With over 50 inches of rain, floods that have risen up to 8 feet in some areas, and devastation beyond imagining, Hurricane Harvey is officially the most monstrous hurricane to slam Texas in almost half a century and the first Category 3 hurricane to storm in since Katrina—but you get an even greater sense of its severity from space.
NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) have been keeping an eye on the storm with satellites, aircraft, and even the International Space Station collecting data and transmitting constant updates nearly as fast as the rain has been pounding the planet. Observing natural disasters from outside Earth’s atmosphere gives us a point of view that encompasses the entire storm as it transitions from phase to phase. NASA’s Global Precipitation Measurement mission (GPM) satellite’s initial rainfall measurements were instrumental in providing rainfall predictions that determined potentially life-saving public weather advisories. NASA also keeps tweeting:
The space agency’s Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) aboard its Aqua satellite beamed back images of storm clouds looming above Dallas, while data from its Soil Moisture Active Passive (SMAP) satellite created the before-and-after images you see in the tweet above. Its Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS) on the NASA-NOAA Suomi Satellite sent back an eerie image after dark (below). The ISS captured an astounding view of Harvey that really brings the phenomenon into focus with a photo so unreal it almost looks like CGI special effects for the next disaster movie, though the fact that it isn’t makes it especially frightening.
The NASA-NOAA GOES East satellite used by NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center has also been watching from its geosynchronous orbit over the East Coast, since the destructive weather has been creeping east. Thunderstorms spawned from the hurricane spreading as far as Louisiana are nature’s way of going viral.
GOES East also gave NASA a look into the storm’s final landfall on the Texas-Louisiana border earlier today.
"NASA focuses on developing new research capabilities that can be used by our partners in the operational and response communities," said Goddard Research Physical Scientist Dalia Kirschbaum. "While we continue to innovate in the type of information from satellites, models, and airborne platforms, the main focus is to ensure that the partners that are responding operationally to this event have the information in the format that they need to make effective decisions on emergency response."
While you may not be aboard the ISS or observing through the lens of a satellite, you can still can send help from Earth.