Mysterious snow patterns seen from space have a corny explanation

A wild network of brown rectangles broke up the snow-white landscape after a storm in North Dakota.

Amanda Kooser
Freelance writer Amanda C. Kooser covers gadgets and tech news with a twist for CNET. When not wallowing in weird gear and iPad apps for cats, she can be found tinkering with her 1956 DeSoto.
Amanda Kooser
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These odd snowfall formations are due in part to an unusually wet fall.

NASA Earth Observatory image by Joshua Stevens, using Landsat data from the U.S. Geological Survey

You've heard of crop circles, but what about crop rectangles? 

No aliens were involved in the making of a strange patchwork of snow as seen by the USGS Landsat 7 satellite in early December. It looks like someone played a scattered game of Tetris across the landscape.

North Dakota Agricultural Weather Network Director Daryl Ritchison was the first to notice a pattern of brown rectangles intermingled with large swathes of white snow across North Dakota.

The image came in the aftermath of a powerful storm, but it's not an example of weirdly selective snowfall. Ritchison said the brown areas show where corn is still standing in fields. The snow is hiding under the tightly planted stalks. 

This is an odd view because North Dakota's corn is typically harvested before this time of year. According to the United States Department of Agriculture (PDF), North Dakota had harvested only 36% of its corn acreage as of the start of December. The state had harvested 87% by this time in 2018. 

Farmers are dealing with an unusually wet autumn. "It is more economically prudent for a farmer to wait and let the corn dry on the stalks -- harvesting it in February or early March -- than it is to harvest it now and have to dry it in storage facilities," said NASA.

Throw in a major winter storm and we get to marvel at a wild landscape. It snowed everywhere, we just can't see it all from space. 

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