John Metcalfe was CityLab’s Bay Area bureau chief, covering climate change and the science of cities.
An escaped chunk of the Polar Vortex caused this weird-looking mass emanation of vapors.
The unusually severe cold snap this week has dealt misery to many – hundreds of Amtrak passengers stranded overnight by blowing snow, Hoosiers ordered to stay inside lest they freeze to death, a zoo's polar bear that is not at all equipped to deal with this level of frigidness.
But it's also brought wonderment in the form of steam fog over the Great Lakes, an arctic evanescence that makes water look like a great bowl of steaming chicken broth.
The view from the ground on Monday was like a Thomas Kinkade painting that didn't suck. Watch Lake Michigan boil over with spectral vapors as moisture above the waves is hit by freezing air escaped from the Polar Vortex:
From a height of several hundred miles, the view was quite different. NASA's Terra satellite recorded the fog event as it materialized over the region yesterday, watching as the lake air turned cottony and billowed southeast in a long plume:
The same shot cast in false color illuminates the various kinds of winter weather popping in the area. There is snow on the ground in orange, water-based clouds in white, and mixed clouds of liquid and ice in Creamsicle:
This might be the last time in a while that residents of the Great Lakes get to see some ghostly steam fog. The cold blast that's plaguing the eastern two-thirds of the nation with wind chills as low as -50 degrees is already starting to quit town. Here are the predicted low temperatures of today from the National Weather Service:
The cold begins creeping away by Wednesday night:
And on Thursday night the temperatures are predicted to be bearable once again:
Satellite images courtesy of NASA