When NASA launched the first weather satellite back in 1960, it was little more than two television cameras strapped to a satellite and shot into orbit. Fast forward through the technological explosion of the late 20th century, and now you can watch the evolution of storms in near real-time, one-minute increments from your living room.
[The above image is animated — it may take a moment to load. It's worth the wait.]
Every once and a while during severe weather outbreaks, meteorologists who are in-the-loop at the National Weather Service or universities with great meteorology programs would release super rapid scan animations of thunderstorms exploding over the Plains, allowing viewers to see the storms form in about as close to real-time as we can get. These products created by the GOES-14 weather satellite are now available for public use, and they're awesome.
The area of focus shifts as different weather features drift in and out of existence. Today the rapid scan operations are centered over the Midwest in anticipation of some severe weather from the Dakotas southeastward through Illinois. The developing storms are shown around 1:00PM CDT in the gif at the top of this post.
The Weather (formerly Hydrometeorological) Prediction Center posted this great video to its Facebook page last night showing different weather features across the United States on Tuesday. The video shows one-minute scans of a mesoscale convective vortex over the Deep South as well as strong thunderstorms bubbling up over central North Carolina.
Here's a full six-day rapid scan loop of Hurricane Sandy, showing its life cycle starting in the Bahamas and ending in the northeast:
Here's a short animation showing the clouds from Hurricane Isaac streaming across the Deep South a day after it made landfall in Louisiana:
And here's my favorite clip, showing fields of cumulus clouds filling the sky over the northeast back in 2012.
The WPC has another video up on its Facebook page this afternoon showing Tropical Storm Lowell churning in the eastern Pacific yesterday.
Images like these are a great reminder that the atmosphere is constantly in motion, and it gives us a good, rare view of the fluid movement of clouds. That perspective is lost when we're so used to seeing static satellite images or clunky animations that show ten images per hour.