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Picture This: So Cold It Snowed in Florida

So, it got pretty cold this week. How cold? It snowed in Florida.

But snow wasn’t the only sign of winter: Temperatures and wind chills plummeted across much of the country as Arctic air surged southward, leading to some stunning maps, teeth-chattering sights and serious bundling up. As a country, that cold was offset by record warm temperatures in the western U.S., coming just after a record hot year for some western states.

But first, that snow in Florida.

Sunshine State Snow

As the Arctic air pushed further and further south across the country, that cold air met the relative warmth of the ocean waters off Florida’s northeast coast. That air was so cold it froze the water in a fountain in Pensacola:

Like the lake effect snow common around the Great Lakes in winter (and which buried Buffalo in November during a particularly strong event), this “ocean effect” snow is a product of that temperature discrepancy between air and water. As the cold air sweeps over the ocean, water evaporates and warms the air layer just above the ocean. That warm air rises, cooling as it does so, until it reaches the point where the water in it freezes and falls as snow. If the winds blow onshore, that snow falls on land, as you can see in this radar image:

And that’s how you get scenes like this one in Jacksonville:

Big (Frozen) Picture:

As always, some of the best images of the Arctic takeover came from space and nationwide maps that showed the extent of the deep freeze. This map shows how much colder much of the country was compared to average for January:

(Note, though, how much warmer the Arctic is at the same time.)

On Wednesday, as the cold air seeped southward, the temperature difference across the U.S. was an amazing 126°F:

On Thursday, the national map showed that more than three quarters of the continental U.S. was below freezing, with an average temperature of just 17.9°F. Ouch.

But the best view came courtesy of the Suomi NPP satellite, which can take nighttime shots of the country. It spotted the snow that blanketed the northern tier of states along with the bright lights of urban areas:

Snow blankets parts of the eastern U.S. in this image taken Thursday by the Suomi NPP satellite.
Credit: NASA/NOAA

Colder than Mars

Wind chills dipped so low across parts of Canada and the northernmost U.S. that they were colder than Mars. Yes, that Mars.

Western Warmth

Of course, while everyone east of the Rockies was bundled up like this:

Folks out West were enjoying some record-warm temperatures, with parts of Arizona and California reaching into the 80s, including Phoenix, which was hosting the annual meeting of the American Meteorological Society. Well played, meteorologists.

Those temps continued a trend of anomalous warmth all through 2014 in the western states. It was announced this week that both California and Alaska had record-hot years last year:

Let It Snow

Going back to the cold, not everyone minded the wintry weather. The ever-industrial students of Georgia Tech decided to take advantage of the chill to make their own snow day:

And to end the week on a much-needed cute note, the National Zoo’s baby panda, Bao Bao, got her first taste of snow. The verdict? She loved it: