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Keeping an Eye on Hurricanes: A U. S. Summer Ritual

Erratic Tropical Storm Debby, imaged by NASA's Aqua spacecraft on June 24 off Florida's Gulf Coast. Image Credit/NASA Goddard

As surely as they bring high temperatures, summers in the United States bring Hurricane Season, a five-month stretch that raises the costly spectre of high winds, heavy rains and floods to the millions of people who live in the cities and communities that dot the East and Gulf Coasts.

The devestation from these tropical storms can reach into the billions of dollars, displace thousands of people, disrupt public services and interrupt commerce for days to months.

The unnamed Galveston,Tex., storm of 1900, when forecasting was impossible, claimed as many as 12,000 lives. Katrina, the 2005 storm that struck New Orleans and parts of Mississippi, ranks as the most costly, $108 billion, according to an August 2011 report from the U S. National Hurricane Center. Even relatively weak, but large storms like Ike, which struck Texas and Louisianain 2008, left nearly $30 billion in damages in its wake.

The potential for destruction makes the observation of storm developments from space and advance public warning all the more important to those who live in hurricane zones.

While most of that responsibility falls to NOAA and the National Hurricane Center in Miami, Fla., NASA’s fleet of Earth Observing satellites plays a key role in the constant development of new technologies for the observing instruments that will be carred by future weather satellites to improve forecasting   capabilities.

Debby organizes under the watchful eye of NOAA's GOES 13 spacecraft on June 22. Image Credit/NOAA

For the past week, or so, forecasters have been watching Debby, an early season Tropical Storm just off Florida’s west coast that once looked as though it would skirt west across the Gulf of Mexico, perhaps revisiting regions slammed by Katrina and Ike but more as a rain maker than a devastating storm.

Now, though, Debby has reversed its once predicted course, moving slowly north and potentially to the northeast, moving across the Florida peninsula as a tropical storm.

Debby’s erratic path illustrates the value of keeping an eye on hurricane development from space.




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