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Earth from Orbit: Spring Snowstorm Hits U.S.

April 15, 2022

This week, NOAA satellites have been closely monitoring the spring storm that brought snow to the Pacific Northwest, blizzard conditions across the Northern Plains, and thunderstorms to the South. 

On Monday, April 11, Portland, Oregon’s airport measured 1.6 inches of snow, and more than six inches were recorded around the city’s greater metropolitan area—the region’s first measurable snow in April since records began at the airport in 1940. It was the first measurable snow in April in downtown Portland since 1936, a record that has stood since April 10, 1903, according to the National Weather Service. 

Due to treacherous snowy conditions in Washington mountain passes, officials urged people not to travel. According to PowerOutage.us, roughly 75,000 customers in northwest Oregon and southwest Washington lost power, likely due to the weight of wet snow downing trees onto power lines. Northern California also saw heavy snow along with sporadic lightning and strong winds, which reached more than 100 mph over the Sierra, including a 157 mph gust at Alpine Meadows, just west of Lake Tahoe

As the storm system tracked eastward, numerous Blizzard Warnings and Winter Storm Warnings and Watches went into effect across the northern United States. On Tuesday, heavy snow and high winds began affecting some areas in North Dakota. These winds caused snow across the region to drift, resulting in additional dangerous travel conditions, and at times, wind chills below 0 degrees F. The storm closed hundreds of miles of interstate highways, from Billings, Mont. to Jamestown, N.D. as well as from Fargo, N.D. to the Canadian border. 

The system left an expansive swath of snow from Idaho and Utah across western Nebraska and parts of Minnesota, one of the heaviest snowstorms on record in some of these areas. An upside to the storm is that the region has been experiencing a severe drought, snowfall may help replenish some much-needed water. 

In addition to snow, the storm brought severe weather to the Midwest and South. Since Monday, the outbreak of severe storms from this weather system has produced more than 500 reports of damaging winds, large hail, and tornadoes in the central U.S. Though the storms diminished as they reached the East Coast on Thursday, forecasters warned there may still be some damaging wind gusts throughout the Northeast and Southeast. 

NOAA satellites play a crucial role in tracking storms across the United States and the Western Hemisphere, alerting those in harm’s way, and monitoring the hazards associated with severe weather. 

The GOES East geostationary satellite, also known as GOES-16, keeps watch over most of North America, including the continental United States and Mexico, as well as Central and South America, the Caribbean, and the Atlantic Ocean to the west coast of Africa. The satellite's high-resolution imagery provides optimal viewing of severe weather events, including thunderstorms, tropical storms, and hurricanes.

The GOES West satellite, also known as GOES-17, provides geostationary satellite coverage of the Western Hemisphere, including the United States, the Pacific Ocean, Alaska and Hawaii. First launched in March 2018, the satellite became fully operational in February 2019.

The Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS) is the Nation’s advanced series of polar-orbiting environmental satellites. JPSS represents significant technological and scientific advancements in observations used for severe weather prediction and environmental monitoring. These data are critical to the timeliness and accuracy of forecasts three to seven days in advance of a severe weather event. JPSS is a collaborative effort between NOAA and NASA.