Initial Publication Date: August 12, 2008

Hurricane Anatomy

Part B: Types of Satellite Data

Step 1: Satellites and Forecasting

Watch this NASA video describing how NASA satellites were used to forecast and study Hurricane Katrina and her impacts, then answer the questions that follow.
Katrina Retrospective: 5 Years Later from NASA

More information about the NASA's use of satellites can be found on this page: Katrina Retrospective
(Note: if YouTube is blocked on your computer you can download a copy of this video from this page.)

Checking in Questions

Answer the following questions to check your understanding of the information provided in the video.
  • What information, captured by the Aqua satellite, illustrated the growing strength of the storm?
    Fill in the blanks:
    "The ultimate energy source for hurricanes is the _________ of tropical oceans. The warm waters evaporate, and the ________ ________ is the fuel that powers hurricane heat engines."
  • Hot towers, or large thunderstorms, were visualized by which NASA satellite?

During many hurricanes, including Katrina and Isabel, it is not the strong winds, but the heavy rains that cause the most devastation once a hurricane makes landfall. To give you a sense of the amount of water in a hurricane event answer the question below.

Stop and Think

1:The amount of rain that fell during Hurricane Isabel's lifetime was 400 trillion tons of water. (Remember that a trillion is the same as 1.0 x 1012.) Knowing that a ton is 2000 pounds and one pound is equivalent to 2.20 kg, how many kg of water is this? Do the calculation and write your answer in scientific notation.
2: If we say that the density of water is 1.0 x 1012 kg per cubic kilometer, how many cubic kilometers of water condensed as rain out of Hurricane Isabel?
3: How does your answer compare to the volume of Lake Superior which contains 12,100 cubic kilometers of water?

Step 2: Hurricane Frances

from NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center Scientific Visualization Studio

Hurricane Frances was a Category 4 storm that occurred during the 2004 Atlantic hurricane season. Frances was the 2nd of three hurricanes that affected the state of Florida during this season. This video is a news release from NASA about what scientists were able to learn by observing the storm. Click the image to view the video.

Checking in Questions

  • Which satellite does NASA use to study sea surface temperatures (SST)?

Step 3: Rainfall from Hurricane Wilma

This visualization presents data collected by the TRMM satellite on the cumulative rainfall over the lifespan of Hurricane Wilma. Consult the color scale image to interpret what the different colors mean. Click the image to view the video.

from NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center Scientific Visualization Studio

Cumulative Rain Amount Scale
Color scale for interpreting cumulative rain totals in NASA Hurricane Wilma Rain Totals visualization. Details

Stop and Think

4: Why does there seem to be less cumulative rainfall during the time Wilma is traversing the Florida peninsula than when it was in the vicinity of the Yucatan Peninsula? Hypothesize about the factors involved and support your hypotheses with observations from the video.