Tropical Cyclones


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

Latest Updates

October 16, 2018
Data visualization on October 6, 2018 
NASA's Earth Observatory featured an article showing night lights before and after Hurricane Michael's destruction.  After making landfall as a category 4 storm on October 10, 2018, Hurricane Michael knocked out power for at least 2.5 million customers in the southeastern United States, according to the Edison Electric Institute. These images of nighttime lights in Florida, Georgia, and Alabama come from the...
October 16, 2018
MODIS Flood Map
MODIS Flood Map  These maps were created from the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) Near Real-Time Global (NRT) Flood Mapping product. The red color on the map represents new flood waters from October 13 -15, 2018 in Florida. The MODIS Near Real-Time (NRT) Global Flood Mapping Project produces global daily flood water maps at approximately 250 m spatial resolution. NASA Land, Atmosphere Near real-time Capability for EOS (...
October 12, 2018
NASA's Black Marble Technology over Florida
The pre- and post-event images of NASA's Black Marble product suite show the artificial lights at night from Panama City, FL and Mexico Beach, FL based on data collected on October 6 and October 12, 2018. NASA's Black Marble product suite has immediate access to data documenting disruptions in energy infrastructure and utility services due to Hurricane Michael. The pre ...
October 11, 2018
ISS Imagery Hurricane Michael
These visible-wavelength (RGB) handheld digital camera images of the Hurricane Michael eyewall were taken by astronauts onboard the International Space Station on October 10, 2018 as they passed over the storm. Once the storm has passed and cloud cover lessens, requests to document flooding, changes to the land surface, etc. can be sent to the ISS crew. Imagery of this type is then georeferenced by the Earth Science and Remote Sensing Unit at JSC. Click here to view the full image set:...
October 11, 2018
MISR Imagery Hurricane Michael 
MISR (a NASA instrument that flies aboard the Terra satellite) carries nine cameras fixed at different angles, each of which viewed Michael over the course of approximately seven minutes when it was just off Florida's west coast on Tuesday October 9, 2018. This composite image shows the view from the central, downward-pointing camera (left), the calculated cloud-top heights (middle), and wind velocity vectors (right) superimposed on the image. The length of the...
October 11, 2018
Images from NASA's GFMS 
NASA’s Global Flood Monitoring System (GFMS) has captured a flood and...
October 10, 2018
Flood Detection / Intensity from GFMS 
Flood Detection / Intensity from GFMS  NASA GFMS Flood Detection / Intensity  NASA GFMS Flood Detection / Intensity  NASA GFMS Rainfall Intensity  NASA’s Global Flood Monitoring System (...
October 11, 2018
NASA MISR Image  NASA’s MISR (Multi-angle Imaging SpectroRadiometer) instrument on-board the Terra satellite captured Hurricane Michael with the eye in mid swath on October 9, 2018. This MISR image was captured during Terra orbit 100049. MISR carries nine cameras to view the earth at nine widely-spaced angles and provides calibrated images in four spectral bands at each of the angles.
October 10, 2018
GPM IMERG precip measurements from Hurricane Michael
Video of GPM Rainfall Data From Michael This animation shows the NASA Integrated Multi-satellitE Retrievals for GPM (IMERG) rainfall accumulation estimates from Hurricane Michael October 1- 5, 2018 when rainfall was getting more concentrated over the western Caribbean. The Global Precipitation Measurement mission or GPM's constellation of satellites provides rainfall data to make rainfall estimates. GPM is a joint mission between NASA and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, JAXA. IMERG indicated...
October 10, 2018
NASA's MODIS Instrument Captures Hurricane Michael
On October 8, 2018 the MODIS instrument aboard NASA's Aqua satellite captured a visible image of Hurricane Michael when it was a Category 1 hurricane near the western tip of Cuba. Aqua is a NASA Earth Science satellite mission collecting information about the Earth's water cycle, including evaporation from the oceans, water vapor in the atmosphere, clouds, precipitation, soil moisture, sea ice, land ice, and snow cover on the land and ice. Additional...
October 10, 2018
NASA's AIRS Captures Hurricane Michael 
NASA's Aqua satellite flew over Hurricane Michael on October 8, 2018 at 2:47 p.m. EDT (1847 UTC). The NASA AIRS instrument captured Hurricane Michael's strongest storms. AIRS also captured a thick band of storms feeding into the center from the eastern quadrant. In those areas cloud top temperatures as cold as -63 degrees Fahrenheit were found. Storms with cloud top temperatures this low have the capability to produce heavy rainfall.
October 3, 2018
USGS Landsat 8 Imagery
Credit: USGS, Robert Brakenridge (Dartmouth Flood Observatory at the University of Colorado) and Albert Kettner (Dartmouth Flood Observatory at the University of Colorado). This image shows the maximum observed flooding areas using Landsat 8 and Copernicus / ESA Sentinel SAR data for Tropical Storm Florence. Landsat 8 is jointly managed by NASA and the United States Geological Survey (USGS). Copernicus is supported by the European Commission.
October 12, 2018
GPM IMERG rainfall accumulation from Hurricane Michael
At least eleven deaths have now been attributed to deadly hurricane Michael. Some casualties resulted not only from Michael's destructive winds and storm surges but also from the blinding rain that Michael produced as it battered states from Florida northeastward through Virginia. Today tropical storm Michael is moving out over the Atlantic Ocean and has transitioned into a powerful extratropical storm.   This animation using the GPM IMERG multi-satellite dataset shows the estimated total rainfall accumulation for...
October 11, 2018
VIIRS Nighttime Imagery
UPDATE 10/12/18: S-NPP VIIRS Nighttime Image on October 6, 2018 before Hurricane Michael S-NPP VIIRS Nighttime Image on October 12, 2018 after Hurricane Michael Clear skies overnight provided ideal view conditions for the VIIRS Day/Night Band sensor to capture the intensity of the city lights post Hurricane Michael. Note the widespread power outages across Florida and Georgia....
October 12, 2018
On October 10, 2018, the Advanced Microwave Scanning Radiometer 2 (AMSR2) instrument, onboard JAXA's GCOM-W1 satellite, observed the surface precipitation rates of Hurricane Michael as it approached the United States.
On October 10, 2018, the Advanced Microwave Scanning Radiometer 2 (AMSR2) instrument, onboard JAXA's GCOM-W1 satellite, observed the surface precipitation rates of Hurricane Michael as it approached the United States. This LANCE NRT AMSR2 image shows high precipitation rates in red, yellow and light blue, and lower rates in dark blue and purple. LANCE NRT AMSR2 products include surface precipitation rate, wind speed over ocean, water vapor over ocean and cloud liquid...
October 10, 2018
ISS photo of Hurricane Michael
Video of Hurricane Michael, as seen from International Space Station, 10/10/18 An astronaut onboard the International Space Station using an internal Ultra High Definition video camera captured views of Hurricane Michael and its eye near 12:00 pm EDT on October 10, 2018 from an altitude of 255 miles over the Gulf of Mexico. Video source: NASA International Space Station Program
October 11, 2018
GFMS Inundation Estimate Hurricane Michael
Inundation Estimate from Global Flood Monitoring System (GFMS) based on surface and river routing models using NASA Global Precipitation Measurement (GPM) Integrated Multi-Satellite Retrievals for GPM (IMERG) precipitation information. GFMS covers the globe from 50N-50S. This product shows the near real time flooding every 3 hours at 1 km resolution. This product can be used to estimate flood extent (and depth) and for comparison with other estimates from...
October 11, 2018
Sentinel-1 Water Extent Imagery
Using data collected from the European Space Agency's (ESA) Sentinel-1B satellite, scientists at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center (MSFC) are able to create maps of the extent of water due to the effects of Hurricane Michael. The synthetic aperture radar (SAR) aboard Sentinel-1B allows for the detection of water on the surface when clouds are present as well as during the night time hours. This product shows three areas: known reference water (blue), anomalous...
October 11, 2018
USGS/NASA Landsat 8 Imagery Hurricane Michael
The True Color RGB composite provides a product of how the surface would look to the naked eye from space. The RGB is created using the red, green, and blue channels of the respective instrument. This product contains pre-event images from September 15, 22, 24, 29 and October 6, 2018. The True Color RGB is produced using the 3 visible wavelength bands (red, green, and blue) from the respective sensor. Some minor atmospheric corrections have occurred. Image...
October 11, 2018
Sentinel-1 RGB Imagery from Hurricane Michael
The Alaska Satellite Facility has developed a false color Red, Green, Blue (RGB) composite image of the Sentinel 1A/B Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) instrument which assigns the co- and cross-polarization information to a channel in the RGB composite. When used to support a flooding event, areas in blue denotes water present at the time of the satellite overpass prior to the landfall of Hurricane Michael. This product shows three areas: known reference water (...