Hail stones the size of tennis balls are knocking people out in Japan. Shortly afterwards it is snowing in India. But that is only the beginning. The fuel in the helicopters sent to rescue the British royal family from their Scottish castle freezes in flight and within days all those living north of Washington have been abandoned by the US military as beyond help of evacuation. Meanwhile, those from the southern states plead for refugee status in Mexico as they flee to the border to escape the cold.
This is a Hollywood blockbuster, which in the tradition of the disaster movie plays ruthlessly on the irrational fears of the average American. It also has unexpectedly strong political content, and a loose relationship with scientific fact.
But on Wednesday, The Day After Tomorrow won praise from both the research establishment and the environment movement.
The new film bizarrely plunges the earth into a new ice age as a result of global warming. While concentrating on New York it incidentally freezes the British royal family to death in their Scottish retreat.
Among the film's unexpected fans after a sneak preview are the UK government's chief scientific adviser, Sir David King, and Geoff Jenkins, head of the UK's Hadley Centre for Climate Change, who both regard the film's stunning special effects as good fun and welcome the blockbuster as raising public awareness and debate about a vital issue.
Sir David, who recently stirred political debate on both sides of the Atlantic by saying that global warming was a greater threat than terrorism, said the beginning of the film was particularly realistic -- both scientifically and politically.
The political content of the film, in which the US administration is seen to rubbish scientific theories of global warming and paying a heavy price for it, is a double surprise because the film comes from Rupert Murdoch's 20th Century Fox studio, and has been billed by environmental groups as a strongly anti-Bush movie in an election year.
The realism Sir David praised was where the film's hero, Jack Hall, a scientist played by Dennis Quaid, seeks to convince a high-powered but skeptical audience including the US vice president, that the Gulf Stream is weakening because of climate change.
The Cheney lookalike rejects the idea of global warming being a threat, and says the US economy is more fragile than the climate.
It is then that the film's grip on science begins to ease. Special effects go into overdrive with tornadoes in Los Angeles -- one of the US' recurring horror fantasies.
New York suffers in just six days the kind of weather-related disasters that could be expected over 100 years of the most severe climate change.
But Jenkins said: "It is a blockbuster movie. Let us not be too po-faced, they need a return on their money."
Millions of people are wiped out in the film which King said was also justifiable poetic license, pointing out that 21,000 people died in Europe last summer because of a heat wave linked to climate change. "There was little attribution to the cause, man-made climate change, and little public response, although it was a very extreme event."
Although fact and fiction are tangled, the main scientific information in the film is that the Gulf Stream, which warms the coast of northwest Europe, is slowing down and then suddenly stops.