Hurricane Florence continues its march towards the East Coast of the United States today, and astronauts aboard the International Space Station got a birds-eye view of just how large the swirling vortex has grown. The storm, which is presently a Category 3, has forced huge numbers of people to evacuate, and going by the images shot from space it’s easy to see why.
Florence is absolutely massive. It’s so large in fact that astronauts aboard the ISS had trouble capturing it all within the frame of a standard camera. Thankfully, the crew had some tools at their disposal to snap a wide-angle view of the hurricane, and boy is it a crazy sight.
“Watch out, America!” ESA astronaut Alexander Gerst, currently aboard the ISS, tweeted. “#HurricaneFlorence is so enormous, we could only capture her with a super wide-angle lens from the @Space_Station, 400 km directly above the eye. Get prepared on the East Coast, this is a no-kidding nightmare coming for you.”
If you couldn’t tell from the image above, the hurricane covers an incredibly expanse of ocean, and all that power is poised to slam into the United States soon. I mean, just look at this photo:
The storm is expected to arrive on the East Coast as early as Thursday, and is expected to ride north for several days. The deadly storm surge, which will push ocean water into coastal communities, is at the top of everyone’s mind. The size of the storm and its expected staying power will make life tough for anyone who decides to try to ride it out (which is not a good idea).
Some recent reports say that waves as tall as 83 feet have been spotted with the storm, and when the storm makes landfall it will be packing a serious punch. From the comfort of the space station, astronauts can only look on in horror, but if you’re in the path of this storm you should do everything you can to either get out or prepare for the worst.
Astronauts aboard the International Space Station have a gorgeous view of Earth whenever they want it. Since the space station completes a full orbit of the planet every hour and a half or so, the crew doesn’t have to wait long to see whatever areas of Earth they want. That also means that colossal weather systems like Hurricane Florence are easy to observe as the spacecraft cruises along.
In a series of new photos posted by astronaut Ricky Arnold, Florence is seen churning in the Atlantic as it slowly makes its way towards the East Coast of the United States. To say that it looks intimidating would probably be a massive understatement.
“Cameras outside the International Space Station captured dramatic views of rapidly strengthening Hurricane Florence at 8:10 a.m. EDT Sept. 10 as it moved in a westerly direction across the Atlantic, headed for a likely landfall along the eastern seaboard of the U.S. late Thursday or early Friday,” NASA explains in a new blog post.
“Now a major hurricane with winds of 115 miles an hour and increasing, the National Hurricane Center says Florence’s forecast track will take the system over the southwestern Atlantic Ocean between Bermuda and the Bahamas Tuesday and Wednesday, and Florence will approach the coast of South Carolina or North Carolina on Thursday. The station was flying 255 miles over the storm at the time this video was captured.”
The hurricane will pose a pretty serious threat to the East Coast and is expected to produce winds of around 140 mph as it makes landfall. NASA is using its various high-flying tools to monitor the storm, taking precipitations measurements and NOAA’s National Hurricane Center is using that data to forecast the storm’s progress.
A rare hurricane watch has been issued for parts of Hawaii as Hurricane Lane, a Category 4 storm, looks increasingly like it might hit some of the islands. On Tuesday morning Pacific Time, the Central Pacific Hurricane Center in Honolulu issued a hurricane watch for the eastern Hawaiian Islands. That includes the Big Island and the islands of Maui, Lanai, Molokai, and Kahoolawe.
The watch says that hurricane conditions may be possible in those areas, and tropical storm-level winds may hit the islands as soon as Wednesday or Thursday. The Hurricane Center said that the watch may be extended to the western islands.
The best resource for tracking Hurricane Lane is the National Hurricane Center, which labels and tracks all storms that come near the US. The Hurricane Center publishes up-to-date forecasts for the storm, including maps of the predicted path, forecasts and written advisories for areas that are going to be hit.
One of the most useful things published by the Hurricane Center is the 5-day forecast cone and coastal watches. The map shows the predicted path of the storm, with the center of the hurricane represented by the black dots, which show the center at different times.
The white cone spread around is not the area that will be impacted by the hurricane; rather, it’s the track forecast uncertainty for days 1-3, and the hashed cone area is the uncertainty for days 4-5. The NOAA explains it:
NHC tropical cyclone forecast tracks can be in error. This forecast uncertainty is conveyed by the track forecast “cone”, the solid white and stippled white areas in the graphic. The solid white area depicts the track forecast uncertainty for days 1-3 of the forecast, while the stippled area depicts the uncertainty on days 4-5. Historical data indicate that the entire 5-day path of the center of the tropical cyclone will remain within the cone about 60-70% of the time. To form the cone, a set of imaginary circles are placed along the forecast track at the 12, 24, 36, 48, 72, 96, and 120 h positions, where the size of each circle is set so that it encloses 67% of the previous five years official forecast errors. The cone is then formed by smoothly connecting the area swept out by the set of circles.
It is also important to realize that a tropical cyclone is not a point. Their effects can span many hundreds of miles from the center. The area experiencing hurricane force (one-minute average wind speeds of at least 74 mph) and tropical storm force (one-minute average wind speeds of 39-73 mph) winds can extend well beyond the white areas shown enclosing the most likely track area of the center.
For tracking the effects of the hurricane, rather than just forecasting the center, it’s useful to look at the NOAA’s wind speed charts. They’re published for tropical storm force and hurricane force winds. The charts show the probability that those winds will hit a particular area.
Of all the planets in our Solar System, Jupiter is probably the most interesting to look at. It’s just a big ball of fast-moving gasses in all kinds of wild colors. The planet hosts storms that could swallow the entirety of Earth, and while we can see lots of neat things happening near the planet’s cloud tops it’s a lot more difficult to determine what is actually going on deeper inside the planet.
Now, thanks to some fancy calculations and jet stream models inspired by Earth’s own weather patterns, researchers have a new theory on just why Jupiter’s crazy bands seem so perfectly arranged.
In the study, which was published in The Astrophysical Journal, scientists explain that the jet streams on the planet are likely cut off by magnetized gasses deeper within the planet. The jet streams control the flow of gasses around the planet’s outer atmosphere where colorful bands of ammonia twist around the planet. These jet streams stretch many miles into the planet, but stop once they reach the magnetized gasses closer to its center.
“The gas in the interior of Jupiter is magnetised, so we think our new theory explains why the jet streams go as deep as they do under the gas giant’s surface but don’t go any deeper,” Dr. Jeffrey Parker of the Livermore National Laboratory explained in a statement.
We know jet streams on Earth work in a roughly similar way, but the difference between Jupiter and our own planet is that the streams on the gas giant don’t have a rocky surface underneath to disrupt them. We know that the clouds on Jupiter stretch for thousands of miles into the planet thanks to observations by NASA’s Juno probe, and the planet’s strong magnetic field is thought to play a role in how they are arranged.
If you want to dive into the nitty gritty of the work, put on your thinking cap and prepare for plenty of calculations. It’s some very deep stuff.
California is currently in the midst of a pretty serious wildfire crisis. Emergency management officials are working tirelessly to contain the fires as they jump rivers and roads and spread to new areas, but while the danger is highest in California itself, the effects of the raging infernos can be felt as far away as New York City.
As CNN reports, the most recent forecasts from the National Weather Service clearly show the towers of smoke from the wildfires on the West Coast finding their way all the way across the United States.
“Smoke from the western fires is making it all the way to the East Coast and beyond,” the National Weather Service said in a tweet. The smoke isn’t near the surface, however, and the NWS explains that the smoke is flying about a mile high as it makes its way over the eastern half of the country.
For now, the smoke doesn’t pose any threat outside of its area of origin. If the smoke remains aloft it shouldn’t impact air quality in any measurable way. However, it’s also possible that winds could push the smoke lower, perhaps even down to ground level, at which point it would be a health risk to those with respiratory issues and a headache for health officials.
That could become a real possibility, as the fires in California aren’t very well contained at the moment and may continue to burn for a considerable amount of time. The latest estimates put containment for some of the individual fires at as low as 5%. The fires have claimed tens of thousands of acres already and show little sign of slowing.