NASA’s Hurricane Webpage: A Resource for Worldwide Tropical Cyclones

By Rob Gutro, posted on August 23rd, 2011 in Earth Observation, Weather

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The TRMM satellite passed over Irene when it was a tropical storm on Aug. 21, 2011. Data collected with this orbit showed that Irene contained numerous powerful thunderstorms with TRMM's Precipitation Radar (PR) revealing that some thunderstorm towers near the center of the storm were reaching to heights above 15 km (~9.3 miles). Credit: NASA/SSAI, Hal Pierce

The TRMM satellite passed over Irene when it was a tropical storm on Aug. 21, 2011. Data collected with this orbit showed that Irene contained numerous powerful thunderstorms with TRMM's Precipitation Radar (PR) revealing that some thunderstorm towers near the center of the storm were reaching to heights above 15 km (~9.3 miles). Credit: NASA/SSAI, Hal Pierce

Rob Gutro
NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center
Greenbelt, Maryland

Tropical cyclones develop in various places around the world, all year long, and NASA’s Hurricane Webpage covers them. NASA’s Hurricane Webpage is a resource for meteorologists or weather fanatics, with updates on tropical cyclones happening anywhere around the world, satellite images, the latest research, animations, educational tools, scientist profiles, satellite information and historic storm information, on all storms going back to 2005.

Breaking news alerts on storms are provided through an RSS feed or an email subscription option. Companion NASA hurricane new media products provide additional information and breaking news. The page is managed by Rob Gutro, deputy news chief and a meteorologist in the Office of Communications at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.

NASA’s Hurricane Page also has companion Facebook and Twitter pages. Whenever there are no tropical cyclones, the Facebook and Twitter pages provide information on tropical lows that may or may not have the potential to develop. Those new media outlets provide the opportunity to give a “behind-the-scenes” look at ocean basins.

Storm updates are the central point of the NASA Hurricane Page. They are created daily from official updates from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) National Hurricane Center (NHC) and the Joint Typhoon Warning Center (JTWC). Both the NHC and JTWC forecast tropical cyclones use data from various NASA satellites and instruments in their forecast decisions.

The forecasts from NHC and JTWC are used in combination with NASA satellite imagery to create daily updates on tropical cyclones around the world. The satellite data used in the daily updates can come from a variety of satellites, including the Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission satellite (TRMM), Aqua, CloudSat, the Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellites (GOES), OSTM/Jason-2, Landsat, and Terra satellites. Except for GOES, which is managed by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, all missions are managed out of NASA Goddard or NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL). The NASA/NOAA GOES Project Office at NASA Goddard generates images and satellite animations.

Image showing Warm ocean waters fuel hurricanes, and there was plenty of warm water for Hurricane Katrina to build up strength once she crossed over Florida and moved into the Gulf of Mexico in August 2005. This image depicts a 3-day average of actual sea surface temperatures (SSTs) for the Caribbean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean, from Aug. 25-27, 2005. Every area in yellow, orange or red represents 82 degrees Fahrenheit or above. A hurricane needs SSTs at 82 degrees or warmer to strengthen. The data came from the Advanced Microwave Scanning Radiometer (AMSR-E) instrument on NASA's Aqua satellite. Credit: NASA/SVS

Warm ocean waters fuel hurricanes, and there was plenty of warm water for Hurricane Katrina to build up strength once she crossed over Florida and moved into the Gulf of Mexico in August 2005. This image depicts a 3-day average of actual sea surface temperatures (SSTs) for the Caribbean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean, from Aug. 25-27, 2005. Every area in yellow, orange or red represents 82 degrees Fahrenheit or above. A hurricane needs SSTs at 82 degrees or warmer to strengthen. The data came from the Advanced Microwave Scanning Radiometer (AMSR-E) instrument on NASA's Aqua satellite. Credit: NASA/SVS

NASA’s Aqua and Terra satellites have several instruments between them that are often featured on the Hurricane Page: the Atmospheric Infrared Sounder (AIRS), Advanced Microwave Scanning Radiometer-E (AMSR-E) and Moderate Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS). These satellites provide infrared, visible and microwave images of tropical cyclones that provide valuable temperature, rainfall, and cloud data.

The Atmospheric Infrared Sounder (AIRS) instrument provides infrared data (false-colored) that shows the location of strong convection. The AIRS temperature threshold that indicates strong convection is -63F/-52C. Cloud-top temperatures are important because they tell forecasters how high thunderstorms are, and the higher the thunderstorm, the colder the cloud tops and the more powerful the thunderstorms.

Over the ocean, AMSR-E microwave frequencies probe through smaller cloud particles to measure the microwave emissions from larger raindrops. AMSR-E provides improved measurements of rainfall rates. MODIS provides high resolution visible and infrared imagery of a tropical cyclone’s cloud extent.

The TRMM satellite has the first and only precipitation radar in space and can provide three-dimensional pictures of the structure of tropical cyclones.

Using all of these satellites and their instruments, NASA scientists gather data on many factors that determine why a tropical cyclone might have strengthened or weakened. Data includes: Storm and surface winds; sea surface heights and temperatures; rainfall intensity and area; lightning; cloud water; water vapor; cloud heights, extent of cloud cover and cloud temperature, humidity, atmospheric pressure; cloud development; and size of the storm.

On the top right corner of the NASA Hurricane Page is a feed of live alerts directly from the NHC, so readers can get the latest Atlantic Basin storm information immediately when it is issued.

The latest in NASA’s hurricane research is featured in the bottom center of the webpage. That area includes various NASA in-situ hurricane missions, such as the Genesis and Rapid Intensification Processes (GRIP) mission that NASA flew in the summer of 2010. There’s also an extensive education section including lesson plans. Users can also meet the team of scientists behind NASA’s hurricane research from oceanographers to atmospheric scientists.

These two images of Typhoon Fanapi from the MODIS instrument on two NASA satellites. The image of Fanapi approaching Taiwan (left) was captured on Sept. 18, 2010, at 220 UTC from NASA's Terra satellite. The image of Fanapi making landfall in China from was captured on Sept. 20, 2010, at 05:15 UTC from NASA's Aqua Satellite.  Credit: NASA/MODIS Rapid Response Team

These two images of Typhoon Fanapi from the MODIS instrument on two NASA satellites. The image of Fanapi approaching Taiwan (left) was captured on Sept. 18, 2010, at 220 UTC from NASA's Terra satellite. The image of Fanapi making landfall in China from was captured on Sept. 20, 2010, at 05:15 UTC from NASA's Aqua Satellite. Credit: NASA/MODIS Rapid Response Team

Looking for animations of individual storms or and end of the year animation showing all of the storms from a season? Hurricane multimedia is also a big part of the webpage. Included are educational animations created at NASA Goddard’s Scientific Visualization Studio. They range from “Looking at Hurricanes” and “A Hurricane’s Heat Engine” to “Arlene to Zeta: A Look at the 2005 Hurricane Season.” The International Space Station and the space shuttle also provide storm photos.

The “About Hurricanes” section is devoted to education about hurricanes. Viewers can learn about Specific Hurricane Topics, go to Hurricane Education Links, read about Technology Used to Understand Hurricanes and get a brief overview of how NASA studies hurricanes in the Hurricane Fact Sheet.

Web links are also provided to hurricane websites, including the NASA satellites and NASA computer modeling sites; NOAA sites; U.S. Geological Survey and Federal Emergency Management Agency websites.

Because the tropics are active most days of the year, the NASA Hurricane webpage, Facebook and Twitter feeds always have news to relay. Future hurricane field missions, launches of upcoming satellites like the Global Precipitation Measurement mission, daily storm imagery and reports, and animations are all things to look forward to in the 2011 Atlantic Ocean hurricane season.

Rob Gutro is the Deputy News Chief in the Office of Communications at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. He’s also a meteorologist and writes most of the daily updates for the NASA Hurricane Page. He also manages the NASA Fire/Smoke websites, covers breaking news and writes for the James Webb Space Telescope mission. Previously, he worked as a radio broadcast meteorologist at the Weather Channel and for NOAA in General Counsel and the National Hurricane Center. He holds degrees in English and Business, Meteorology, and Communications.

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