The View from Space: Data Visualizations of Hurricane Katrina

In the last week of August 2005, what had originated as a disturbance off the western coast of Africa transformed into a devastating storm, ravaging the southern United States.

Water consumed the coast of the Gulf of Mexico, submerging chunks of Florida, Louisiana and Mississippi.

NASA’s satellites watched the devastation from overhead, sending down a deluge of data that scientists would study for years to come.

For more information about Hurricane Katrina:

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  • 27 Storms: Arlene to Zeta
    Many records were broken during the 2005 Atlantic hurricane season including the most hurricanes ever, the most category 5 hurricanes, and the most intense hurricane ever recorded in the Atlantic as measured by atmospheric pressure. This visualization shows all 27 named storms that formed in the 2005 Atlantic hurricane season and examines some of the conditions that made hurricane formation so favorable.

    The animation begins by showing the regions of warm water that are favorable for storm development advancing northward through the peak of hurricane season and then receding as the waters cool. The thermal energy in these warm waters powers the hurricanes. Strong shearing winds in the troposphere can disrupt developing young storms, but measurements indicate that there was very little shearing wind activity in 2005 to impede storm formation.

    Sea surface temperatures, clouds, storm tracks, and hurricane category labels are shown as the hurricane season progresses.

    This visualization shows some of the actual data that NASA and NOAA satellites measured in 2005 — data used to predict the paths and intensities of hurricanes. Satellite data play a vital role in helping us understand the land, ocean, and atmosphere systems that have such dramatic effects on our lives.

    NOTE: This animation shows the named storms from the 2005 hurricane season. During a re-analysis of 2005, NOAA's Tropical Prediction Center/National Hurricane Center determined that a short-lived subtropcial storm developed near the Azores Islands in late September, increasing the 2005 tropical storm count from 27 to 28. This storm was not named and is not shown in this animation.

    '27 Storms: Arlene to Zeta' played in the SIGGRAPH 2007 Computer Animation Festival in August 2007. It was also a finalist in the 2006 NSF Science and Engineering Visualization Challenge.

  • Hurricane Katrina Progression
    Hurricane Katrina progression is observed by the Aqua and Terra satellites. Katrina hit land on August 29, 2005, near the Louisiana-Mississippi border. Katrina's center was located near the mouth of the Pearl River about 40-45 miles west-southwest of Biloxi, Mississippi and about 30-35 miles east-northeast of New Orleans, Louisiana. Katrina is the eleventh named storm of the 2005 Atlantic Hurricane season.
  • Hurricane Katrina 3D Stereoscopic Viewfinder Image
    NASA's TRMM spacecraft observed this view of Hurricane Katrina on August 28, 2005. At the time the data was collected, Katrina was a Category 5 hurricane, the most destructive and deadly. The cloud cover data was taken by TRMM's Visible and Infrared Scanner (VIRS), with additional data from the GOES spacecraft. The rain structure data was taken by TRMM's Tropical Microwave Imager (TMI). This view looks underneath the storm's clouds to reveal the underlying rain structure. This stereoscopic still image was created from a previous visualization and is intended for viewing through a special NASA Earth Science Viewfinder available through NASA Headquarters. Below, we include an anaglyph version, a printable viewfinder version, and the individual left eye and right eye views.
  • Hurricane Katrina Sea Surface Temperature
    This visualization shows the cold water trail left by Hurricane Katrina. The data is from August 23 through 30, 2005. The colors on the ocean represent the sea surface temperatures, and satellite images of the hurricane clouds are laid over the temperatures to clearly show the hurricane positions. Orange and red depict regions that are 82 degrees F and higher, where the ocean is warm enough for hurricanes to form. Hurricane winds are sustained by the heat energy of the ocean, so the ocean is cooled as the hurricane passes and the energy is extracted to power the winds. The sea surface temperatures are 3-day moving averages based on the AMSR-E instrument on the Aqua satellite, while the cloud images were taken by the Imager on the GOES-12 satellite.
  • Hurricane Katrina Rain Accumulation
    This animation shows rain accumulation from Hurricane Katrina from August 23 through 30, 2005 based on data from the Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission (TRMM) Multisatellite Precipitation Analysis. Satellite cloud data from NOAA/GOES is overlaid for context. The accumulation is shown in colors ranging from green (less than 30 mm of rain) through red (80 mm or more). The TRMM satellite, using the world's only spaceborne rain radar and other microwave instruments, measures rainfall over the ocean.
  • Hurricane Katrina GOES Clouds
    This animation shows Hurricane Katrina as seen by NOAA/GOES-12 infrared band from from August 23 through 30, 2005.
  • Hurricane Katrina Hot Towers
    NASA's TRMM spacecraft allows us to look under Hurricane Katrina's clouds to see the rain structure on August 28, 2005 at 0324Z. Spikes in the rain structure known as 'hot towers' indicate storm intensity. 'Hot Towers' refers to tall cumulonimbus clouds and has been seen as one of the mechanisms by which the intensity of a tropical cyclone is maintained. Because of the size (1-20 km) and short duration (30 minute to 2 hours) of these hot towers, studies of these events have been limited to descriptive studies from aircraft observations, although a few have attempted to use the presence of hot towers in a predictive capacity. Before TRMM, no data set existed that could show globally and definitively the presence of these hot towers in cyclone systems. Aircraft radar studies of individual storms lack global coverage. Global microwave or Infrared sensor observations do not provide the needed spatial resolution. With a ground resolution of 5 km, the TRMM Precipitation Radar provided the needed data set for examining the predictive value of hot towers in cyclone intensification.
  • GEOS-5 Model Run Showing Hurricane Katrina
    This visualization shows data from a global atmospheric assimilation model for August 2005. In early August the camera looks towards the North pole showing the swirling winds caused by the Coriolis effect; then the camera moves down towards Africa which is the birthplace of many tropical storms; finally, the camera moves across the Atlantic as many of the storms form during 2005 ending with Hurricane Katrina. This visualization was created in support of demonstrations given at the Supercomputing 2007 Conference.
  • Hurricane Season 2005: Katrina
    External Resource
    A collection of Hurricane Katrina updates throughout the course of the storm and the aftermath.
  • In Katrina's Wake
    External Resource
    Hurricane Katrina took the world by storm when it ravaged Louisiana and surrounding states in late August of 2005. Katrina's effects were far reaching, and researchers continue to uncover new areas of devastation left in her wake. Using data from NASA's Landsat and Terra satellites, along with ecological field investigations and statistical analyses, a group of researchers has quantified losses to Gulf Coast forests inflicted by Hurricane Katrina. The results, published in the 2007 November 16th issue of Science, estimate that Katrina killed or damaged 320 million large trees and affected more than 5 millions acres of forest. In this climate of warming temperatures and frequent, intensified storms, some scientists debate whether this is just the first taste of what's to come.
  • What Are The Chances Of Another Katrina?
    The U.S. hasn’t experienced the landfall of a Category 3 hurricane or larger since 2005, when Dennis, Katrina, Rita and Wilma all hit the U.S. coast. According to a new NASA study, a string of nine years without a major hurricane landfall in the U.S. is Iikely to come along only once every 177 years.

    The current nine-year “drought” is the longest period of time that has passed without a major hurricane making landfall in the U.S. since reliable records began in 1850, said Timothy Hall, a research scientist who studies hurricanes at NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, New York.

    The National Hurricane Center calls any Category 3 or more intense hurricane a “major” storm. Hall and colleague Kelly Hereid, who works for ACE Tempest Re, a reinsurance firm based in Connecticut, ran a statistical hurricane model based on a record of Atlantic tropical cyclones from 1950 to 2012 and sea surface temperature data.

    The researchers ran 1,000 computer simulations of the period from 1950-2012 – in effect simulating 63,000 separate Atlantic hurricane seasons. They found that a nine-year period without a major landfall is likely to occur once every 177 years on average.

    While the study did not delve into the meteorological causes behind this lack of major hurricane landfalls, Hall said it appears it is a result of luck.

    Research: The frequency and duration of U.S. hurricane droughts.

    Journal: Geophysical Research Letters, May 5, 2015.

    Link to paper:

    Here is the YouTube video.