A stunning new satellite image captures four different storms churning in the skies above North America as the continent nears the peak of hurricane season.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite 16 (GOES-16) captured aerial views of hurricanes Grace and Linda, along with tropical storms Fred and Henri, on Wednesday (Aug. 18). The satellite image also shows swirling billows of smoke streaming across the western U.S. from several major fires in California.
"The pace of hurricane activity around North America often accelerates in mid-to-late summer as seas warm, making it easier for tropical cyclones to develop and intensify," NASA officials wrote in a statement. "August 2021 was no exception. In fact, more storm activity has happened earlier in the year than usual."
Using its Advanced Baseline Imager (ABI), GOES-16 captured this simulated natural-color image at 1:20 p.m. EDT (1720 GMT), revealing four different storms at various stages of development. Hurricane Grace, which appears in the lower right of the satellite image, on Tuesday (Aug. 17) brought heavy rainfall and flooding to Haiti — still reeling from a magnitude 7.2 earthquake on Aug. 14 — and the Dominican Republic. Then, it continued toward Mexico's Yucatan peninsula on Wednesday, moving west at 15 mph (24 kph), according to the statement.
Tropical Storm Fred, which made landfall in Florida's Panhandle region on Aug. 16, appears in the satellite image moving north along the East Coast of the U.S. The storm brought intense rainfall and strong winds, leaving flooding and tornadoes in its wake. When the storm touched down in Florida, winds were recorded at 65 mph (105 kph), followed by several inches of rain across parts of the state, as well as Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina as the storm moved inland, according to the NASA statement.
Henri, which is expected to reach hurricane status on Friday (Aug. 20), appears near Bermuda in the satellite image. Forecasters say that Henri is headed toward the Northeast U.S. and could impact the coast this weekend.
"Starting early last week, the large-scale conditions became especially favorable for tropical cyclone development in the Eastern Pacific and Atlantic basins," Patrick Duran, a hurricane expert based at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Alabama, said in the statement. "The Madden-Julian Oscillation, a global-scale phenomenon that plays a role in tropical convection, became favorable for thunderstorm formation. At the same time, a large atmospheric wave called an equatorial Kelvin wave moved across the Atlantic, making conditions even more favorable for storm development."
Linda, which has been identified as an intense variety of storm called an annular hurricane, is located in the Eastern Pacific, on the left side of the satellite image. The storm reached hurricane status on Aug. 12 and remained strong for several days. While the storm remained at sea, nowhere near land, its winds reached as high as 130 mph (209 kph), making it a Category 4 hurricane, according to the statement.
Annular hurricanes are generally characterized by large and symmetrical eyes and few rain bands spiraling outward, according to the statement. These types of hurricanes tend to be significantly stronger and maintain their peak intensities longer than other tropical cyclones because their "annular structure makes these storms more resistant to the negative impacts of unfavorable conditions, like low ocean temperatures or high wind shear," Charles Helms, a scientist based at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland, said in the statement.
In addition to the active storms, the GOES-16 image also shows the effects of several California wildfires, with streams of smoke visible across the western U.S. In the satellite image, the smoke — characterized by darker clouds — can be seen across the top of the northwest U.S. Due to gusty winds and low humidity, the state of California has issued a warning of fire-prone conditions across much of Northern California, as well as areas of the North Bay Mountains and East Bay Hills, according to an Aug. 18 state announcement.
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