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Hurricane Dorian: How NASA and NOAA Are Tracking the Storm from Space

No matter how you look at it, Hurricane Dorian is a scary sight.

But the more eyes on the storm, the better chance meteorologists and emergency responders have to keep people safe. And so NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) have a host of satellites studying the hurricane.

All of the data those satellites gather go into statements issued by NOAA's National Hurricane Center (NHC), which is currently forecasting that Dorian will head west across the northern Bahamas as a major hurricane over the weekend, then hit southern Florida as a hurricane, albeit a slightly weaker one, on Tuesday (Sept. 3).

Related: NASA Sees Hurricane Dorian from Space Station (Video)

Hurricane Dorian as seen by three satellites. On the left, the tiny Temporal Experiment for Storms and Tropical Systems Demonstration (TEMPEST-D) satellite measures rainfall within the storm on Aug. 28, 2019. In the middle, NASA's Aqua satellite examined the storm in infrared to show tall thunderstorms in purples and shallower clouds in blues and greens on Aug. 29, 2019. On the right, NASA's CloudSat satellite "slices" through clouds with radar to measure their height and layers in Aug. 27, 2019. (Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

NASA has a particularly strong interest in Dorian, since the storm is currently predicted to wallop the agency's main spaceport, Kennedy Space Center. The facility's personnel have been preparing for the storm since Wednesday (Aug. 28).

High on the list of concerns was the Mobile Launcher, a 400-foot-tall (122 meters) that will support NASA's new SLS rocket designed for deep-space missions. Such a tall structure is an obvious hazard in hurricane-force winds, and personnel arranged for it to be moved into Kennedy's 52-story-tall Vehicle Assembly Building to wait out the storm.

The Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex also decided to close on Sunday (Sept. 1) for safety.

A view from the GOES-16 satellite of Hurricane Dorian on Aug. 29, 2019.  (Image credit: NASA Earth Observatory/Joshua Stevens/NOAA/NESDIS)

The International Space Station has passed over the storm and added to the observations meteorologists are relying on from satellites. Those satellites are particularly tuned to calculating rainfall and studying the structure of the storm clouds that make up the hurricane.

Orbiting at approximately the same altitude as the space station is a tiny weather satellite called Temporal Experiment for Storms and Tropical Systems Demonstration (TEMPEST-D). About the size of a cereal box, TEMPEST-D can spot the areas of highest moisture in the storm and is part of a test program to miniaturize weather satellites to blanket the globe in real-time storm tracking technology.

NASA's Aqua satellite carries an Atmospheric Infrared Sounder instrument that can identify the very tall thunderstorm clouds associated with the heaviest rainfall, which appear cooler to its sensors.

Another instrument, onboard NASA's CloudSat satellite, produces cross-section imagery of knots of clouds. Scientists can learn about the height and layers of clouds and the size of the precipitation droplets inside of them, which helps them identify where in the storm carries the most threatening rainfall.

One NASA-run model pulls these types of data together, and a preliminary analysis of it suggested that certain areas affected by the storm could receive nearly 5 inches (120 millimeters) of rain within 24 hours, according to a statement

Email Meghan Bartels at mbartels@space.com or follow her @meghanbartels. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom and on Facebook. 

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