New imagery released today by NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) is not only breathtaking, but helps explain a large amount of lake effect snow.

The photo shows “cloud streets” that streamed over the Michigan and the entire Great Lakes on Christmas Day. These cloud formations helped deliver record-setting snowfall in Erie, Pa., where more than 60 inches of snow fell over a two-day period.

It’s quite a technological marvel to get a photo like this, as it’s not actually captured as a full-color image. They’re actually a blend of infrared images, created by combining the color channels of the Suomi NPP satellite’s Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS) instrument.

According to NOAA, these channels, sensitive to the red, green and blue (or RGB) wavelengths of light, are then combined into one composite image. Several other channels are often also included to cancel out atmospheric interference that can cause a blurry picture.

This way you can tell snow and ice or ash and smoke from cloud, or even the boundaries between warm and cold air masses.

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