The Day After Tomorrow–The Geoscience

Have you seen the movie “The Day After Tomorrow?”  Helicopter fuel freezing in seconds as cold air from the upper troposphere descends to the surface.  Humans freezing into statues where they stand.  Does this make meteorological sense?  Is it even possible?

This is intended as a discussion area for the college course “Earth Science Essentials for the Science Fiction Writer”.  Please, everyone make comments!

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22 thoughts on “The Day After Tomorrow–The Geoscience

  1. Without much knowledge of scientific processes, one could probably guess that Earth couldn’t just freeze over in a matter of minutes. While it is true that the air as you get further and further into the atmosphere it gets colder and colder, it is unlikely that this air could be funneled down quickly enough for it to still be as cold as it was. While it would still likely be cold, it wouldn’t be -150 degrees cold. In fact, doing a little research, I found that the air would have to have been sucked down from the mesosphere for it to even be close to this cold, not the troposphere like the movie stated. Also, for everything to immediately freeze, there would have to be a very, very large supply of moisture in the air, as to deposit frost on something requires water vapor as well as very cold temperatures. It is unlikely that there was that much moisture just floating around in the atmosphere ready to be sucked down and freeze everything over.

  2. I believe it would make sense that the cold in the “upper troposphere” would be colder than the air on the Earth’s surface. We learned about adiabatic decompressional cooling in class, and this air at such a high altitude and low pressure would be much cooler than the air below it. That being said, as it was pulled down, it would exchange heat with air in the lower troposphere and begin to warm up. Also, as it was pulled to a lower altitude with higher pressure, it would be compressed and this would also cause it to heat up. Further, there is no mechanism that could pull it down so quickly. If it was pulled down incredibly fast, I also believe it would have to displace air at the storm’s eye. In the movie, however, the storm’s eye was completely calm. Finally, this air mass would have little to no ability to hold moisture because it is so cold, and as we know, the capacity of air to hold moisture decreases exponentially with decreasing temperature. Thus, the storm would not dump the mountains of snow on New York like the movie shows.

  3. I do not think any part of their “scientific” explanation in the movie makes sense. The cold air being sucked down would change in pressure within the earth’s atmosphere, making it hotter not colder. Every catastrophe beyond this point in the movie makes no sense past the air temperature, but IF the cold air was somehow sucked down in some sort of vacuum where it was not introduced to any other temperature or pressure factors it could still not produce the instantaneous freeze that occurs on buildings and people without water in the air. It is not nearly enough to cause the catastrophic blizzard of snow or frost.

  4. I do think the upper layer in the atmosphere would have cold air but I wouldn’t expect it to have any moisture. Think about the weather here in the Fargo/ Moorhead area. When it is cold for many days, its continuously cold, the air does not collect any moisture for it to snow. I think the same would be for the cold layers in the atmosphere. For the storm to gather water the temperature would have to warm up and according to the movie it only gets colder. I found interesting that the storm had an eye. I think if it was formed because of two fronts meeting that would be more appropriate. The air I don’t would quickly cool down New York either. Think of when you put a water or a container in the freezer does the water or container instantly freeze when its put in there? It takes some time before the container or water gets to that temperature.

  5. Though with new scientific studies finding evidence that climate change can alter the weather to be more unstable, the weather in Day After Tomorrow is not scientifically able to happen. The climate over New York City and across the globe would not frequently take extreme jumps like it did in the film. Because temperatures are extremely cold, they would not have the ability to hold water vapor or any moisture at that point (thinking about water vapor graph- ability to hold water vapor decreases with decreasing temperature). Therefore, there would not be inches and inches of snow being stormed on NYC. For everything to freeze like it did in the movie in the “eye of the storm” there would have to be moisture or water vapor in the air and like I said already, with very low temperatures this would not be possible.

  6. I recall watching this movie shortly after it was released. Even then, the science behind it didn’t sit well with younger me. Now, I did a bit of my own research to figure out why. One relevant detail is that air can get very cold higher up in the troposphere, but not as cold as the movie portrays.

    • good point about the troposphere and that it does get cold but not enough for what the movie is talking about.

  7. I watched this movie and never really thought much about the research and what was happening to the weather until now. Also when I first watched this movie since I didn’t really care much about the actually reasoning behind what was happening I just assumed it was something that was totally possible. Now with some of my research and with what we know I can now say that what they claim is happening would be scientifically impossible. With the water vapor in the air we know that there is different temperatures happening and it wouldn’t be able to freeze everything like the movie is saying.

  8. The earth couldn’t freeze that quickly. Also its highly unlikely to get temperatures that cold. There would not be enough moisture that deep to create such a storm.

  9. It makes sense that the air in the stratosphere would be a good deal colder than the air nearer the Earth’s surface, but that is about the only thing that makes sense with this movie’s line of thought for the massive storm. I have not seen the entire movie, only the parts Dr. Colson showed us, but I think that those few minutes and the information we have learned in class are more than enough to say that the premise of the movie, while entertaining, is scientifically absurd. The air would be colder, as the movie’s scientists accurately state, but there is no way that the air could ever be pulled down fast enough that it would not warm up even a degree and remain so cold that everything it touched froze in an instant. Plus, while there is moisture in the air, there is no way that there is enough water to produce enough snow to cover all of New York City in a hundred feet of snow. Where did all that moisture come from? Since we know that the water on Earth and in the air is constant, did an entire sea become evaporated before the storm hit? So while it produces a striking image and a fun project for special effects people, that much snow is not possible either.

  10. it couldn’t have gotten pulled down so quickly and shouldn’t it had warmed up? and where would the moisture had come from to create the frost we saw?

  11. Overall its a good movie, but the science behind it is unlikely. The temperatures wouldn’t get that cold and everything else we learned with water vapor and how it all works.

  12. It is a little hard to believe because the earth would never be able to freeze that quickly. It would be very hard to get anything that cold that quickly. Also it would take an incredible amount of pressure and water vapor to create a storm that large. In that short of amount of time it would be impossible.

  13. we would not have a quick frost on earth. In order to get a very cold temperature, which is not evident we won’t have enough dew that deep to lead to a storm in that example.

  14. I really don’t believe that the Earth could freeze that fast. The film shows very drastic ways on how fast things would change, so it would make the movie more exciting.

  15. While the concept behind the movie maybe based on scientific knowledge. The scene does not show any scientific accuracy. While i do think it will be colder at that altitude i don’t think it will get that cold this soon , also there would have to be very large water pressure for it to freeze this quickly.

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