Imminent Impact of Deadly Cat 4 Hurricane Matthew Forces Closure of Kennedy Space Center and Mass Coastal Evacuations

Cat 4 Hurricane Matthew track during the late evening of 6 Oct 2016.  Credit: NASA/NOAA
Cat 4 Hurricane Matthew track during the late evening of 6 Oct 2016. Credit: NASA/NOAA

The imminent impact of the already deadly Category 4 Hurricane Matthew along the Florida Space Coast tonight, Thursday, October 6, has forced the closure of NASA’s Kennedy Space Center (KSC) and mass evacuations along the US East coast from Florida, to Georgia to the Carolinas.

“Hurricane Matthew, currently an extremely dangerous Category 4 storm on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale, continues to bear down on the southeastern United States,” says NASA in an update today.

NASA has closed KSC for today and tomorrow, at a minimum and the center has entered HurrCon 1 status.

“Under the current storm track, peak winds are forecast to be 125 mph sustained with gusts to 150 mph, however a shift in the track even slightly could improve the wind forecast somewhat,” wrote NASA’s Brian Dunbar.

“The Kennedy Space Center is closed today, Oct. 6, and Friday for Hurricane Matthew. Kennedy Space Center is now in HurrCon 1 status, meaning a hurricane is imminent.”

The Kennedy Space Center on Florida’s Space Coast is home to the iconic Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) – the most well known building at NASA – as well as Launch Complex’s 39 A and B which launched American astronauts to Moon and thereafter Space Shuttles for three decades.

The launch pads sit precariously close to the Atlantic Ocean shoreline – just a few hundred yards (meters) away!

View of the VAB and Mobile Launcher from the KSC Launch Complex 39 Press Site.   NASA is upgrading the VAB with new platforms to assemble and launch  NASA’s Space Launch System rocket at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.  Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
View of the VAB and Mobile Launcher from the KSC Launch Complex 39 Press Site. NASA is upgrading the VAB with new platforms to assemble and launch NASA’s Space Launch System rocket at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

“Across the spaceport, essential personnel are preparing facilities for the storm’s arrival,” according to George Diller, NASA Kennedy Space Center Public Affairs Officer.

“Hurricane Matthew is expected to make its closest approach to the Cape Canaveral/Kennedy area overnight Thursday and into Friday morning, bringing with it the potential for heavy rain, storm surge and hurricane-force winds.”

The last time a major Hurricane impacted near KSC and the Space Coast was in 2004. The VAB suffered some outside damage.

The Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex is also closed on Thursday, October 6 and Friday, October 7.

Hurricane Matthew is bearing down on the US East Coast right now at Florida’s Peninsula and is tracking north.

This visible image on Oct. 6 at 1:00 p.m. EDT from NOAA's GOES-East satellite shows Hurricane Matthew as it regained Category 4 Hurricane Status.  Credits: NASA/NOAA GOES Project
This visible image on Oct. 6 at 1:00 p.m. EDT from NOAA’s GOES-East satellite shows Hurricane Matthew as it regained Category 4 Hurricane Status. Credits: NASA/NOAA GOES Project

Herein is the latest satellite imagery from NASA and NOAA of this evening.

Mass evacuations have been ordered and States of Emergencies declared by the Governors of Florida, Georgia and North and South Carolina.

The high winds, storm surge of potentially 5 to 11 feet, drenching rains and extensive flooding is expected to cause massive damage and devastation to homes, businesses and infrastructure.

Cat 4 Hurricane Matthew track during the late evening of 6 Oct 2016.  Credit: NASA/NOAA
Cat 4 Hurricane Matthew track during the late evening of 6 Oct 2016. Credit: NASA/NOAA

Hundreds of thousands of folks have left their home over the past 2 days. Many gas stations are dry and grocery store shelves emptied.

Matthew will cause a wide swath of destruction and potentially deaths along hundreds of miles of US shoreline and inland areas as the massive storm hugs the coast like none before in recorded history.

Furthermore, hundreds of thousands of folks are expected to lose power as well, for days and perhaps weeks.

Hundreds of deaths and massive destruction in Haiti, Cuba and elsewhere in the Caribbean can already be blamed on Hurricane Matthew – a storm like none other and by far the worst since Superstorm Sandy and Hurricane Katrina.

After the storm passes KSC will evaluate all its facilities.

“Once the storm has passed, center facilities and infrastructure will be assessed and employees will be cleared to return when it is safe to do so,” Diller.

Indeed NASA was preparing to launch America’s newest and most advanced weather satellite on Nov 4. It’s named GOES-R and was slated for blastoff from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station atop a ULA Atlas V on Nov. 4.

The launch facilities will have to be thoroughly inspected before the launch can proceed.

The satellite is in the final stages of preparation at the Astrotech Space Operations Facility in Titusville, FL as I recently observed during an up close visit in the High Bay cleanroom.

Titusville and Astrotech could suffer a direct hit from Matthew. But the satellite has been secured.

The NASA/NOAA GOES-R (Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite - R Series) being processed at Astrotech Space Operations, in Titusville, FL, in advance of the planned launch on a ULS Atlas V on Nov 4, 2016.  GOES-R will be America’s most advanced weather satellite. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
The NASA/NOAA GOES-R (Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite – R Series) being processed at Astrotech Space Operations, in Titusville, FL, in advance of the planned launch on a ULS Atlas V on Nov 4, 2016. GOES-R will be America’s most advanced weather satellite. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

Here is the latest Advisory from the National Hurricane Center (NHC) as of 8 PM EDT Oct 6.

At 800 PM EDT (0000 UTC), the eye of Hurricane Matthew was located over the western end of Grand Bahama Island near latitude 26.6 North, longitude 78.9 West. The hurricane is moving toward the northwest near 13 mph (20 km/h), and this general motion is expected to continue tonight with a turn toward the north-northwest early Friday. On the forecast track, the eye of Matthew should move away from Grand Bahama Island during the next few hours, and move close to or over the east coast of the Florida peninsula through Friday night.

Reports from a NOAA Hurricane Hunter aircraft indicate that maximum sustained winds are now near 130 mph (210 km/h) with higher gusts. Matthew is a category 4 hurricane on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale. Some fluctuations in intensity are likely while the hurricane moves toward the coast of Florida.

Hurricane-force winds extend outward up to 60 miles (95 km) from the center and tropical-storm-force winds extend outward up to 185 miles (295 km). Settlement Point in the Bahamas recently reported a sustained wind of 79 mph (128 km/h) with a gust of 105 mph (169 km/hr). The Lake Worth Pier near Palm Beach, Florida, recently reported a sustained wind of 46 mph (74 km/h) and a wind gust of 60 mph (96 km/h).

The minimum central pressure estimated from NOAA Hurricane Hunter data is 939 mb (27.73 inches).

…….

The latest weather briefing indicates that “tropical storm force winds beginning at Cape Canaveral tonight at midnight with hurricane force winds starting at about 6 a.m.

A hurricane ride-out crew of 116 has arrived at KSC this evening to prepare for Matthew.

“All facilities at Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station have been secured.”

SpaceX is currently renovating and refurbishing pad 39A to launch their commercial Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy rockets as well the Crew Dragon with astronauts on mission to the ISS.

The eye of the storm is barreling towards KSC at this moment. Stay tuned for the outcome.

SpaceX is renovating Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center for launches of the Falcon Heavy and human rated Falcon 9.  Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
SpaceX is renovating Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center for launches of the Falcon Heavy and human rated Falcon 9. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and Planetary science and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer

Satellite Views Show Hurricane Matthew Moving Towards U.S.

As Hurricane Matthew approaches the east coast of Florida, the evacuation of hundreds of thousands of people is taking place in Florida and South Carolina. Forecasters say the conditions appear to be favorable for the storm to restrengthen after it caused major damage to western Haiti and eastern Cuba. Matthew is now heading toward Florida, bringing with it the potential for heavy rain, storm surges and hurricane-force winds. The expected maximum sustained winds could be 130 mph (210 km/hr), and it could be the strongest hurricane to hit the region in 11 years

The National Hurricane Center said “Matthew is moving toward the northwest near 12 mph (19 kph), and this motion is expected to continue during the next 24 to 48 hours. On this track, Matthew will be moving across the Bahamas through Thursday, and is expected to be very near the east coast of Florida by Thursday evening, Oct. 6.”

The image above was taken by NASA’s Terra satellite on October 4, 2016, showing the hurricane over the eastern tip of Cuba and the eastern-most extent over Puerto Rico. Reports say it was the strongest storm to hit the Caribbean nation in more than 50 years.

Cameras on board the International Space Station captured these views of Hurricane Matthew today (October 5) as the now Category 3 storm moved to the north of Cuba:

NASA’s Kennedy Space Center released a statement that they closed at 1 p.m. today due to the approach of the hurricane, with essential personnel preparing facilities for the storm’s arrival.

Stu Ostro, a senior meteorologist at The Weather Channel, tweeted a satellite image of the hurricane, which has gone viral, which some say shows a face with a fiery eye, teeth and a sinister smile.

WeatherUnderground is tracking the storm and as of 6:00 pm ET on October 5, this was the projected path of the storm. You can click the image (or this link) to get the current tracking data on WeatherUnderground.

Projected path for Hurricane Matthew as of October 5, 2016. Click for updated map on WeatherUnderground.com.
Projected path for Hurricane Matthew as of October 5, 2016. Click for updated map on WeatherUnderground.com.

This animation of NOAA’s GOES-East satellite imagery from Oct. 3 to Oct. 5 shows Hurricane Matthew make landfall on Oct. 4 in western Haiti and move toward the Bahamas on Oct. 5.

NOAA said tropical storm or hurricane conditions could affect South Carolina and North Carolina later this week or this weekend, even if the center of Matthew remains offshore, adding that “it is too soon to determine what, if any, land areas might be directly affected by Matthew next week. At a minimum, dangerous beach and boating conditions are
likely along much of the U.S. east coast during the next several days.”

For additional information see:
NASA’s page on Hurricane Matthew
NASA’s Earth Observatory website
National Hurricane Center

An Ancient Volcanic Cataclysm Spun Mars Off Its Poles

A colorized image of the surface of Mars taken by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. The line of three volcanoes is the Tharsis Montes, with Olympus Mons to the northwest. Valles Marineris is to the east. Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ Arizona State University

“What happened to Mars?” is one of the most compelling questions in space science. It probably wasn’t always the dead, dry, cold place it is now. Did its core cool and stop rotating, allowing the full glare of the sun to blast away its atmosphere and water, and kill anything that may have lived there? Was it struck by a large body, which incinerated its atmosphere, and led to its demise? Were there other causes?

According to a new research paper from Sylvain Bouley at the University of Paris-South, and his colleagues, it may have been a massive, ancient outpouring of molten rock that threw Mars off kilter and helped change Mars into what it is today.

The Tharsis region is an ancient lava complex on Mars that dates back to between 4.1 billion and 3.7 billion years ago. It’s located in Mars’ Western Hemisphere, right near the equator. It’s made up of three huge shield volcanoes—Arsia Mons, Pavonis Mons, and Ascraeus Mons. Collectively, they’re known as Tharsis Montes. (Olympus Mons, the largest volcano in the Solar System, is not a part of the Tharsis complex, though it is near it.)

Tharsis is over 5,000 km across and over 10 miles thick, making it the largest volcanic complex in the Solar System. That much mass positioned after Mars was already formed and had an established rotation would have been cataclysmic. Think what would happen to Earth if Australia rose up 10 miles.

An image of the Syria-Thaumasia region of the Tharsis complex, showing the volcano Arsia Mons on the left, and Valles Marineris on the northern edge. Brown areas are the highest altitude. Open Source Image: Arizona State University, JMars.
An image of the Syria-Thaumasia region of the Tharsis complex, showing the volcano Arsia Mons on the left, and Valles Marineris on the northern edge. Brown areas are the highest altitude. Open Source Image: Arizona State University, JMars.

The new paper, published on March 2nd, 2016, in the journal Nature, says that the position of the Tharsis complex would have initiated a True Polar Wander (TPW.) Basically, what this means is that Tharsis’ huge mass would have forced Mars to shift its rotation, so that the location of Tharsis became the new equator.

It was thought that the emergence of Tharsis made Martian rivers—which formed later—flow the direction they do. But the study from Bouley and his colleagues shows that Martian rivers and valleys formed first—or maybe concurrently—and that the Tharsis TPW deformed the planet later.

The authors of the study calculated where the Martian poles would have been prior to Tharsis, and looked for evidence of polar conditions at those locations. The location of this ancient north pole contains a lot of ice today, and the location of the ancient south polar region also shows evidence of water.

What it all adds up to is that the disappearance of water on Mars probably happened at the same time as the TPW. Whether the appearance of the Tharsis lava complex, and the resulting cataclysmic shifting of Mars’ rotational orientation, were the cause of Mars losing its climate is not yet known for sure. But this study shows that the ancient volcanic cataclysm did at least help shape Mars into what it is today.

 

Monster Blizzard of 2016 Strikes US East Coast, Tracked by NASA and NOAA Satellites

NASA-NOAA's Suomi NPP satellite snapped this image of the approaching blizzard around 2:35 a.m. EST on Jan. 22, 2016 using the Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS) instrument's Day-Night band.   Credit: NOAA/NASA
NASA-NOAA’s Suomi NPP satellite snapped this image of the approaching blizzard around 2:35 a.m. EST on Jan. 22, 2016 using the Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS) instrument’s Day-Night band. Credit: NOAA/NASA

NEW JERSEY- The monstrous ‘Blizzard of 2016’ predicted by weather forecasters for days has struck a wide swath of the US East Coast from the Gulf coast to the Carolinas to New York and soon into New England, with full fury today, Friday, Jan. 22.

NASA and NOAA satellites are tracking the storm which is already inundating the biggest population centers, affecting some 85 million people in 20 states up and down the Atlantic Coast, as it moves in a northeasterly direction.

This afternoon, NASA and NOAA released a series of eyepopping satellite images showing the massive extent of the storm, which may drop historic amounts of snow on Washington DC and other cities over the next 24 to 48 hours.

The two agencies released a particularly striking image, shown above, showing the storm swarming over virtually the entire eastern half of the continental US as it was barreling towards the East coast cites.

It was taken Friday afternoon by the NASA-NOAA’s Suomi NPP satellite showing the approaching blizzard around 2:35 a.m. EST on Jan. 22, 2016 using the Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS) instrument’s Day-Night band.

States of Emergency have been declared by Governors of states from the mid-Atlantic to New England, including North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland, New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Kentucky, Georgia, Tennessee, West Virginia, the District of Columbia and the list is growing.

The heaviest snowfall is expected in and around Washington DC with estimates of 24 inches of snow or more. 18 to 24 inches may fall along the metropolitan Northeast corridor on Baltimore, Philadelphia, Trenton and New York City.

This visible image from NOAA's GOES-East satellite at 1830 UTC (1:30 p.m. EST) on Jan. 22, 2016 shows the major winter storm now affecting the U.S. East coast.  Credits: NASA/NOAA GOES Project
This visible image from NOAA’s GOES-East satellite at 1830 UTC (1:30 p.m. EST) on Jan. 22, 2016 shows the major winter storm now affecting the U.S. East coast. Credits: NASA/NOAA GOES Project

The heavy, blinding snow was already hitting Virginia and Washington by Friday afternoon. Governors, Mayors and Federal officials warned drivers to get off the roads by early Friday afternoon.

Stay off the roadways !!

Widespread treacherous driving with icy roads, sleet, rain, low visibility and whiteout conditions are causing numerous auto accidents as the blizzard bashes the region.

“The winter storm that caused damage during the night along the Gulf Coast has deepened and has started to spread heavy rain, freezing rain, sleet and snow northward into the Mid-Atlantic region. NASA’s GPM and NOAA’s GOES satellites are providing data on rainfall, cloud heights, extent and movement of the storm” wrote NASA’s Rob Gutro in an update on Friday.

On January 22 at 1329 UTC (8:29 a.m. EST) the GPM core satellite saw precipitation falling at a rate of over 64 mm (2.5 inches) per hour in storms over northern Alabama.  Credits: SSAI/NASA/JAXA, Hal Pierce
On January 22 at 1329 UTC (8:29 a.m. EST) the GPM core satellite saw precipitation falling at a rate of over 64 mm (2.5 inches) per hour in storms over northern Alabama. Credits: SSAI/NASA/JAXA, Hal Pierce

The National Weather Service (NWS) Weather Prediction Center in College Park, Maryland said “An area of low pressure centered over the southeastern U.S. will continue developing into a major winter storm which will impact a large portion of the East Coast from the southern Appalachians through the Mid-Atlantic States from Friday into the weekend. Snowfall totals may exceed 2 feet in portions of these areas, including the Baltimore and Washington D.C. metropolitan areas.”

The monster storm has already caused at least ten deaths. Thousands of motorists are stranded.

High winds up to 55 mph are expected to batter the New Jersey shore, causing significant beach erosion, coastal flooding and property destruction in the same areas devastated by Superstorm Sandy. Thousands of people have been evacuated.

The blizzard has also impacted the US Presidential campaigns and forced New Jersey Governor Chris Christie to temporary cancel campaign appearances in New Hampshire on Friday and Saturday, to deal first hand with the storm back home.

Heavy ice and snow accumulations could cause falling tress resulting in downed power lines and days long power outages during brutally cold temperatures.

Here’s a cool supercomputer animation model:

Video caption: A NASA Center for Climate Simulation supercomputer model that shows the flow of #Blizzard2016 thru Sunday, January 24, 2015. Credit: NASA

Many airports have been closed and some seven thousand flights have also been canceled.

The storm is expected to last into Sunday, Jan. 24

Looking massive from space....  This view of the winter storm over the eastern United States was captured on Friday, January 22, 2016 at 1:55 pm ET via the Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS) instrument on the Suomi NPP satellite.   Credit: NASA/Goddard/Suomi NPP/VIIRS
Looking massive from space…. This view of the winter storm over the eastern United States was captured on Friday, January 22, 2016 at 1:55 pm ET via the Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS) instrument on the Suomi NPP satellite. Credit: NASA/Goddard/Suomi NPP/VIIRS

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and Planetary science and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer

Monster Cat 5 Hurricane Patricia Strongest Ever Recorded Menaces Millions in Mexico; Seen from ISS

“Hurricane #Patricia approaches #Mexico. It’s massive. Be careful” in this image taken by NASA astronaut Scott Kelly aboard the ISS on Oct. 23, 2015. Credit: NASA/Scott Kelly
More images and videos below[/caption]

Hurricane Patricia, the strongest storm in recorded history with winds exceeding 190 mph (305 km/h) is right now menacing millions in Mexico after suddenly intensifying with little warning over the past day, threatening widespread catastrophic destruction as it barrels towards frightened residents along the nations Pacific coast and makes landfall this evening, Friday, Oct. 23.

NASA astronaut Scott Kelly captured striking photos, above and below, of Hurricane Patricia this afternoon from aboard the International Space Station (ISS).

Other NASA and NOAA weather satellites are actively monitoring and measuring the strongest storm on the planet right now.

“Hurricane #Patricia approaches #Mexico. It’s massive. Be careful,” Kelly wrote on his twitter account with a pair of images taken from the ISS.

Patricia unexpectedly intensified quite rapidly to a Category 5 storm from a tropical storm in the space of just 24 hours from yesterday to today with the significant potential for loss of life and likely widespread catastrophic damage.

This morning Patricia had sustained winds of 190 mph (305 km/h) , on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale, with gusts up to 235 mph. That’s comparable to an EF-4 tornado, but its much wider.

Weather forecasters say that unusually warm waters, possibly from the current El Niño weather pattern may be causing the rapid intensification of the storm to unprecedented power never before seen.

On Oct. 23 at 17:30 UTC (1:30 p.m. EDT) NASA's Terra satellite saw the eastern quadrant of Hurricane Patricia over Mexico and the storm's pinhole eye.  Credits: NASA's Goddard MODIS Rapid Response Team
On Oct. 23 at 17:30 UTC (1:30 p.m. EDT) NASA’s Terra satellite saw the eastern quadrant of Hurricane Patricia over Mexico and the storm’s pinhole eye. Credits: NASA’s Goddard MODIS Rapid Response Team

“Hurricane #Patricia looks menacing from @space_station. Stay safe below,” tweeted Kelly, who just broke the American record for most time spent in space.
Patricia is making landfall near the tourist resort of Puerto Vallarta, the town of Cuixmala and the city of Manzanillo along Mexico’s Pacific coast, as it slightly weakens to 165 mph (265 km/h) with destructive force.

Here is the latest Hurricane Patricia animation from NOAA:
rb_lalo-animated 102315

Patricia is the most powerful storm ever to make landfall and many millions live in its path that is expected to track eastwards across inland areas of Mexico and then move up into the United States at Texas with flooding rains.

The Mexican government has warned millions to take shelter to evacuate. Over 15000 tourists have been evacuated from Puerto Vallarta to other regions. But the effort was hampered since the airport has been closed.

Catastrophic destruction to homes, businesses and infrastructure is feared.

Some 10 to 20 inches of rain is expected along the coast, causing mudslides across Mexico.

Waves heights exceeding 30 feet are also expected.

Heavy rains and flash flooding will continue into the US with the heaviest downpours expected in Texas and Louisiana.

Hurricane Patricia on Oct. 23, 2015 from the National Hurricane Center
Hurricane Patricia on Oct. 23, 2015 from the National Hurricane Center

Here’s the 7 PM CDT advisory from the National Hurricane Center:

“EXTREMELY DANGEROUS HURRICANE PATRICIA MOVING FARTHER INLAND OVER SOUTHWESTERN MEXICO”

“The center of Hurricane Patricia was located near latitude 19.5 North, longitude 104.9 West. Patricia ismoving toward the north-northeast near 15 mph (24 km/h) and this motion is expected to continue with some increase in forward speed tonight and Saturday. On the forecast track, the center of Patricia should continue to move inland over southwestern Mexico.

Patricia is expected to move quickly north-northeastward across western and northern Mexico through Saturday.

Satellite images indicate that Patricia has continued to weaken, and maximum sustained winds are estimated to be near 160 mph (260 km/h) with higher gusts. Patricia is a category 5 hurricane on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale. Patricia is forecast to rapidly weaken over the mountains of Mexico and dissipate on Saturday.

Hurricane force winds extend outward up to 35 miles (55 km) from the center and tropical storm force winds extend outward up to 175 miles (280 km).

The estimated minimum central pressure is 924 mb (27.29 inches).”

Here’s a video of Hurricane Patricia from the ISS taken today, Oct 23, 2015.

Video caption: Outside the International Space Station, cameras captured dramatic views of Hurricane Patricia at 12:15 p.m. EDT on October 23, 2015 as the mammoth system moved north at about 10 mph, heading for a potentially catastrophic landfall along the southwest coast of Mexico sometime during the day, according to the National Hurricane Center. Packing winds of 200 miles per hour, Patricia is the strongest in recorded history in the southeastern Pacific Ocean. The National Hurricane Center says that once Patricia crosses the Mexican coast it should weaken quickly and dissipate Oct. 24 due to upper level winds and mountainous terrain, but likely will introduce copious amounts of rainfall to the Texas coast through the weekend. Credit: NASA

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and planetary science and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer

Hurricane Patricia approaches Mexico in this image taken by NASA astronaut Scott Kelly aboard the ISS on Oct. 23, 2015. Credit: NASA/Scott Kelly
Hurricane Patricia approaches Mexico in this image taken by NASA astronaut Scott Kelly aboard the ISS on Oct. 23, 2015. Credit: NASA/Scott Kelly

NASA’s GPM Sat Records Deadly ‘1000 Year’ Rain Devastating South Carolina from Nor’easter and Joaquin

Video Caption: NASA/JAXA’s GPM satellite measured record rainfall that fell over the Carolinas from September 26 to October 5, 2015 from a plume of moisture from Hurricane Joaquin when it was located over the Bahamas and moved to Bermuda. The IMERG showed highest rainfall totals near 1,000 mm (39.3 inches) in a small area of South Carolina and rainfall between 700 and 900 mm (27.5 and 37.4 inches) over a large area of South Carolina. Credits: SSAI/NASA/JAXA, Hal Pierce
See below ground level images and videos of storm devastation
Story updated with additional details/imagery from NASA and South Carolina

NASA’s advanced Global Precipitation Measurement (GPM) weather satellite is continuously tracking and recording the ‘1000 Year’ rainfall event heaping death and devastation across wide areas of South Carolina from the combined actions of a freak Nor’easter and Hurricane Joaquin – which reached a borderline Cat 5 status on Saturday, Oct. 3 with winds of 150 mph.

South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley declared the historic and torrential rain fall to be a “1000 Year event” on Sunday, Oct. 4. “We have never seen anything like this.” Governor Haley and President Obama issued a “State of Emergency.”

Although the horrendous rains in South Carolina may nearly be done, the nor’easter caused damage estimated to be in the Billions of Dollars and at least 9 storm related deaths as of today, Monday, Oct. 5.

Rainfall totals ranging from 14 to 37 inches in local areas over the past week drenched a wide swath of the Palmetto state with never before seen flooding, according to NASA and NOAA. The most intense periods of rain fell over the weekend.

See herein a gallery of photos from friends and others living through the disaster in South Carolina.

NASA astronaut Scott Kelly also captured dramatic images of Hurricane Joaquin – as I reported earlier here.

A slew of NASA and NOAA orbiting weather satellites are constantly tracking the fierce storms and providing the state and federal governments with the most up to date forecasts to aid officials and emergency responders in evaluating and managing the disaster in the most effective manner possible.

NASA’s GPM and a global fleet of other international weather monitoring satellites gathered measurements every 30 minutes from September 26 to October 5, 2015 that were combined into the eyepoppongly dramatic IMERG (Integrated Multi-satellitE Retrievals for GPM) color-coded video above. It tracks the massive growth, spread and direction of the storms and shows the historic levels of destructive precipitation generated by the lethal pair of powerful storms.

The NASA GPM video shows plumes of moisture from the Nor’Easter and Hurricane Joaquin as they gather force and moved over South Carolina and through the Caribbean around and over the Bahamas and later as Joaquin fortunately veered away from the US eastern seaboard towards Bermuda.

“The IMERG showed highest rainfall totals near 1,000 mm (39.3 inches) in a small area of South Carolina and rainfall between 700 and 900 mm (27.5 and 37.4 inches) over a large area of South Carolina,” says NASA’s Hal Pierce.

Here’s a NASA video with NASA scientist Dalia Kirschbaum describing how GPM can see inside a hurricane to makes rainfall and precipitation measurements in 3D:

Video caption: NASA scientist Dalia Kirschbaum explains how the Global Precipitation Measurement Mission’s Core observatory has an instrument that can see layer by layer through a storm.

The GPM precipitation measurements come from both of its advanced radar instruments – the dual-frequency precipitation (DPR) radar instrument (Ku and Ka band) and the GPM microwave imager (GMI), NASA scientist George Huffman told Universe Today.

The IMERG video is based on an algorithm that also carefully combines and calibrates measurements gathered every 30 minutes from the passive microwave sensors flying aboard a large international constellation of satellites from the US, Europe, Japan and India – and outlined in complete detail further below by NASA’s Huffman and Kirschbaum; exclusively for Universe Today.

The visualization of data was created by NASAs Goddard’s Space Flight Center and shows Hurricane Joaquin around the Bahamas “when it was a tropical storm. Red and green colors show rain and the ice and snow at the top of the storm is visualized in blue.”

“Understanding hurricane structure helps weather forecasters around the world determine a storm’s structure and where it may be going,” says Kirschbaum.

Hurricane Joaquin was still packing winds exceeding 125 mph this morning, but it has lost strength throughout the day.

Over 40,000 homes and businesses are without power today, Oct. 5, in South Carolina due to the unending rain and widespread catastrophic flooding. And many folks had to be evacuated.

Some cemeteries were uprooted with caskets seen floating down flooded streets.

Residents are warned to stay out of the flood waters and standing waters that can be carrying bacteria and diseases presenting a significant health hazard.

In the capitol city of Columbia, there was widespread flooding with severe damage to water mains that cut off drinking water to over 15,000 people.

The governor deployed over 1300 national guard troops to render assistance. Over 150 folks were rescued by helicopter, some from the rooftops of their homes and apartments.

Here’s a helicopter rescue:

Video: Helicopter Rescue at Lakewood Links in Sumter, SC on Oct 4, 2014. Credit: Sean Reyes

Scores of South Carolina residents were getting rescued by canoes and even boats where waters surged in places up to 25 feet above normal.

At least 9 dams have been breached statewide, as well as levees, requiring many thousands people more to be evacuated.

Dam at Swan Lake  in South Carolina on Oct. 4, 2015.  Credit: Edwin Corning
Dam at Swan Lake in South Carolina on Oct. 4, 2015. Credit: Edwin Corning

Governor Haley confirmed that over 550 roads were either closed, damaged or destroyed, including back roads and major interstate highways vital to the states and US national economy.

A 70 mile stretch of I-95, a major north-south artery traveled by millions including myself, was closed to all traffic on Sunday and remains closed today. And many side roads that could serve as potential detours are also closed.

Historically high water levels in some of the areas worst hit by flooding has finally receded. But in other areas water levels are rising.

In addition, the US Coast Guard says the cargo ship ‘El Faro’ with 33 people aboard is believed to have sunk because it ventured straight into Hurricane Joaquin. The ship’s crew included 28 Americans and 5 Polish sailors. It sank in the area popularly known as the ‘Bermida Triangle’ in water some 3 miles deep.

Today, the Coast Guard reported the discovery of a debris field over 25-square-miles wide. At least one crew member has already been found dead.

The El Faro set out from the port of Jacksonville on Tuesday when Joaquin was a tropical storm with 85 mph wind speed.

The last distress call on last Thursday morning, as the ship neared the eye of the Hurricane, then a Category 3. The ship was listing over 15 degrees surrounded by 30 foot high waves.

The hurricane quickly grew into a Cat 4 and no further word was heard from the ship. It may be 3 miles underwater at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean.

How and from which fleet of satellites does NASA obtain the orbital measurements used to create the high resolution, color-coded GPM IMERG visualizations?

“The Integrated Multi-satellitE Retrievals for GPM (IMERG) creates a merged precipitation product from the GPM constellation of satellites. These satellites include DMSPs from the U.S. Department of Defense, GCOM-W from the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), Megha-Tropiques from the Centre National D’etudies Spatiales (CNES) and Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO), NOAA series from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Suomi-NPP from NOAA-NASA, and MetOps from the European Organisation for the Exploitation of Meteorological Satellites (EUMETSAT),” NASA scientists George Huffman and Dalia Kirschbaum told me exclusively for Universe Today.

“All of the instruments (radiometers) onboard the constellation partners are intercalibrated with information from the GPM Core Observatory’s GPM Microwave Imager (GMI) and Dual-frequency Precipitation Radar (DPR). The data are gridded at 0.1°x0.1° lat./lon and provided in 30 minute time slices through morphing between satellite overpasses. The satellite estimates are then calibrated with rainfall gauge information.”

Here’s another GPM visualization of Hurricane Joaquin:

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and planetary science and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer

Hurricane Joaquin captured on Oct. 2, 2015 by NASA Astronaut Scott Kelly from the International Space Station. Credit: NASA/Scott Kelly
Hurricane Joaquin captured on Oct. 2, 2015 by NASA Astronaut Scott Kelly from the International Space Station. Credit: NASA/Scott Kelly
NASA’s next generation Global Precipitation Measurement (GPM) observatory inside the clean room at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, MD. Technicians at work on final processing during exclusive up-close inspection tour by Universe Today.  GPM is slated to launch on February 27, 2014 and will provide global measurements of rain and snow every 3 hours. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
NASA’s next generation Global Precipitation Measurement (GPM) observatory inside the clean room at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, MD. Technicians at work on final processing during exclusive up-close inspection tour by Universe Today. GPM wasn successfully launched on February 27, 2014 and will provide global measurements of rain and snow every 3 hours. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

More storm photos:

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Borderline Cat 5 Hurricane Joaquin Spied from International Space Station

As the powerful category 4 Hurricane Joaquin was pounding the Bahamas and packing winds of over 130 mph, NASA astronaut Scott Kelly captured a stunning photo of Joaquin on Friday morning, Oct. 2 from his perch aboard the International Space Station (ISS). As of today, Oct. 3. Joaquin has gained strength to 150 mph and is a borderline Cat 5 storm!

Coincidentally, Kelly snapped the photo within hours of the milestone 100th straight successful rocket launch by United Launch Alliance (ULA) on Oct. 2, of the firms Atlas V rocket carrying Mexico’s next generation Morelos-3 communications satellite from Florida to orbit.

Kelly’s spectacular storm photo shows the eye of Hurricane Joaquin over the Caribbean and off the US eastern seaboard with the limb of the Earth and our atmosphere in beautiful detail.

Huge thunderstorms can been off to the north of the immense category 4 storm.

And as of today, Saturday, Oct. 3, Hurricane Joaquin has further strengthened and is now packing maximum sustained winds of 150 MPH or 240 KM/H, according to the latest advisory issued by the National Hurricane Center (NHC) as of 5 p.m. EDT.

Kelly posted the Oct. 2 photo of Joaquin with this caption on his twitter account:

“Early morning shot of Hurricane #Joaquin from @space_station before reaching #Bahamas. Hope all is safe. #YearInSpace.”

Two of the stations solar panels are seen in the photo as well as portions of the US east coast including Florida.

The latest NHC forecast shows Joaquin veering away from the US East Coast. But it’s still creating hurricane force winds and high waves that is threatening Bermuda.

“SEVERE HURRICANE JOAQUIN THREATENING BERMUDA,” said the NHC today.

It is moving northeast at 45 degrees at 17 MPH or 28 KM/H.

Kelly snapped another telling view of Joaquin on Thursday, Oct. 1 showing the Bahamas and Miami in the field of view.

Kelly tweeted; “#HurricaneJoaquin churns over the #Bahamas with #Miami in the field of view from @Space_Station.”

#HurricaneJoaquin churns over the #Bahamas with #Miami in the field of view from @Space_Station #YearInSpace.  Credit: NASA/Scott Kelly
#HurricaneJoaquin churns over the #Bahamas with #Miami in the field of view from @Space_Station #YearInSpace. Credit: NASA/Scott Kelly

Scott Kelly is a member of the first ever 1 year ISS mission crew comprising Kelly and Russian cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko.

They arrived at the ISS in March and had just reached the midpoint of their nearly 12 month stay aimed at conducting research to explore the impact of long term stays in space on the human body and aid NASA’s long term plans for a human ‘Journey to Mars’ in the 2030s.

NASA and NOAA satellites are keeping constant watch on the progress of the powerful Hurricane Joaquin, that earlier had the potential to barrel towards tens of millions of US coastal residents.

Here’s another stunning view of Hurricane Joaquin taken by the GOES-West satellite on Oct. 1.

This stunning image of Hurricane Joaquin is from NOAA's GOES West satellite on Oct. 1 2015. Many portions of the eastern U.S. are currently experiencing heavy rains and gusty winds associated with a frontal system.   Credit: NOAA
This stunning image of Hurricane Joaquin is from NOAA’s GOES West satellite on Oct. 1 2015. Many portions of the eastern U.S. are currently experiencing heavy rains and gusty winds associated with a frontal system. Credit: NOAA

This visible image from NASA’s Aqua satellite shows Hurricane Joaquin over Bahamas on Oct. 1.

NASA's Aqua satellite captured this visible image of Hurricane Joaquin over Bahamas on Oct. 1 at 17:55 UTC (1:55 p.m. EDT).  Credits: NASA Goddard MODIS Rapid Response Team
NASA’s Aqua satellite captured this visible image of Hurricane Joaquin over Bahamas on Oct. 1 at 17:55 UTC (1:55 p.m. EDT). Credits: NASA Goddard MODIS Rapid Response Team

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and planetary science and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer

Eye of Super Typhoon Maysak Looks “Like a Black Hole” from Space

From his perch on the International Space Station, astronaut Terry Virts has been taking some beautiful photos of Earth and space and sharing them on social media. Today, he shared his views of Super Typhoon Maysak, including this terrifying view looking straight down into the huge eye of the storm. “Looking down into the eye – by far the widest one I’ve seen,” he tweeted. “It seemed like a black hole from a Sci-Fi movie.”

See more of his images, below.

According to AccuWeather.com, Super Typhoon Maysak is one of the strongest cyclones in history during the months of January, February and March. It has slammed several Micronesian islands, killing 5 people, and is now on its way to the Philippines. As of early on April 1, Maysak had sustained winds of 240 kph (150 mph), equivalent of a Category 4 hurricane. Gusts as high as 390 kph (180 mph) are possible with this storm.

The typhoon is expected to weaken, but still poses a threat to the islands in its path:

A graphic showing Typhoon Maysak's projected path. Credit: AccuWeather.com
A graphic showing Typhoon Maysak’s projected path. Credit: AccuWeather.com

NASA and NOAA Satellites Image Crippling Blizzard of 2015 Pounding New England

NEW JERSEY – Record breaking snow from the ‘Blizzard of 2015’ hit vast regions of the US Northeast today, Jan. 27, 2015, stretching from Long Island to New England.

NASA and NOAA Earth orbiting satellites are keeping track of the storm affecting millions of residents.

This afternoon the agencies provided a new set of night-time and daytime views of the Blizzard of 2015 taken by the Suomi NPP and the GOES-East satellites.

The crippling blizzard is causing misery, extensive destruction to homes and businesses in localized areas, power outages, traffic accidents, breaks in some sea walls and deaths.

The satellite image above shows a combination of the day-night band and high resolution infrared imagery from the NASA-NOAA’s Suomi NPP satellite.

It was taken as the historic blizzard neared peak intensity as it moved over the New York area and through the Boston Metropolitan areas at 06:45Z (1:45 a.m. EST) on January 27, 2015.

The high cloud tops from the most intense parts of the storm blurred the regions normally bright nighttime lights in the satellite image.

Although the snow totals were about half the over two feet forecast for the New York Metropolitan region, many areas to the north and east were inundated with very heavy to historic snow fall totals, as bad or worse than the forecasters predicted.

Over two feet of snow fell on areas of New York’s Long Island and stretching north to vast regions of Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and into Maine.

Near hurricane force waves are crashing into some coastal towns along the Massachusetts shoreline. Wind gusts as high as 78 mph have been recorded.

“Highest snowfall report has been Auburn, MA with 32.5 inches! Wind gust reports as high as 78 mph in Nantucket, MA,” according to a tweet this evening from the National Weather Service (NWS).

Worchester, Mass had a record breaking 31 inches of snow. And it’s still falling this evening in the 2nd largest city in New England.

A flood emergency is in effect in Marshfield, Mass., where an 80 foot section of the seawall was smashed by crashing waves and is destroying homes as shown on NBC Nightly News.

Blinding snow is raging in Portland, Maine this evening according on a live NBC News report.

On January 27, 2015 at 17:35 UTC (12:35 p.m. EST) NOAA's Geostationary Operational Environmental or GOES- East satellite captured an image of the nor'easter over New England. Credit: NASA/NOAA GOES Project
On January 27, 2015 at 17:35 UTC (12:35 p.m. EST) NOAA’s Geostationary Operational Environmental or GOES- East satellite captured an image of the nor’easter over New England. Credit: NASA/NOAA GOES Project

“At 10 a.m. EST, the National Weather Service noted “the powerful nor’easter that brought moderate to heavy snowfall and blizzard conditions to the Northeast on Monday will continue to affect the region on Tuesday, with heavy snow and blizzard conditions expected from eastern Long Island to Maine as the system slowly moves to the northeast. Snow and strong winds will being tapering off from south to north Tuesday night into Wednesday morning,” wrote NASA’s Rob Gutro of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in an update.

“Later on January 27, 2015 at 17:35 UTC (12:35 p.m. EST) NOAA’s Geostationary Operational Environmental or GOES-East satellite captured an image of the nor’easter over New England. The image was created by the NASA/NOAA GOES Project and showed the clouds associated with the nor’easter blanketing New England. An occluded front extended north and eastward out of the low pressure area’s center out into the Atlantic Ocean.”

The latest NOAA forecast as of 4 PM, Jan. 27 states:

HIGH WINDS AND HEAVY SNOW WILL BEGIN TO GRADUALLY TAPER OFF FROM SOUTH TO NORTH TONIGHT…BUT WILL LAST INTO EARLY WEDNESDAY MORNING ACROSS PORTIONS OF MAINE. HEAVY SNOWFALL WILL COMBINE WITH SUSTAINED WINDS OF 30 TO 40 MPH…AND GUSTS IN EXCESS OF 50 MPH…TO CREATE LIFE-THREATENING WHITEOUT OR BLIZZARD CONDITIONS. THESE WINDS MAY LEAD TO DOWNED TREES AND POWER LINES RESULTING IN POWER OUTAGES. TRAVEL WILL BE IMPOSSIBLE AND LIFE-THREATENING IN MANY AREAS. ALONG THE IMMEDIATE COASTLINE…WIND GUSTS TO NEAR 65 MPH WILL BE POSSIBLE. COASTAL FLOODING AND SEVERE BEACH EROSION WILL ALSO BE A POSSIBILITY…AND VULNERABLE ROADS AND STRUCTURES MAY BE FLOODED OR DAMAGED.

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and planetary science and human spaceflight news.

Reporting from snowy New Jersey.

Ken Kremer

Gamma Ray Bursts Limit The Habitability of Certain Galaxies, Says Study

Gamma ray bursts (GRBs) are some of the brightest, most dramatic events in the Universe. These cosmic tempests are characterized by a spectacular explosion of photons with energies 1,000,000 times greater than the most energetic light our eyes can detect. Due to their explosive power, long-lasting GRBs are predicted to have catastrophic consequences for life on any nearby planet. But could this type of event occur in our own stellar neighborhood? In a new paper published in Physical Review Letters, two astrophysicists examine the probability of a deadly GRB occurring in galaxies like the Milky Way, potentially shedding light on the risk for organisms on Earth, both now and in our distant past and future.

There are two main kinds of GRBs: short, and long. Short GRBs last less than two seconds and are thought to result from the merger of two compact stars, such as neutron stars or black holes. Conversely, long GRBs last more than two seconds and seem to occur in conjunction with certain kinds of Type I supernovae, specifically those that result when a massive star throws off all of its hydrogen and helium during collapse.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, long GRBs are much more threatening to planetary systems than short GRBs. Since dangerous long GRBs appear to be relatively rare in large, metal-rich galaxies like our own, it has long been thought that planets in the Milky Way would be immune to their fallout. But take into account the inconceivably old age of the Universe, and “relatively rare” no longer seems to cut it.

In fact, according to the authors of the new paper, there is a 90% chance that a GRB powerful enough to destroy Earth’s ozone layer occurred in our stellar neighborhood some time in the last 5 billion years, and a 50% chance that such an event occurred within the last half billion years. These odds indicate a possible trigger for the second worst mass extinction in Earth’s history: the Ordovician Extinction. This great decimation occurred 440-450 million years ago and led to the death of more than 80% of all species.

Today, however, Earth appears to be relatively safe. Galaxies that produce GRBs at a far higher rate than our own, such as the Large Magellanic Cloud, are currently too far from Earth to be any cause for alarm. Additionally, our Solar System’s home address in the sleepy outskirts of the Milky Way places us far away from our own galaxy’s more active, star-forming regions, areas that would be more likely to produce GRBs. Interestingly, the fact that such quiet outer regions exist within spiral galaxies like our own is entirely due to the precise value of the cosmological constant – the factor that describes our Universe’s expansion rate – that we observe. If the Universe had expanded any faster, such galaxies would not exist; any slower, and spirals would be far more compact and thus, far more energetically active.

In a future paper, the authors promise to look into the role long GRBs may play in Fermi’s paradox, the open question of why advanced lifeforms appear to be so rare in our Universe. A preprint of their current work can be accessed on the ArXiv.