Staring Into Hurricane Ian’s Eye From Space

By Keith Cowing
Press Release
October 16, 2022
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Staring Into Hurricane Ian’s Eye From Space
Hurricane Ian’s Eye

As Hurricane Ian headed toward a third landfall, this time in South Carolina, NASA scientists were scrutinizing recent imagery of the storm and analyzing the forces that made it so catastrophic.

On September 28, the Landsat 8 satellite passed directly over Ian’s eye as the storm approached southwest Florida. The natural-color image above was acquired by the Operational Land Imager (OLI) at 11:57 a.m. local time (15:57 Universal Time), three hours before the storm made landfall in Caya Costa.

The eye of a hurricane is a circular zone of fair weather at the storm’s center. It is surrounded by a towering ring of extremely powerful thunderstorms called an eyewall, the part of the hurricane with the strongest winds. The swirling clouds along the edges of the eyewall are mesovortices—small-scale rotational features found in hurricanes with unusually strong winds.

When Ian’s eyewall crashed into Florida, its maximum sustained winds were 150 miles (240 kilometers) per hour, according to the National Hurricane Center. That is the equivalent of a category 4 storm on the Saffir-Simpson wind scale and fast enough to tear the roofs off homes and snap power lines.

“Those breathtaking low-level cloud swirls in Ian’s eye might provide clues into some important processes that affect a hurricane’s intensity,” said Justin Whitaker, a researcher with NASA’s Short-term Prediction Research and Transition Center (SPoRT). The SPoRT team, based at Marshall Space Flight Center, focuses on improving weather forecasts using NASA data. “At SPoRT, we’re studying how these inner-core asymmetries can affect a hurricane’s structure, its potential to intensify, and whether lightning will occur within the storm’s eyewall.”

More imagery

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