As Hurricane Irma begins to batter islands in the Caribbean early Wednesday morning (Sept. 6), NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) are monitoring the colossal storm from space using a suite of weather satellites.
Hurricane Irma — a Category 5 storm packing winds of up to 185 mph (300 km/h) — first made landfall over the Caribbean island of Barbuda around 2 a.m. EDT today (Sept. 6). Over the next few hours, the eye of the storm continued to creep west-northwestward at a steady pace of about 16 mph (26 km/h), the National Hurricane Center reported. By 8 a.m. EDT (1200 GMT), the storm had ravaged the islands of Anguilla and St. Martin/Sint Maarten.
Watching the storm from a safe distance of many miles above the Earth are several NASA and NOAA satellites, including the GOES East weather satellite, the Suomi National Polar-orbiting Partnership (NPP) satellite and the Global Precipitation Measurement Mission (GPM). [Hurricane Irma in Photos: Views from Space of a Monster Storm]
The Suomi NPP satellite flew over Hurricane Irma on Monday (Sept. 4) at approximately 12:32 a.m. EDT (0432 GMT), when Irma was just a Category 3 storm. Data from the satellite's Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS) revealed "very cold, very high, powerful thunderstorms on Irma's western side," NASA officials said in a statement.
Early Wednesday morning (Sept. 6), the NASA-NOAA weather satellite GOES East showed what had become a Category 5 hurricane making landfall on the first of the Caribbean islands affected by this monstrous storm. And to make matters worse, another weather system, named Tropical Storm Jose, can be seen moving in a similar path as Hurricane Irma, and this storm may become a hurricane as well, the National Hurricane Center reported.
A joint mission between NASA and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) has been measuring the rainfall associated with Hurricane Irma. The Global Precipitation Measurement (GPM) satellite also provided a 3D view of the heat engine that fuels the storm.
"Under the central ring of clouds that circles the eye, water that had evaporated from the ocean surface condenses, releases heat and powers the circling winds of the hurricane," NASA officials said in a statement. "The radar on the GPM satellite is able to estimate how much water is falling as precipitation inside of the hurricane, which serves as a guide to how much energy is being released inside the hurricane's central heat engine."
The National Hurricane Center warned that rainfall from Irma "may cause life-threatening flash floods and mudslides." As of this morning, a hurricane warning remains in effect for the islands of Anguilla, St. Martin/Sint Maarten, the Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico and the Bahamas, along with several other small islands in the area.
Editor's Note: Space.com senior producer Steve Spaleta contributed to this report.