Stare Down from Space into the Churning Maw of Hurricane Florence

Even if you know nothing about hurricanes, an unavoidable sense of doom and destruction overtakes you when you look at this image of Hurricane Florence as it moves inexorably toward North and South Carolina.

Even if you didn’t know that the powerful storm is forecast to gain strength as it hits the coast on Friday, or that it will dump several months of rain onto the region in a mere few days, or that the storm surge could reach as high as 9 to 13 ft. If you didn’t know all those things, the picture of Florence taken from space would still fill you with foreboding.

The image was taken from the ISS by astronaut Alexander Gerst of the European Space Agency. “Ever stared down the gaping eye of a category 4 hurricane? It’s chilling, even from space,” said Gerst.

Gerst tweeted some more images and warnings to the people in the path of the storm.

Even though the ISS is 400km above the storm, Florence is so huge that astronauts needed a wide-angle lens to capture the storm. Image: NASA/ESA/ A. Gerst

Forecasters are calling Hurricane Florence a “generational storm.” It is an enormous storm, and it’s moving slowly. It is expected to stall and hover over the Carolinas, dumping enormous amounts of rainfall on the region, and causing massive destruction and flooding.

Even though the storm may weaken to a Category 1 or Category 2 storm, widespread damage is expected. The category ranking of storms only describes the speed of the storm’s sustained winds. For a Category 2 storm, that means sustained winds of 154–177 km/h (96–110 mph). But Florence will still bring gusts that are much more powerful. The damage from the storm is also cumulative over time, as it slowly moves inland, damaging homes and buildings, blowing trees over, and knocking down power lines.

A zoomed in image of the eye of Hurricane Florence. Image: NASA/ESA/A. Gerst

The Carolinas will bear the brunt of the storm, but as it moves inland, Virginia, Georgia, and Maryland will also be hit. As if the storm itself is not dangerous enough, it is expected to spawn tornadoes in southeast North Carolina on Thursday and Friday.

NASA released this video of Florence taken with cameras aboard the ISS.

Good luck to everyone in the path of the storm. Stay safe.

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