HomeDisastersDisaster Focus: TROPICS NASA offers more views on intensifying hurricanes & more...

Disaster Focus: TROPICS NASA offers more views on intensifying hurricanes & more about the structure intensity

NASA new storm observing satellites have collected first glimpses of hurricanes, offering scientists a new tool for understanding the inner workings of storms on shorter timescales. Data from the TROPICS mission short for time resolved Observations of Precipitation structure and Intensity storms with a Constellation of Smallsats will help weather researchers learn more about the environmental factors contributing to hurricane structure and intensity.

Such information could prove useful to NOAA, the US Joint Typhoon Warning Center and international agencies responsible for developing hurricane, typhoon and cyclone forecasts.

NASA Administrator Bill Nelson says “communities around the world experience increasing impacts from increased extreme weather, it has never been more important to get timely data to those who need it most to save livelihoods and lives”.

TROPICS mission acquired storms data

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In late June 2023, the TROPICS mission acquired data for images of the first named storms of the eastern Pacific hurricane season. Hurricane Adrian developed near the west coast of Mexico but was tracking off land. Animations and photos show the development of storm clouds from the morning of June 28 to the afternoon of June 29.

TROPICS is a constellation of four identical CubeSats designed to observe tropical cyclones. The low-cost, milk-carton-sized satellites were launched in May 2023 by Rocket Lab. Each TROPICS CubeSat contains a microwave radiometer that collects data over 12 channels and detects ambient and storm temperatures, humidity, and precipitation.

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The images in the animation were created from data collected by a single channel (205 gigahertz) that is sensitive to cloud ice. Each scene shows the brightness temperature; that is, the radiation intensity detectable at the channel frequency that travels upward from the cloud layers and toward the satellites.

Cool brightness temperatures (blue) represent radiation that has been scattered by ice particles in storm clouds. The colder the temperature, the more ice is likely to be in the atmospheric column. Cloud ice is a sign of intense movement of heat and moisture (convection) in the storm, noted Will McCarty, program scientist for TROPICS and program manager for Weather and Atmospheric Dynamics at NASA Headquarters.

TROPICS explained that patterns seen in brightness temperature data

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Scott Braun, a research meteorologist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center and project scientist for TROPICS, explained that patterns seen in brightness temperature data can indicate the location of rain bands, the intensity of convection, whether a storm has formed an eye and how these structures change over time. All are important to understanding how storms will develop.

Patrick Duran, deputy mission application manager at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center says “Structural changes in brightness temperature can help us tell if a storm is strengthening or weakening”.

Similar microwave measurements can be made with other satellites, such as the Global Precipitation Measurement (GPM) mission. However, TROPICA has a time advantage. While the orbits of most science satellites only allow storm observations every 6 to 12 hours, the low Earth orbit and several TROPIC satellites allow imaging of storms approximately once every hour. This is a great advantage when trying to understand a rapidly developing storm.

The NOAA National Hurricane Center recently upgraded Adrian from a tropical storm to a Category 1 hurricane. It continued to strengthen and remained a Category 1 storm throughout this series of snapshots.

In the second image, less coverage of cold temperatures shows weakening convection, especially in the eyewall. In the third image, the eyewall shows stronger convection and the eye appears smaller, which often occurs when a storm intensifies. In the fifth image, strong convection is seen south of the eye, a new rain band has developed on the northern side, and the eye is at its smallest size seen in the series of images.

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