 lorries stuck on northern French motorways headed for the capital.

But lorries were allowed to take to the road again by late afternoon Thursday as road conditions began to improve.

There were flight delays and cancellations at Charles de Gaulle because of icy runways and fuel trucks' inability to get to planes, Air France said, advising passengers to check their flight status ahead of time.

Flights during the day were delayed up to two hours, airport authorities said late Thursday but the situation was slowly getting back to normal.

The Eiffel Tower reopened after ice forced its closure on Wednesday.

Amid rising public anger at the authorities' perceived inability to deal with the situation, Hortefeux postponed a trip to Morocco and said he would send experts to other European cities to see how they deal with snow and ice.

Prime Minister Francois Fillon, on a visit to Russia, accused the Meteo France weather service of having "failed to forecast the snow and in any case not its intensity" thereby catching clearing services by surprise.

In Germany heavy snowfall sparked chaos in the country's transport networks, with hundreds of flights cancelled and major delays for rail passengers, authorities said.

Wintry conditions prompted the shutdown of Frankfurt international airport, Germany's busiest, from 2100 GMT Wednesday to about 0100 GMT Thursday, a spokeswoman said, leading to a major backlog throughout the day.

Nearly 3,000 people were stranded in Frankfurt and slept at nearby hotels or the airport itself, where beds were set up. Of the nearly 1,400 flights scheduled Thursday, 400 were cancelled.

"The situation is slowly getting back to normal," the spokeswoman said. "The snowfall has stopped and our runways are clear."

The airport reported 15 centimetres (six inches) of snow Thursday afternoon.

In Berlin where snow averaged 17 centimetres (more than six inches) some 200 flights were scrapped at the two main international airports, about one-third of those scheduled, a spokesman said.

Train travel was hit by major delays, with high-speed trains forced to slow to 160 kilometres (100 miles) per hour from the 250 kilometres per hour in normal conditions, the state-owned rail company said.

Snow and ice on the roads provoked thousands of accidents and major traffic jams on the autobahns, including a 40-kilometre- (25-mile-)long bottleneck in the central state of Thuringia.

Britain also suffered from the early cold snap that descended on Europe, with Scotland the worst hit by the snow and ice that paralysed many roads earlier in the week.

"It is the most widespread heavy snow in Britain in November since 1965. The weather in December has continued on a similar note," said a spokesman for the Met Office, the national forecasters for Britain.



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