First satellite image of a polar low

For some historical background, here’s what is probably the first satellite image of a polar low.  It was taken from the NASA Nimbus 3 satellite on 5 January 1970. The clouds associated with the polar low can be clearly seen to the north-west of Scotland.


Up to this point observational studies had been based on other sources of data such as weather balloons. This polar low was the subject of a case study in Lyall (1972), who used this image as part of the study. At this time there was uncertainty over whether polar lows were driven directly by heat transfer from the ocean (i.e. a mechanism similar to hurricanes) or mainly from rebalancing of atmospheric horizontal temperature gradients (i.e. a smaller version of the majority of mid-latitude cyclones). This picture suggested the latter. However, as more polar lows were studied and observed from satellite imagery it was found that some appear more similar in structure to hurricanes.

Lyall, IT (1972). The polar low over Britain. Weather, 27, 378-390.



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