Astronomy Cast Ep. 461: Measuring the Weather with Satellites

What’s the weather doing? Is it going to rain today? How much? What about temperatures? We depend on modern weather forecasting, thanks, in part to the vast network of weather satellites. What instruments do they have, what orbits do they use.

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US Braces for Cat 4 Hurricane as ‘Joaquin’ Barrels to East Coast and ULA Readies 100th Launch on Oct. 2: Watch Live

Video caption: This animation of images captured from September 29 to October 1, 2015 from NOAA’s GOES-East satellite shows Hurricane Joaquin become a major hurricane in the Bahamas. Credits: NASA/NOAA GOES Project

NEW JERSEY – A wide swath of the US East Coast is bracing for impact in the coming days as ‘Hurricane Joaquin’ strengthened to a major and dangerous Category 4 storm, today, Thursday, Oct. 1, as NASA and NOAA satellites keep constant watch as it barrels potentially towards tens of millions of coastal residents.

Joaquin is already packing winds exceeding 130 mph with even higher wind gusts as the storm continues to strengthen at this hour and the pressure is decreasing. See the latest Hurricane Joaquin animation and imagery from NASA and NOAA, above and below.

Meanwhile amidst the hurricane watch, launch preparations are underway by United Launch Alliance (ULA) for the firms 100th rocket blastoff on Friday morning, Oct. 2 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida with an Atlas V booster as Joaquin nears the US eastern seaboard.

A ULA Atlas V is slated to lift off Friday from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida at 6:08 a.m. EDT with the Morelos-3 communications satellite for Mexico, before the hurricane gets closer to Florida.

The National Hurricane Center declared Joaquin had intensified into a massive Category 4 hurricane on the Saffir-Simpson Wind Scale, as of 2 PM EDT today, Oct. 1.

You can watch the launch on ULA’s live webcast starting at 5:48 a.m. Oct 2: http://www.ulalaunch.com

The governors of three states – New Jersey, Virginia and North Carolina – have already declared ‘States of Emergency’ in anticipation of potentially destructive winds, potentially life threatening drenching rains and floods, downed power lines and ocean rip currents with high waves in local areas.

Multiple NASA and NOAA satellites are intensively and continuously observing Joaquin, and are providing absolutely critical data to forecasters and government officials with the most current and best information available.

NASA’s GPM, Terra and NPP-Suomi satellites and NOAA’s GOES-East satellite are tracking Joaquin and have seen powerful thunderstorms today which indicates continued strengthening.

At this time we still don’t whether the US eastern seaboard will suffer a major hit but officials are taking no chances after suffering through Superstorm Sandy which caused many deaths, widespread power outages and billions and billions of dollars of damage – from which we are still recovering.

Joaquin is currently over The Bahamas in the Caribbean and is expected to make a sharp right turn on Friday Oct 2 and head northwards to the east coast and the Atlantic Ocean. It could start impacting the Carolinas and regions further north as soon as Sunday, Oct. 4, based on current forecasts, and drop double digits inches of torrential rainfall.

NASA-NOAA's Suomi NPP satellite passed over Joaquin at 06:10 UTC (2:10 a.m. EDT) on Oct. 1 as it was strengthening from a Category 2 to a Category 3 hurricane. It’s now a Category 4. Imagery showed cloud top temperatures colder than -63F/-53C (yellow).  Credits: NRL/NASA/NOAA
NASA-NOAA’s Suomi NPP satellite passed over Joaquin at 06:10 UTC (2:10 a.m. EDT) on Oct. 1 as it was strengthening from a Category 2 to a Category 3 hurricane. It’s now a Category 4. Imagery showed cloud top temperatures colder than -63F/-53C (yellow). Credits: NRL/NASA/NOAA

Its pounding the Bahamas right now and is creating a disaster with hurricane force winds and heavy rainfall, say weather forecasters, as it remains over the island for some 24 hours or more and may drop over 10 inches of rain.

But there is a very wide cone of uncertainly of where it could hit as the possible storm track extends from the Carolinas to Maine. It may or may not directly impact the eastern US. The storm may shift to the right and spare the east coast. But no one knows at this time.

Some areas on the US East coast stretching from Virginia to Maine have already suffered from torrential rains and severe flooding from an unrelated storm the past few days and also right now today, Thursday.

So the grounds are already saturated in parts of the Carolina’s, Virginia, Maine and elsewhere.

NASA/JAXA's GPM satellite provided a 3-D side view of Tropical Storm Joaquin on Sept. 29 showing the internal precipitation structure. The areas in blue are frozen precipitation. Areas in green and red are liquid precipitation.  Credits: Scientific Visualization Studio, NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center
NASA/JAXA’s GPM satellite provided a 3-D side view of Tropical Storm Joaquin on Sept. 29 showing the internal precipitation structure. The areas in blue are frozen precipitation. Areas in green and red are liquid precipitation. Credits: Scientific Visualization Studio, NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center

Coastal flood warnings and watches are already in effect in many areas along the eastern seaboard where local areas could be drenched by some 12 to 18 inches of additional rain which could fall even before the hurricane hits.

Significant beach erosion has already occurred in the Carolinas over the past few days and more is expected up and down the entire coast up to Maine.

And 10 foot high defense berms of sand are being constructed at this moment along miles and miles of the Jersey Shore – areas that suffered devastating damage from Superstorm Sandy.

There is a potential risk of deadly flooding, flash flooding and damage to houses, buildings, businesses, roadways and infrastructure.

“At 2 p.m. EDT (1800 UTC), the center of Hurricane Joaquin was located near latitude 23.0 North, longitude 74.2 West. Joaquin was moving generally southwestward at about 6 mph (9 kph), and the National Hurricane Center forecast a turn toward the northwest and north on Friday, Oct. 2. On the forecast track, the center of Joaquin will move near or over portions of the central Bahamas today and tonight and pass near or over portions of the northwestern Bahamas on Friday, Oct. 2,” according to NASAs Rob Gutro.

The weather forecast for Friday’s launch from Cape Canaveral , Florida is currently 70 percent GO for liftoff of the United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket at 6:08 a.m. EDT. The Atlas V will launch with the Morelos-3 mission for Mexico’s Secretaria de Comunicaciones y Transportes (Ministry of Communications and Transportation).

Morelos-3 will be part of the Mexsat constellation of satellites that delivers advanced telecommunications throughout Mexico.

United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket after rollout to Pad 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida for planned Oct. 2 launch at 6:08 a.m. EDT with the Morelos-3 mission for Mexico’s Ministry of Communications and Transportation.  In progress assembly of the commercial crew access tower is seen at right, now under construction for the Boeing Starliner space taxi for astronaut crews launching to the ISS. Credit: Julian Leek
United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket after rollout to Pad 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida for planned Oct. 2 launch at 6:08 a.m. EDT with the Morelos-3 mission for Mexico’s Ministry of Communications and Transportation. In progress assembly of the commercial crew access tower is seen at right, now under construction for the Boeing Starliner space taxi for astronaut crews launching to the ISS. Credit: Julian Leek

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

Ken Kremer

United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket during rollout to Space Launch Complex-41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida on Oct. 1 for planned Oct. 2 launch at 6:08 a.m. EDT with the Morelos-3 mission for Mexico’s Ministry of Communications and Transportation.  Credit: Julian Leek
United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket during rollout to Space Launch Complex-41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida on Oct. 1 for planned Oct. 2 launch at 6:08 a.m. EDT with the Morelos-3 mission for Mexico’s Ministry of Communications and Transportation. Credit: Julian Leek

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