The Evolution of Hurricane Dorian as Viewed from NASA’s GPM Constellation

Written by Erika Duran, Emily Berndt, and Patrick Duran

As of Friday morning on August 30, 2019, Hurricane Dorian is forecast to steadily intensify to a major hurricane as it moves northwestward toward the Bahamas over the Labor Day weekend. Many factors can act together to contribute to storm intensification, and satellite imagery offers a variety of perspectives to monitor the evolution of tropical cyclone (e.g., hurricane) structure as a storm undergoes intensity change. Multispectral Red-Green-Blue (RGB) composite imagery derived from the Global Precipitation Measurement Constellation of passive microwave sensors provides value in monitoring the evolution of convection within a tropical cyclone, and can reveal structures such as developing and concentric eyewalls, as well as spiral rainbands.

Figure 1 shows the evolution of Dorian from Wednesday, Aug 28, 2019 through Thursday, August 29, 2019 as viewed from the 37 GHz RGB, which is sensitive to warm precipitation (i.e., rain; Lee et al. 2002). Light blue colors demonstrate regions of lighter rain, indicative of mainly stratiform precipitation, and pink to red colors demonstrate areas of heavier rainfall, indicative of convective precipitation. As Dorian moves through the eastern Caribbean, it consistently demonstrates spiral rainband structure, as well as the presence of an eye as it moves north of Puerto Rico (Fig 1b,c). Such features suggest a maturing tropical cyclone, and indicate environmental conditions that are favorable for development. Notice that the wide eye present at 10:56 UTC on August 29, 2019 (Fig 1c) appears to erode on the southern edge by 16:06 UTC on August 29, 2019 (Fig 1d), and most of the precipitation is found north and east of the center of Dorian; this asymmetry in precipitation suggests a negative influence on storm intensification, such as the presence of wind shear, or dryer air being ingested into the storm from the south.

Figure 1: 37 GPM Constellation 37 GHz Passive Microwave RGB on Wednesday, August 28 at a) 05:33 UTC and b) 2106 UTC, and on Thursday, August 29 at c) 1056 UTC and d) 1606 UTC.

Fig 2 illustrates the same snapshots of Dorian on August 28th and 29th, but using the 89 GHZ RGB imagery, which is sensitive to frozen precipitation (i.e., ice; Lee et al. 2002). Red colors indicate regions of strong convection. Similar features such as rainbands and an eye/eyewall are also visible at this frequency, but this RGB demonstrates some structural differences; for example, the 89 GHz RGB indicates the presence of an eye and a symmetric eyewall at 21:06 UTC on August 28th (Fig 2b), while the 37 GHz RGB demonstrates an asymmetric eyewall (Fig 1b). Comparing features from these two RGBs can help to highlight differences in the storm structure at different levels of the atmosphere, since the 89 GHz RGB is more sensitive to cloud microphysical characteristics found at higher altitudes of the storm.

Figure 2: As in Figure 1, but for the GPM Constellation 89 GHz Passive Microwave RGB.

Figure 3 demonstrates the satellite-derived instantaneous rain rate (in/hr) for the same snapshots described for the RGBs above. These images provide another perspective on storm structure by demonstrating where precipitation is occurring. Similar spiral rainbands are visible in these images as well, and Fig 3c shows a well-defined eye and eyewall structure as Dorian moves northwest of Puerto Rico. As in Fig 1d and 2d, notice how at 16:06 UTC on Aug 29, most of the precipitation is occurring north and east of the center of Dorian (Fig 2d.)

Figure 3: As in Figures 1 and 2, but for the satellite-derived instantaneous rain rate (in/hr).

Comparing the RGBs and rain rate with GOES-East water vapor imagery can help diagnose the environment surrounding Dorian at this time. The black and orange colors in Fig 4a and 4b and the red to orange colors in Fig 4c and 4d illustrate the presence of dry air south of Dorian, which appears to have penetrated into the core of the storm. This drier air likely contributed to the degradation of the eye and eyewall structure visible in Figs 1d, 2d, and 3d, and helped to create the asymmetry in precipitation.

Figure 4: GOES East imagery of Hurricane Dorian on Thursday, Aug 29 for the mid-level water vapor infrared band (Channel 9) at a) 1050 UTC and b) 1610 UTC and the low-level water vapor infrared band (Channel 10) at c) 1050 UTC and d) 1610 UTC.

Fig. 5 shows an animation of the GPM Constellation 89GHz passive microwave RGB at 23:06 UTC on August 29 and 08:32 UTC and 11:17 UTC on August 30th. Notice how Dorian appears to organize as it moves northwestward, exhibiting more spiral rainband structures and an eye in the center of the storm, accompanied by deep convection (red colors).

Figure 5: An animation of the GPM Constellation 89GHz passive microwave RGB on (1) August 29, 2019 at 23:06 UTC, (2) 08:32 UTC and (3) 11:17 UTC on August 30, 2019.

As GPM Early Adopters since 2014, the NASA SPoRT center has a history of providing RGB imagery to national centers, including the National Hurricane Center (NHC) for use in operations. Today, the imagery is extensively used in hurricane analysis and forecasting, leveraging the ability to detect features of interest and to identify the hurricane center, structure, and intensity. Real-time products are also available on the SPoRT website. More information on GPM products and applications can be found in the NASA GPM Overview, which is a SPoRT contribution to the National Weather Service’s Satellite Foundational course for JPSS. These examples demonstrate how using a combination of satellite products can be helpful in diagnosing different structural features of tropical cyclones.


Lee, T. F., F. J. Turk, J. Hawkins, and K. Richardson, 2002: Interpretation of TRMM TMI images of tropical cyclones. Earth Interactions, 6, 1-17, doi:10.1175/1087-3562(2002)006<0001:IOTTIO>2.0.CO;2.

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