Two days before Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico in 2017, the NASA / JAXA Global Precipitation Measurement Core Observatory captured a three-dimensional view of the storm.
At that moment, Maria was a category 1 hurricane. The 3-D view reveals the processes within the hurricane that would fuel the intensification of the storm to reach a category 5 in less than 24 hours.
For the first time in 360 degrees, This data visualization leads the viewer into the hurricane. The satellite, specialized in measuring precipitation, has an advanced radar that measures both liquid and frozen water.
The brightly colored dots show areas of rain, where green and yellow show low rates and the red and purple show high rates. In the upper part of the hurricane, where the temperatures are colder, the blue and purple points show a light and strong frozen precipitation.
As the visualization progresses, the points are transformed into numbers, which are the observed millimeters of precipitation that fall in an hour. The rates in this storm vary from less than 0.5 mm / hr to more than 150 mm / hr. The following visualization transforms these precipitation rates into ellipsoids to show higher precipitation rates (width, red or purple) or lower (spherical, green or yellow) and snowfall rates (purple to blue colors).
In addition to rainfall and snow rates, the satellite can also measure the size of small precipitation particles and how they are distributed throughout the storm. Towards the end of the visualization, the large drops are represented in dark blue and the small drops in light blue and white.
Observing the size of the drops and rainfall rates provides a key part of the equation to understand the intensity of hurricanes. Factors such as temperature, humidity, wind speed and clouds influence the size of precipitation particles, which in turn affects the amount of rain that falls and how a storm grows. These advanced satellite measurements are critical to improve forecasts how these powerful storms can intensify and where they can get, reports NASA in a statement.