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

Latest Updates

September 14, 2018
GPM Core Observatory overpass of Hurricane Florence from 9/14/18 at 18:36 UTC. Ground track shows rain rates (mm/hr) from the GPM Microwave Imager (GMI) instrument, 3D swath shows rain rates in the atmospheric column from the Dual-frequency Precipitation
The Global Precipitation Measurement (GPM) mission is an international network of satellites that provide the next-generation global observations of rain and snow. Building upon the success of the Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission (TRMM), the GPM concept centers on the deployment of a “Core” satellite carrying an advanced radar / radiometer system to measure precipitation from space and serve as a reference standard to unify precipitation measurements from a constellation of research and operational satellites. Through improved measurements of precipitation globally, the GPM mission is...
September 15, 2018
Sentinel 1A overpass of coastal North and South Carolina from 9/14/18. Contains modified Copernicus Sentinel data (2017), processed by ESA. 
Sentinel 1A overpass of coastal North and South Carolina from 9/14/18. Contains modified Copernicus Sentinel data (2018), processed by ESA.  Mission description: Sentinel 1A/B is a two satellite synthetic aperture radar constellation operated by the European Space Agency. The backscattered microwave energy from the ground can be used to map flooded areas, and estimate wind speeds over the ocean. Both satellites have a 12-day repeat cycle, providing imagery at about 20m resolution every 6...
September 14, 2018
 AMSR-2 / GCOM-1 Surface Precipitation Rates from Hurricane Florence obtained 9/14/18
 AMSR-2 / GCOM-1 Surface Precipitation Rates from Hurricane Florence obtained 9/14/18 The Advanced Microwave Scanning Radiometer 2 (AMSR2) instrument on the Global Change Observation Mission - Water 1 (GCOM-W1) provides global passive microwave measurements of terrestrial, oceanic, and atmospheric parameters for the investigation of global water and energy cycles. Near real-time (NRT) products are generated within 3 hours of the last observations in the file, by the Land Atmosphere Near...
September 14, 2018
The map shown here was generated using sea surface height measurements from the first 10 days (February 12-20, 2015) of data collected once Jason-3 reached its operational orbit of 830 miles (1336 kilometers).
 Jason-3 is the fourth mission in U.S.-European series of satellite missions that measure the height of the ocean surface. Launched on January 17, 2016, the mission will extend the time series of ocean surface topography measurements (the hills and valleys of the ocean surface) begun by the TOPEX/Poseidon satellite mission in 1992 and continuing through the Jason-1 (launched in 2001) and the currently operating OSTM/Jason-2 (launched in 2008) missions. These measurements provide scientists with critical information about circulation patterns in the ocean and about both global and...
September 14, 2018
ISS LIS near-realtime 12 Hour browse image from 9/14/18at  22:41 UTC
The Lightning Imaging Sensor (LIS), is a space-based instrument used to detect the distribution and variability of total lightning (cloud-to-cloud, intra-cloud, and cloud-to-ground lightning). It measures the amount, rate, and radiant energy of lightning during both day and night. Two LIS instruments were built in the 1990s, one for the Tropical Rainfall Measurement Mission (TRMM) and a spare which was stored on a shelf for over 20 years. ...
September 14, 2018
This natural-color image shows how Hurricane Florence appeared from above to the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on the Aqua satellite on September 11, 2018. The second image, acquired by CloudSat on the same day, shows a cross-secti
This natural-color image shows how Hurricane Florence appeared from above to the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on the Aqua satellite on September 11, 2018. The second image, acquired by CloudSat on the same day, shows a cross-section—how the storm would look if it had been sliced near the middle and viewed from the side.  In April 2006, a Boeing Delta II rocket launched CloudSat, along with a...
September 14, 2018
Photograph of Hurricane Florence as seen from the International Space Station on 9/12/2018 at ~600 miles from Southeast U.S. coastline.
Photograph of Hurricane Florence as seen from the International Space Station on 9/12/2018 at ~600 miles from Southeast U.S. coastline. Astronauts onboard the International Space Station are using digital cameras to take images of Hurricane Florence as they pass over it, capturing panoramic views of the storm’s eye and cloud bands.  Once the storm has passed and cloud cover lessens, requests to document flooding, changes to the land surface, etc. will be sent to the crew as part of...
September 14, 2018
This image, taken at 1:35 pm local time on Tuesday, September 11, 2018 by the Atmospheric Infrared Sounder (AIRS) onboard NASA's Aqua satellite shows Hurricane Florence whose strong winds are expected to reach the Carolina coast late Thursday. Florence in
The Atmospheric Infrared Sounder, AIRS, is a facility instrument whose goal is to support climate research and improve weather forecasting. Launched into Earth orbit on May 4, 2002 aboard NASA's Aqua satellite, AIRS moves climate research and weather prediction into the 21st century. AIRS is one of six instruments onboard Aqua, which is part of NASA's Earth Observing System of satellites.  This image, taken at 1:35 pm local time on Tuesday, September 11, 2018 by the Atmospheric Infrared...
September 10, 2018
GPM Core Observatory overpass of Hurricane Florence from September 7, 2018.
Video of GPM Observes Tropical Storm Florence Temporarily Weakened by Wind Shear   GPM passed over Tropical Storm Florence on September 7, 2018. As the camera moves in on the storm, DPR's volumetric view of the storm is revealed. A slicing plane moves across the volume to display precipitation rates throughout the storm. Shades of green to red represent liquid precipitation. Frozen precipitation is shown in cyan and purple. NASA's Global Precipitation Measurement mission or GPM core observatory satellite flew over Tropical Storm Florence on September 7, 2018. At that time, the...
August 26, 2018
This image shows Hurricane Lane as observed by the Atmospheric Infrared Sounder (AIRS) instrument on NASA's Aqua satellite on Thursday, August 23. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech
This image shows Hurricane Lane as observed by the Atmospheric Infrared Sounder (AIRS) instrument on NASA's Aqua satellite on Thursday, August 23. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech Instruments on NASA's Terra and Aqua satellites were watching as Hurricane Lane -- a category 2 storm as of Friday, Aug. 24 -- made its way toward Hawaii. NASA's Multi-angle Imaging SpectroRadiometer (MISR) captured images of Lane on just before noon local time on Aug. 24. MISR, flying onboard NASA’s Terra satellite,...
August 23, 2018
GPM Core Observatory overpass of Hurricane Lane from Aug. 23rd, 2018 at 6:21am HST (local time).
GPM Core Observatory overpass of Hurricane Lane from Aug. 23rd, 2018 at 6:21am HST (local time). Battling increased vertical shear, Hurricane Lane struggles northward, down from its Category 5 peak but still featuring winds of over 110 knots. The storm has already begun impacting the Hawaiian Islands, bringing over a foot of rain to Hilo via its outer bands. Lane is expected to continue northward, approaching the island chain, before slowly veering...
August 23, 2018
Sea surface temperatures in the tropical Pacific Ocean on August 21, 2018 compiled by Coral Reef Watch, which blends observations from the Suomi NPP, MTSAT, Meteosat, and GOES satellites, and computer models. 
Multiple threatening tropical cyclones spun over the Pacific Ocean in August 2018. In the northwest Pacific basin, typhoons Soulik and Cimaron took aim at Japan and the Korean Peninsula. Then Hurricane Lane lined up in the tropical Pacific for an encounter with the Hawaiian Islands. At 10:45 a.m. Hawaii Standard Time (20:45 Universal Time) on August 21, 2018, the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Terra satellite acquired this natural-color image of Hurricane Lane. Around that time, Lane was a powerful category 4 hurricane with...
September 29, 2017
Map showing power outages in Puerto Rico
After Hurricane Maria tore across Puerto Rico, it quickly became clear that the destruction would pose daunting challenges for first responders. Most of the electric power grid and telecommunications network was knocked offline. Flooding, downed trees, and toppled power lines made many roads impassable. In circumstances like this, quickly knowing where the power is out—and how long it has been out—allows first responders to better deploy rescue and repair crews and to distribute life-saving supplies. And that...
November 13, 2017
ESA Sentinel-1 Imagery
Acquired Nov. 11. 2017 Acquired Nov, 11 2017 NASA color coded SAR based flood detection maps reveal extensive flooding in areas of Vietnam. The SAR data used in analysis are Copernicus Sentinel data (2017), processed by ESA. In the figures, the blue tones represent flooding due to Typhoon Damrey while the black color represents water covered areas before the typhoon. Other colors indicate mostly land...
November 13, 2017
Topo relief map with flood modelling layer overlay.
Topographic relief map showing estimated flood extent. Darthmouth Flood Observatory of University of Colorado estimated maximum flood extent on November 7th, 2017 using NASA MODIS and Copernicus Sentinel 1 satelite data, operated by the European Space Agency (ESA). In the figure, the light gray denotes all previously-mapped flooding, and red is the active flooding. Blue shows the reference water extent.                    ...
November 13, 2017
Google map image with Inundation layer.
Inundation Layer from Project Mekong App as of 11/10/2017. Current inundation layer from the Project Mekong App as of 11/10/2017. Red indicates areas with detected flooding. The application uses LANCE MODIS imagery (collected today, 11/10/2017) and applies a dynamic surface water classifier based on statistical training and thresholding of NDVI values. The method is outlined in more detail in Ahamed and Bolten, 2017 (https://doi.org/10...
November 13, 2017
Total rainfall map using IMERG model
NASA IMERG model generated from October 31 to November 6, 2017 data.  NASA's Integrated Multi-satellitE Retrievals data (IMERG) estimates precipitation from a combination of space-borne passive microwave sensors. This image shows IMERG rainfall estimates over Southeast Asia during the period from October 31 to November 6, 2017. IMERG estimated that more than 500 mm (19.7 inches) of rain was common in this part of south central Vietnam.
October 2, 2017
ARIA Damage Proxy Map of Dominica from Hurricane Maria
The Advanced Rapid Imaging and Analysis (ARIA) team at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, and Caltech, also in Pasadena, created this Damage Proxy Map (DPM) depicting areas including Dominica that are likely damaged (shown by red and yellow pixels) as a result of Hurricane Maria (Category 5 at landfall in Dominica on Sept. 18, 2017). The map is derived from synthetic aperture radar (SAR) images from the Copernicus Sentinel-1 satellites, operated by the European Space Agency (ESA). The images were taken before (Mar. 27, 2017) and after (Sept. 23, 2017) the landfall of...
September 29, 2017
ARIA Damage Proxy Map for Puerto Rico
The Advanced Rapid Imaging and Analysis (ARIA) team at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, and Caltech, also in Pasadena, created this Damage Proxy Map (DPM) depicting areas of Western Puerto Rico that are likely damaged (shown by red and yellow pixels) as a result of Hurricane Maria (Category 4 at landfall in Puerto Rico on Sept. 20, 2017). The map is derived from synthetic aperture radar (SAR) images from the Copernicus Sentinel-...
September 26, 2017
NASA Damage Map Aids FEMA's Hurricane Maria Rescue Operation in Puerto Rico
The Advanced Rapid Imaging and Analysis (ARIA) team at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, and Caltech, also in Pasadena, created this Damage Proxy Map (DPM) depicting areas of Eastern Puerto Rico that are likely damaged (shown by red and yellow pixels) as a result of Hurricane Maria (a Category 4 hurricane at landfall in Puerto Rico on Sept. 20, 2017). The map is derived from synthetic aperture radar (SAR) images from the Copernicus Sentinel-1A and Sentinel-1B satellites,...

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