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

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...
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 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,...
September 21, 2017
IMERG precipitation accumulation from Hurricane Maria 9/17/17 - 9/21/17
Hurricane Maria has caused catastrophic flooding in Puerto Rico. Extreme flooding was reported in the streets of San Juan, the capital of Puerto Rico. The National Weather Service issued flash flood warnings for the entire island. Hurricane Maria has now moved to the northwest of Puerto Rico but is still expected to contribute to rainfall over the island on Friday. Feeder bands are transporting rain over Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic even as the hurricane moves toward the Turks and Caicos islands....
September 18, 2017
GPM overpass of hurricane Maria from 9/18/17
Intensifying hurricane Marie is on a path that is predicted to impact the Leeward Islands. Hurricane Irma caused death and wide spread destruction there less than two weeks ago. Very powerful convective storms and multiple lightning strokes within Maria have been cited as proof that Maria is an energetic intensifying hurricane. The GPM core observatory satellite had an excellent view of hurricane Maria when it passed almost directly above the hurricane on September...
April 4, 2017
Sentinel-1 flood map from Australia.
The NASA SPoRT team provided change detection products that highlight recent flood waters in Australia from Tropical Cyclone Debbie using Sentinel-1 data. These products were developed in conjunction with colleagues at the Alaska Satellite Facility (https://www.asf.alaska.edu/). The change detection is a simple algorithm is based detecting change that is consistent with flooding using a pre- and post-event scene. The product’s final...
September 12, 2017
ARIA Damage Proxy Map of Southern Florida from Hurricane Irma
The Advanced Rapid Imaging and Analysis (ARIA) team at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, created this Damage Proxy Map (DPM) depicting areas of Southwestern Florida, including Key West and Naples, that are likely damaged as a result of Hurricane Irma (Category 4 at landfall in Florida), shown by red and yellow pixels. The map is derived from synthetic aperture radar (SAR) images from the European Space Agency's (ESA) Sentinel-1...
September 8, 2017
89 GHz RGBs from the GPM constellation of the three hurricanes affecting the Atlantic Basin this morning.  Approximate times for passes over the respective hurricanes are noted in the image.
Below are 89 GHz RGBs (composited) of the three hurricanes affecting the Atlantic basin this morning.  Notice a decent eye structure is observable in all of the storms, including Hurricane Katia in the SW Gulf of Mexico.  This was noted in the 4 AM CDT discussion about the hurricane from the National Hurricane Center (NHC), “Enhanced BD-curve infrared imagery and a GPM microwave composite image indicate improved banding over the western portion of the circulation and the earlier ragged eye presentation has become much more distinct.”  SPoRT helped with the implementation of the...
September 6, 2017
GPM overpass of Hurricane Irma on 9/5/17
The GPM core observatory satellite had an exceptional view of hurricane Irma's eye when it flew above on September 5, 2017 at 12:52 PM AST (1652 UTC). This image shows a rainfall analysis that was derived from GPM's Microwave Imager (GMI) and Dual-Frequency Precipitation Radar (DPR) data. Irma was approaching the Leeward Islands with maximum sustained winds of about 178 mph (155 kts). This made Irma a dangerous category five hurricane on the Saffir-Simpson hurricane...
September 7, 2017
Image 1.  89 GHz image over Cat-5 Hurricane Irma from approx 0548 UTC 7 Sep 2017.  Background imagery is SPoRT SSTs from approx 18 UTC 6 Sep 2017.
The NASA SPoRT program has been providing Passive Microwave data to the National Hurricane Center for use in the NWS Automated Weather Interactive Processing System (AWIPS), which allows for data-layering capabilities, and has helped improve the method for tracking center fixes on tropical systems.  These data have been provided to the NHC as part of an on-going collaborative effort for several years now.  These first two images are 89 GHz RGBs taken over Cat-5 Irma from this morning.  Importantly, these data/imagery help forecasters to better analyze the internal...
September 1, 2017
Financial Loss Potential Index for Hurricane Harvey v3, dated 1 Sep 2017
This Financial Loss  Potential Index map combines extent of flooding and depth information and overlays it with exposed property values located in the flooded areas. The Financial Loss  Potential Index represents the concentration of high flood hazard and/or high value property locations at a grid level and can be used to validate loss estimates as well as review flood claims.  The data is posted at 500m grid cells. The property exposure data is...
September 1, 2017
Sea surface temperature map of Harvey acquired August 30th 2017
Acquired August 23rd 2017. Acquired August 30th 2017. Hurricane Harvey dropped unfathomable amounts of rainwater on Houston and southern Texas from August 25–30, 2017. The potent category 4 hurricane and long-lived tropical storm also churned up the Gulf of Mexico with its winds and storm surges, dispersing warm surface water and mixing up cooler water from the depths. All of that falling...
August 29, 2017
Astronaut Randy Bresnik took this photo of Tropical Storm Harvey from the International Space Station on Aug. 28 at 1:27 p.m. CDT.
NASA has a lot of resources providing information on Tropical Storm Harvey as it continues to drop tremendous, flooding rainfall on Texas and Louisiana. Satellites like NASA's Aqua satellite and platforms like aircraft and the International Space Station continue to provide various kinds of data on the storm. "NASA focuses on developing new research capabilities that can be used by our partners in the operational and response communities," said Dalia Kirschbaum, Research Physical Scientist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. "While we continue to innovate in the...

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