Satellites and astronauts track Tropical Storm Elsa from space (photos)

Satellites and the crew on the International Space Station crew are tracking the progress of the record-breaking deadly Tropical Storm Elsa as it moves along the Florida coast. 

The state was under a hurricane warning overnight from Tuesday into Wednesday (July 6 into July 7), with high winds expected all along the East Coast of the United States through Friday, according to a forecast from the National Hurricane Center of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

The storm, which formed on July 1, is the earliest-forming fifth named storm ever recorded in the Atlantic Ocean. Typically it takes until the end of August to have so many intense storms in this region, although last year, Tropical Storm Edouard formed on July 6, 2020, NOAA said in a separate update Tuesday. (Hurricane season in the Atlantic runs from June 1 to Nov. 30 of each year.)

Related: Hurricane season 2021: How long it lasts and what to expect

Tropical Storm Elsa as photographed in the Caribbean by NASA astronaut Megan McArthur from the International Space Station. (Image credit: NASA)

"Air Force Reserve Hurricane Hunters found #Elsa's max sustained winds are near 70 mph [110 kph]," the National Hurricane Center tweeted on Tuesday along with a picture of the tropical storm making landfall in Florida, as seen through the eyes of the NOAA GOES-East satellite. The newest GOES generation of satellites are optimized to track extreme weather, including lightning from orbit.

The NOAA Satellites Twitter account paid tribute to that capability of Goes EAST in a separate tweet Tuesday, along with an animation showing points of lightning across the continental United States. "Not only can we see lots of lightning thanks to the Geostationary Lightning Mapper, but we can also see #Elsa making its way toward Florida," the account stated. 

Meanwhile, the NOAA Satellites account tweeted on Tuesday a dramatic animation showing bursts of lightning throughout Elsa, which GOES East captured while the storm was just approaching Florida.

NASA is also tracking the storm through the NASA-NOAA Suomi National Polar-orbiting Partnership (NPP) satellite that captures high-definition hemispheric views of Earth. The agency sent out a tweet of the satellite's view of tropical storm Elsa over Jamaica on Sunday (July 4). The storm left at least three people dead after devastating the Caribbean, NBC News said that day.

Weather satellites in geosynchronous orbit are crucial in making predictions for large storms and hurricanes, which are increasing in intensity and frequency as global warming accelerates. Additionally, crews on the International Space Station may take imagery of storms if time allows from their perch at 250 miles (400 km) in altitude, providing a closer viewpoint.

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Elizabeth Howell
Staff Writer, Spaceflight

Elizabeth Howell (she/her), Ph.D., is a staff writer in the spaceflight channel since 2022 covering diversity, education and gaming as well. She was contributing writer for for 10 years before joining full-time. Elizabeth's reporting includes multiple exclusives with the White House and Office of the Vice-President of the United States, an exclusive conversation with aspiring space tourist (and NSYNC bassist) Lance Bass, speaking several times with the International Space Station, witnessing five human spaceflight launches on two continents, flying parabolic, working inside a spacesuit, and participating in a simulated Mars mission. Her latest book, "Why Am I Taller?", is co-written with astronaut Dave Williams. Elizabeth holds a Ph.D. and M.Sc. in Space Studies from the University of North Dakota, a Bachelor of Journalism from Canada's Carleton University and a Bachelor of History from Canada's Athabasca University. Elizabeth is also a post-secondary instructor in communications and science at several institutions since 2015; her experience includes developing and teaching an astronomy course at Canada's Algonquin College (with Indigenous content as well) to more than 1,000 students since 2020. Elizabeth first got interested in space after watching the movie Apollo 13 in 1996, and still wants to be an astronaut someday. Mastodon: