Tropical Cyclones

Overview

Tropical cyclones develop primarily in the summer months in regions with very warm sea surface temperatures, high low-level humidity and resulting instability that favors the development of thunderstorms, low amounts of vertical wind shear, and within the lower latitudes where these environments combine with a Coriolis force sufficient for establishing a surface area of lower pressure.  As they build in intensity, tropical waves and disturbances progress through categories of tropical depressions and named tropical storms, then to hurricanes and major hurricanes, the latter defined as a category three or higher on the Saffir-Simpson hurricane scale.  Tropical cyclones are readily observed in satellite imagery as organized clusters of thunderstorms in the lower tropical latitudes, and are much better known for the distinct, cloud-free eye common to major hurricanes as they move across the open oceans.  These cyclones bring large areas of damaging winds in addition to other threats from prolonged heavy rains and coastal inundation as a result of high storm surge, often requiring large evacuation zones when they threaten to impact populated areas, including the islands of the Pacific, southeastern Asia, and the Gulf Coast or eastern seaboard of the United States.

Tropical cyclones are frequently observed by NASA’s Global Precipitation Measurement (GPM) mission where their structure is made apparent through use of passive microwave brightness temperatures at various frequencies and polarizations.  In addition, their intense rainfall rates are readily mapped by the Integrated Multi-Satellite Retrievals for GPM (IMERG) product, and additional views of their three-dimensional structure made available through active radar scanning by the GPM core satellite.  Mapping of offshore heavy rain rates can provide responders with an expectation of what will occur after landfall, and improved identification of the storm’s center can aid tracking of the system and improved initialization with numerical weather prediction models.  Inland, rainfall estimates can be combined with streamflow and inundation models to understand flood risks resulting from the storm, and combined with topographical models and other information to characterize landslide threats.  Following landfall, flooding can be mapped using optical remote sensing from NASA’s Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) instruments aboard the Terra and Aqua missions, the Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS) aboard the NASA/NOAA Suomi National Polar-orbiting Partnership (S-NPP) mission, or from the higher resolution views of the USGS/NASA Landsat-7 and Landsat-8 missions.  VIIRS also provides a unique opportunity to map power outages from space, which occur frequently as a result of landfalling tropical cyclones, and help to monitor the recovery of power in the days and weeks that follow.  Should post-storm cloudiness obscure a view of the land surface, synthetic aperture radar measurements of water extent from the European Space Agency’s Sentinel-1A and 1B platforms can assist with active scanning of inland surge and flood waters.  Finally, widespread damage to vegetation and treefall can be mapped over time from the aforementioned platforms, with ecosystem recovery monitored in the years that follow through consistent and continued imaging of the affected area

NASA Disasters Mapping Portal - Tropical Cyclone Dashboard

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Latest Updates

October 19, 2020
Comparison of KOMPSAT-2 and KOMPSAT-3A water extent maps with Landsat-8 water extent maps, using the normalized water difference index (NDWI). Credit: KOMPSAT-2 © KARI (2007), KOMPSAT-3A © KARI (2019), Landsat-8 image courtesy of the U.S. Geological Surve
Youn-Soo Kim, principal researcher at the Satellite Application Division of the Korea Aerospace Research Institute (KARI), recently completed a year-long sabbatical visit at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, in which he collaborated closely with the NASA Earth Applied Sciences Disasters Program. Kim is a member of the Satellite Application Division of the National Satellite Operation & Application Center at KARI. There, he helps manage satellite data generated by the KOMPSAT and Geo-KOMPSAT...
August 28, 2020
MISR visualization from Hurricane Laura
On August 25th, Several days before Hurricane Laura made landfall as a destructive category 4 storm in Louisiana, NASA’s Terra satellite flew over Laura in the Gulf of Mexico. Using its Multi-angle Imaging SpectroRadiometer (MISR) instrument, the satellite collected data on wind speeds and cloud-top heights as the storm intensified and moved northwest towards the U.S. Gulf Coast.  Interactive visualization of 3D cloud-top height data from Hurricane Laura on August 25th, 2020, captured by the MISR instrument onboard...
August 28, 2020
The Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS) onboard the NOAA-20 satellite acquired this image of Hurricane Laura at 7:20 a.m. CDT on August 26, 2020. Clouds are shown in infrared using brightness temperature data, which is useful for distinguish
Early in the morning on Aug. 27, Hurricane Laura made landfall along the Louisiana and Texas coastline, bringing 150 m.p.h. winds, flash floods and heavy rainfall with it. On the ground, emergency personnel mobilized to respond to the Category 4 storm. But for NASA’s fleet of Earth-observing satellites, it was business as usual. The Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS) onboard the NOAA-20 satellite acquired this image of Hurricane Laura at 2:50 a.m. CT on August 27, 2020, about...
August 27, 2020
GPM Overpass of Hurricane Laura
The NASA / JAXA GPM Core Observatory satellite flew over Hurricane Laura shortly before it made landfall at 10:00pm CT on Wednesday, August 26th, then again at 7:42am CT on Thursday, August 27th when it was over land, capturing data on precipitation within the storm. This visualization from the 10:00pm CT August 26 GPM overpass shortly before Laura made landfall shows GPM Dual-frequency Precipitation Radar (DPR) data (center track) overlaid on GPM Microwave Imager (GMI) data showing the intensity...
August 6, 2020
This Flood Proxy Map (FPM) shows areas that are likely flooded in blue across the Dominican Republic. The map was derived from synthetic aperture radar (SAR) data acquired on July 31, 2020 by the Copernicus Sentinel-1 satellites operated by the European S
In response to Tropical Storm/Hurricane Isaias, the NASA Earth Applied Sciences Disasters program area created maps showing areas of likely flooding and damage from the July 2020 storm in The Bahamas and Dominican Republic. This Flood Proxy Map (FPM) shows areas that are likely flooded (shown by light blue pixels of 30 m in size) in Grand Bahama, The Bahamas due to heavy rains brought by Tropical Storm Isaias. This map should be used as a guidance to...
June 6, 2020
GPM IMERG estimated rainfall totals from Tropical Storms Amanda and Cristobal from May 27th - June 5th, 2020. Credit: NASA Earth Observatory 
The 2020 Atlantic hurricane season is off to a busy start. By the first week of June, Tropical Storm Arthur had already brushed North Carolina, Tropical Storm Bertha had drenched South Carolina, and the third named storm of the year— Cristobal—was dropping torrential rain on the Yucatán Peninsula. The storm first developed in the Pacific in late May as Tropical Storm Amanda, spinning off the southern end of a seasonal low-pressure pattern called the Central American Gyre. After making landfall in Guatemala and causing deadly floods in El Salvador, Amanda weakened and became less organized as...
May 19, 2020
GPM IMERG estimated rainfall totals from Cyclone Amphan from May 16 - 19, 2020. Credit: Owen Kelly (NASA GSFC)
NASA monitored the heavy rain associated with Tropical Cyclone Amphan as it made landfall at 0900 UTC (2:30 PM local time) on May 20, 2020. Landfall occurred near the India-Bangladesh border along the northern edge of the Bay of Bengal. At the time of the most recent satellite observation used to generate this image (0900 UTC, May 20), heavy rain had started falling along the coast but large accumulations had not yet occurred over land. So far the largest rainfall accumulation from Amphan has fallen over the Bay of Bengal on May 18 while Amphan was at category 5 on the Saffir-Simpson scale.
April 27, 2020
ARIA Damage Proxy Map (DPM) showing potentially damaged structures from Cyclone Harold in red and yellow in Luganville, the second largest city in Vanuatu,. Credit: NASA ARIA, EOS, Google, Copyright contains modified Copernicus Sentinel data 2020, process
ARIA Damage Proxy Map (DPM) showing potentially damaged structures from Cyclone Harold in red and yellow in Luganville, the second largest city in Vanuatu,. Credit: NASA ARIA, EOS, Google, Copyright contains modified Copernicus Sentinel data 2020, processed by ESA Tropical Cyclone Harold developed from a low-pressure system that was observed to the east of Papua New Guinea, and tracked to the southeast where it peaked as a Category 5 cyclone on April 6th, 2020. The cyclone brought...
April 14, 2020
Rainfall measurements of Cyclone Harold from NASA's Global Precipitation Measurement mission (GPM) satellite on April 6th, 2020. Credit: NASA
A Category 4 cyclone, the most powerful yet of 2020, made landfall on the South Pacific nation of Vanuatu on Monday, not long before this GPM overpass from April 6th, 2020 at 1:41 UTC. Tropical Cyclone Harold developed from a low pressure system that was observed to the east of Papua New Guinea last week, and has tracked to the southeast, where it has already caused flooding and loss of life in the Solomon Islands. Early reports from Vanuatu indicate heavy flooding and property damage.
September 6, 2019
The Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS) on the Suomi NPP satellite captured this nighttime composite image as the storm approached the coast at 3:42 a.m. Eastern Time (07:42 UTC) on September 5, 2019.  Credit: NASA Earth Observatory
The Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS) on the Suomi NPP satellite captured this nighttime composite image as the storm approached the coast at 3:42 a.m. Eastern Time (07:42 UTC) on September 5, 2019.  Credit: NASA Earth Observatory After devastating the Bahamas and grazing Florida and Georgia, Hurricane Dorian rebounded and raked the coast of South Carolina with strong winds, heavy rains, and a storm surge. Wind, falling trees, and flooding damaged power infrastructure...
September 6, 2019
Screenshot of SAR flood map from Hurricane Dorian on 9/2/19.
Powerful Category 5 Hurricane Dorian struck the northern parts of the Bahamas on Sunday, September 1. Dorian first pummeled the Abaco Islands before stalling and battering Grand Bahama Island more than 40 hours with heavy rain and catastrophic storm surge. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) GOES East satellite provided rapid, highly detailed imaging so that forecasters would have critical information about the storm’s movement. In the evening hours of September 2, the European Space Agency’s Sentinel-1A satellite also passed over the Bahamas, with a synthetic...
September 5, 2019
A damage assessment map derived from satellite data shows conditions on one island in the Bahamas on Sept. 2. Red and yellow areas are likely the most damaged. Credit: NASA-JPL, Caltech, Earth Observatory of Singapore. 
A damage assessment map derived from satellite data shows conditions on one island in the Bahamas on Sept. 2. Red and yellow areas are likely the most damaged. Credit: NASA-JPL, Caltech, Earth Observatory of Singapore. Copyright contains modified Copernicus Sentinel data (2019), processed by ESA Versión en español NASA has created and provided to emergency response...
September 4, 2019
GPM overpass of Hurricane Dorian
Video of GPM Satellite observes Hurricane Dorian over the Bahamas   The NASA / JAXA Global Precipitation Measurement (GPM) Core Observatory flew over Hurricane Dorian on September 1st (5:22pm ET / 21:22 UTC) as the storm was directly over Abaco Island in The Bahamas. The satellite captured data on rainfall rates within the storm as it flew over using its Dual-frequency Precipitation Radar (DPR) and GPM Microwave Imager (GMI). In this animation the multi-satellite GPM IMERG product is shown first to illustrate rainfall rates prior to the overpass. When the camera zooms in data...
September 4, 2019
Screenshot of TEMPEST-D Dorian data.
A new view of Hurricane Dorian shows the layers of the storm, as seen by an experimental NASA weather satellite that's the size of a cereal box. TEMPEST-D reveals rain bands in four layers of the storm as Hurricane Dorian approaches Florida on Sept. 3, 2019. The multiple vertical layers show where the strongest convective "storms" within the hurricane are pushing high into the atmosphere, with pink, red and yellow corresponding to the areas of heaviest rainfall.
September 3, 2019
 NASA's ARIA team used satellite data acquired on Sept. 2, 2019, to map flooding in the Bahamas in the wake of Hurricane Dorian. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech, ESA
NASA's ARIA team used satellite data acquired on Sept. 2, 2019, to map flooding in the Bahamas in the wake of Hurricane Dorian. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech, ESA While many NASA missions are tracking Hurricane Dorian as the storm makes its way toward the United States, some researchers are looking at what Dorian has already left behind.  The Advanced Rapid Imaging and Analysis (ARIA) team at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, used synthetic aperture radar data from the...
August 30, 2019
Screenshot of SPORT-LIS soil moisture map for Florida on August 25th, 2019. 
NASA data shows that in many parts of the state the soil is already saturated with moisture - a condition that could lead to increased flooding as Hurricane Dorian heads for a potential landfall in central Florida.   Analyzing soil moisture conditions in advance of an approaching weather system helps researchers and disasters response agencies anticipate the impact of heavy rainfall and identify regions which are more likely to experience runoff and flooding. Using a land surface modeling system which incorporates near real-time satellite observations, NASA developed soil moisture...
August 29, 2019
GPM IMERG estimated rainfall totals for Hurricane Dorian from August 31st - September 5th, 2019. Credit: Owen Kelley (NASA GSFC)
UPDATE 9/5/19: Hurricane Dorian continues to generate tremendous amounts of rainfall, and has left over three feet of rain in some areas of the Bahamas and is now lashing the Carolinas. NASA’s IMERG product provided a look at those rainfall totals.
July 17, 2019
GPM IMERG rainfall accumulation from Hurricane Barry.
This animation shows the heavy precipitation that Hurricane Barry produced from July 11-16 in the Gulf of Mexico and the southcentral United States. While forecasters were initially concerned that the largest accumulations would extend far over land, the heaviest rainfall  remained mostly offshore.  Precipitation estimates are derived from the GPM IMERG product, which combines microwave and infrared observations from an international constellation of satellites united by the GPM Core Observatory. The left side of the movie shows the total accumulation starting in the early hours of...
July 12, 2019
GPM Core Observatory rainfall rates from Tropical Storm Barry captured July 11th, 2019 at 8:26am CT. Credit: Jacob Reed / NASA GSFC
GPM Core Observatory rainfall rates from Tropical Storm Barry captured July 11th, 2019 at 8:26am CT. Credit: Jacob Reed / NASA GSFC NASA / JAXA’s GPM Core Observatory passed over developing Tropical Depression 2 (which was upgraded to Tropical Storm Barry later in the morning) in the Gulf of Mexico the morning of July 11th 2019 at 8:26am CT, capturing estimates of rainfall rates within the storm. The first image shows rainfall rates collected by GPM’s Microwave Imager, while the second...
May 8, 2019
VIIRS Black Marble imagery of nighttime lights in Bhubaneswar India, comparing April 30th and May 5th 2019. Credit: NASA Earth Observatory, Ranjay Shrestha / NASA GSFC
This interactive GIS map from the NASA Disasters Mapping portal lets you view Suomi NPP VIIRS "Black Marble" imagery before and after Cyclone Fani hit the region. This data helps disaster responders track which regions were affected by power outages.  VIIRS Black Marble imagery of nighttime lights in Bhubaneswar India, comparing April 30th and May 5th 2019. Credit: NASA Earth Observatory, Ranjay Shrestha / NASA GSFC In early May...

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