Satellite images show epic snowstorm that shut down part of Interstate 95

A satellite view of a nor'easter on Jan. 4, 2022, which dumped up to 14 inches of snow in Virginia and Maryland.
A satellite view of a nor'easter on Jan. 4, 2022, which dumped up to 14 inches (36 centimeters) of snow in Virginia and Maryland. (Image credit: Joshua Stevens/NASA Earth Observatory/MODIS/EOSDIS LANCE/GIBS/Worldview)

A band of snow blankets the United States northeast in a new satellite photo showing the huge storm stranding motorists on Interstate 95 in Virginia.

The Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) instrument on NASA’s Terra satellite captured the storm, which dumped more than 14 inches (36 centimeters) of snow on parts of southern Virginia and southern Maryland.

Motorists were stuck up to 24 hours on Virginia's Interstate 95, one of the busiest stretches of the highway in the country, as jackknifed tractor-trailers and other accidents caused a large backup of traffic over dozens of miles.

"It's been so horrible," Arlin Tellez, 22, told The New York Times. Tellez was stranded in her car from 5 p.m. local time Monday (Jan. 3) overnight through Tuesday (Jan. 4) with no food or water and only a few sets of clothes in the car.

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"There's just no way for us to know what's actually happening," Tellez added. "When we tried to call the police, because at this point that was our only resource, they literally just told us to hang on tight."

Virginia State Police told the Times that no serious injuries or fatalities arose among the stranded motorists, who were freed by Tuesday evening local time. The storm overall has produced at least five reported deaths.

The storm was termed a nor'easter, a type of storm present in the northeastern United States with attributes such as "precipitation in the form of heavy rain or snow, as well as winds of gale force, rough seas, and, occasionally, coastal flooding," the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's National Weather Service says on its website.

The fierce storms arise when the polar jet stream collides with warm air from the Gulf of Mexico. "This difference in temperature between the warm air over the water and cold Arctic air over the land is the fuel that feeds nor'easters," NOAA's website adds.

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Elizabeth Howell
Staff Writer, Spaceflight

Elizabeth Howell (she/her), Ph.D., is a staff writer in the spaceflight channel since 2022 covering diversity, education and gaming as well. She was contributing writer for for 10 years before joining full-time. Elizabeth's reporting includes multiple exclusives with the White House and Office of the Vice-President of the United States, an exclusive conversation with aspiring space tourist (and NSYNC bassist) Lance Bass, speaking several times with the International Space Station, witnessing five human spaceflight launches on two continents, flying parabolic, working inside a spacesuit, and participating in a simulated Mars mission. Her latest book, "Why Am I Taller?", is co-written with astronaut Dave Williams. Elizabeth holds a Ph.D. and M.Sc. in Space Studies from the University of North Dakota, a Bachelor of Journalism from Canada's Carleton University and a Bachelor of History from Canada's Athabasca University. Elizabeth is also a post-secondary instructor in communications and science at several institutions since 2015; her experience includes developing and teaching an astronomy course at Canada's Algonquin College (with Indigenous content as well) to more than 1,000 students since 2020. Elizabeth first got interested in space after watching the movie Apollo 13 in 1996, and still wants to be an astronaut someday. Mastodon: