NASA Keeps a Vigilant Eye on Hurricane Florence

On Sept. 7, NASA’s Global Precipitation Measurement, or GPM, core observatory satellite flew over Hurricane Florence, capturing a 3D image as the storm’s clouds started to break apart before reforming. Credits: NASA

NASA’s Earth Science Disaster Program is using the vantage point of space to provide important information to disaster responders before and after Hurricane Florence approaches the Carolinas.

Before the storm makes landfall, the space agency is utilizing data from satellites, such as Soil Moisture Active Passive (SMAP) to home in on areas that are saturated with water and Global Precipitation Measurement (GPM) to track rainfall rates across the body of the storm, in order to help determine which areas are at greater risk for flooding. The potential for landslides is also evaluated by looking at those factors in addition to land topography.

The crew aboard the International Space Station stared down the menacing eye of what was then Category 4 Hurricane Florence on Sept. 12 as it moved across the Atlantic Ocean and toward the East Coast of the United States. Credits: NASA

Astronauts aboard the International Space Station are also taking advantage of their one-of-a-kind vantage point a few hundred miles above Earth as they snap photos of the hurricane with handheld digital cameras. These wide-field, panoramic images help inform the size, scale, and location of the storm based on the ISS orbital ground track location, and multiple images taken over time relays important data on its evolution and life cycle.

As the storm hits the coasts and marches inland, NASA’s continually updated flood extent maps, derived from radar-based satellites that can “see through” clouds, will identify inundated areas, and the latest in flood modeling will anticipate for decision makers where flooding may occur next. This information is important for a number of decisions pertaining to evacuation routes, supply chains, and resource and relief allocation.

To provide situational awareness for first responders and other government authorities, in the storm’s aftermath NASA will maintain flood extent maps drawn from data collected by the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) aboard the Terra and Aqua satellites as well as the Landsat satellite, a joint mission of NASA and the U.S. Geological Survey.

Composite image of the continental U.S. at night, 2016. Credits: NASA Earth Observatory images by Joshua Stevens, using Suomi NPP VIIRS data from Miguel Román, NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center

Another tool in the recovery effort is NASA Goddard Space Flight Center’s Black Marble product suite, which can report daily on whether the power is on over over large swaths of land. Such information is important for understanding the extent of the damage, especially in remote and isolated areas that might not have robust communications systems in place. The technology was demonstrated during the response and recovery efforts following Hurricanes Irma and Maria in Puerto Rico, as it helped local communities strengthen their resilience by identifying preexisting infrastructure vulnerabilities across the island’s housing, transportation, and energy sectors.

Click here to watch NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine and NASA Disasters Program Manager David Green discuss how the space agency is assisting federal and state partners in preparing for and responding to Hurricane Florence.