It looks like a graphic from a Discovery Channel programme about a distant ice age. But this astonishing picture shows the world as it is today - with half the Northern Hemisphere covered with snow and ice.

The image was released by the National Oceanic And Atmospheric Association (NOAA) on the day half of North America suffered in the grip of a severe winter storm.

The map was created using multiple satellites from government agencies and the US Air Force.
© NOAAA new satellite map from the government agency NOAA shows the size of the snow cover on regions going from the West coast of Canada to the East of China.
Stretching from the west coast of Canada to the eastern shores of China, the white stuff has rarely been shown covering this much ground.

The startling image was released on the same day Al Gore stepped up to defend his claim that global warming causes more snow. Thirty states in America were affected by a two-day blizzard.

'As it turns out, the scientific community has been addressing this particular question for some time now and they say that increased heavy snowfalls are completely consistent with what they have been predicting as a consequence of man-made global warming,' Gore wrote on his blog Al's Journal.
© AP
Hundreds of drivers on Lake Shore Drive in Chicago, which was blasted by 20 inches of snow, abandoned their cars in an almost apocalyptic scene as authorities closed the road
His response came after Fox News pundit Bill O'Reilly challenged the former Vice President to give his thoughts on 'why southern New York has turned into the tundra.'

Mother Nature's wrath is not confined to the top half of the world, of course.

Cyclone Yasi, with a destructive core of more than 20 miles wide, is walloping Queensland in north east Australian with 186mph winds. Authorities are calling it the worst storm to hit the country for generations. Tens of thousands of people are tucked away in evacuation shelters or their homes and the country is braced for many casualties.
© APThe inside of a pickup truck that was stranded and left open on Lake Shore Drive on Wednesday shows the full ferocity of the blast as the white stuff almost covers the steering wheel
© APQuick escape! This driver forgot to close in the door in the scramble to safety in the record-breaking storm that smashed its way through the mid-west