A New Multi-dimensional View of a Hurricane

Narration: Ryan Fitzgibbons


Hurricane Matthew was the first Category 5 Atlantic hurricane in almost ten years. Its torrential rains and winds caused significant damage and loss of life, as it coursed through the Caribbean and up along the southern U.S. coast. NASA researchers use a combination of satellite observations and computer models to recreate a multidimensional picture of the hurricane in order to study the complex atmospheric interactions. Starting on September 29th, 2016, Matthew strengthened from a Category 1 to a Category 5 hurricane in less than 24 hours with winds reaching 160 miles per hour. By combining overpasses by the Global Precipitation Measurement Core Observatory satellite with those of other GPM partner satellites, the half-hourly IMERG precipitation product tracked the intensification of Hurricane Matthew. At peak intensity, Matthew's rainfall showed a massive region of heavy rain just north of the eye. Using the radar data from the GPM Core Observatory allowed us to slice through the storm to see this feature, as well as the expected snow and ice high atop the hurricane. As the hurricane's movement shifted from westward to northward, Matthew paused. The persistent surface winds swirling counterclockwise created drag that pushed the warm surface waters away from the eye's location. As a result, the cooler ocean water upwelled, raising it to the surface. However, the upwelling did not last long and the cooler water sank and warmer water moved back in as Matthew headed toward Haiti. Winds around Matthew accentuated heavy rainfall, drenching Haiti and the Dominican Republic on the windward side of the mountains. As Matthew moved northward an eyewall replacement cycle was visible. The GPM Core satellite observed the concentric eyewalls as the tighter, more intense inner eyewall was replaced by a new, broader eye. As Hurricane Matthew approached Florida and hugged the coast, heavy rains saturated the soil. On October 8th, Matthew approached North Carolina, which was already battered by previous thunderstorms. The addition of Matthew's rainfall and storm surge created significant flooding. The GPM Core Observatory satellite captured one final pass of a Category 2 Hurricane Matthew. No longer driven by the heavy convective clouds around its center, Matthew underwent extratropical transition on October 9th. The hurricane moved out into the Atlantic before dissipating completely. Combining model and observed data from multiple sensors is a powerful tool for better analyzing hurricanes and can provide clues to how future storms may behave and interact with their environment, as well as their potential impact on society.