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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 (opens in new tab). 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 (opens in new tab).

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, Ph.D., is a contributing writer for Space.com (opens in new tab) since 2012. As a proud Trekkie and Canadian, she tackles topics like spaceflight, diversity, science fiction, astronomy and gaming to help others explore the universe. Elizabeth's on-site reporting includes two human spaceflight launches from Kazakhstan, and embedded reporting from a simulated Mars mission in Utah. She holds a Ph.D. and M.Sc (opens in new tab). in Space Studies from the University of North Dakota, and a Bachelor of Journalism from Canada's Carleton University. Her latest book, NASA Leadership Moments, is co-written with astronaut Dave Williams. Elizabeth first got interested in space after watching the movie Apollo 13 in 1996, and still wants to be an astronaut someday.