In this paper, a general and inclusive framework for understanding and characterizing the atmospheric effects in the thermal infrared in imaging systems is presented. This includes separation of the atmospheric distortions to their main two ingredients: optical turbulence, and scattering and absorption by atmospheric particulates. A basic and correct understanding of those effects enables the development of prediction models for the atmospheric turbulence and aerosol MTFs. Here, both models are implemented for real-time thermal image restoration, with the prior knowledge of standard meteorological parameters, and specifications of the imaging system. Examples of such restorations are presented and the uniqueness of the restoration method is discussed with the inclusion of atmospheric degradation of the received image with and without subsequent image restoration. The most important conclusion is that knowledge of the expected atmospheric MTF is crucial for the system designer.