NASA SPoRT’s SST Composite Maps Capture Upwelling in the Wakes of Hurricanes Dorian and Humberto

NASA SPoRT’s SST Composite Maps Capture Upwelling in the Wakes of Hurricanes Dorian and Humberto

Written by Patrick Duran, Frank LaFontaine, and Erika Duran

Category 5 Hurricane Dorian passed over the Bahamas between September 1 and 3 2019, producing catastrophic destruction and causing at least 60 direct fatalities in the island nation. In addition to the impacts on human life, strong, slow-moving hurricanes like Dorian can leave lasting effects on the ocean over which they travel. Through a process known as upwelling, hurricanes bring colder water from below the surface up to the top layer of the ocean.  As a result, a trail of cooler sea surface temperatures (SSTs), also referred to as a “cold wake,” is often visible behind a passing storm. Meteorologists and oceanographers can monitor changes in SST and identify a cold wake following tropical cyclones using satellite data.

NASA SPoRT produces composite maps of SST twice daily using data from the VIIRS-NPP, MODIS-Aqua, and MODIS-Terra instruments, along with OSTIA-UKMO data obtained from the GHRSST archive at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and the NESDIS GOES-POES SST product. The input data are weighted by latency and resolution to produce the composite, which is available at 2 km resolution.

Figure 1 shows a loop of the SPoRT SST composite from August 31 – September 23, 2019 over a region that includes the Bahamas and the Southeast United States. Two rounds of SST cooling are observed as Hurricanes Dorian and Humberto move through the region.

Figure 1: Animation of NASA SPoRT SST Composite Maps from August 21 through September 23, 2019. Daily images are displayed at 1800 UTC.

On August 31, very warm SSTs of around 29-30 deg Celsius (84-86 deg Fahrenheit) overspread the waters surrounding the Bahamas (Fig. 2).

Figure 2: SST Composite Map at 1800 UTC on August 31, 2019.

After Hurricane Dorian tracked through the region and made landfall in North Carolina on September 6, the waters north of the Bahamas were considerably cooler – in the 26–29 deg Celsius (79–84 deg Fahrenheit) range (Fig. 3).

Figure 3: As in Fig. 2, but for September 6, 2019.

Over the next week, the surface waters warmed a degree or two (Fig. 4), but did not fully recover to the same temperature observed on 31 August.

As in Figs. 2-3, but for September 13, 2019.

On September 13, Tropical Storm Humberto formed 210 km (130 miles) ESE of Great Abaco Island. As the storm tracked northeast past the Bahamas, it encountered the cold wake left by Hurricane Dorian the previous week. These cooler waters, combined with the influence of some dry air and vertical wind shear, inhibited the storm’s intensification as it passed by the Bahamas. On September 15, Humberto moved over the warmer waters of the Gulf Stream off the coast of North Florida (Fig. 5) intensified to hurricane strength.

Figure 5: As in Figs 2-4, but for September 15, 2019.

Humberto continued to strengthen, and attained a maximum sustained wind speed of 125 MPH as it passed by Bermuda on September 19. Its strong winds and associated waves overturned the same region of ocean that was previously affected by Hurricane Dorian, decreasing sea surface temperatures to as low as 25 deg Celsius (77 deg Fahrenheit) in some areas (Fig. 6).

Fig. 6: As in Figs. 2-5, but for September 19, 2019.

These images highlight the effect that tropical cyclones can have on SST, and how a hurricane can make it more difficult for any subsequent storms to intensify over the same region. Satellite analyses of SSTs (such as those produced by NASA SPoRT) allow forecasters to monitor SST across the globe, helping them to produce better forecasts of tropical cyclone intensity in all ocean basins.

Viewing an Eyewall Replacement Cycle and the Structural Evolution of Hurricane Dorian using NASA’s GPM Constellation

Viewing an Eyewall Replacement Cycle and the Structural Evolution of Hurricane Dorian using NASA’s GPM Constellation

Written by Erika Duran and Emily Berndt

In our previous blog post, we highlighted the value of using Red-Green-Blue (RGB) composite imagery from the NASA Global Precipitation Measurement (GPM) constellation to analyze the evolution of storm structure in Hurricane Dorian. Several structural changes were visible in the 37 GHz and 89 GHz passive microwave RGB imagery from September 1-3, 2019, as Dorian approached and made landfall in the Bahamas, and then remained nearly stationary over Grand Bahama Island for nearly two days.

Figure 1: Animation of the GPM Constellation 37 GHz Passive Microwave RGB from 06:48 UTC on September 1, 2019 to 06:33 UTC on September 3, 2019.

The above animation of the 37 GHz passive microwave RGB demonstrates an eyewall replacement cycle that occurred from September 1-2, as well as the erosion of the western eyewall from September 2-3. A secondary eyewall is visible at 20:46 UTC on September 1 (below, Fig 2c), followed by a wider, single eyewall and a much wider eye at 10:36 UTC on September 2 (Fig 2d), as compare to the previous day (Fig 2a). The erosion of the western eyewall is visible in Fig 2f, likely a result from the storm’s interaction with land.

Figure 2. Snapshots of the GPM Constellation 37 GHz Passive Microwave RGB on September 1, 2019 at a) 06:48 UTC, b) 16:36 UTC, and 20:46 UTC, on September 2, 2019 at d) 10:36 UTC and e) 17:18 UTC, and on September 3, 2019 at f) 06:33 UTC.

An animation of the 89 GHz Passive Microwave RGB (Fig 3) provides a slightly different perspective of these same events, highlighting changes in Dorian’s deep convection.

Figure 3. As in Fig 1, but for the GPM Constellation 89 GHz Passive Microwave RGB.

While the eyewall replacement cycle is much more clear in the 37 GHz RGB imagery, structural changes associated with this cycle are still evident using the 89 GHz RGB, showing the presence of a “moat,” or a region of low-echo reflectivity and subsidence between the primary and secondary eyewalls (e.g., Sitkowski et al. 2011, Kuo et al. 2009). The moat is seen as the darker red colors surrounding the eye in Fig 4c, which is located between the primary and secondary eyewalls indicated in the 37 GHz imagery. Additionally, the erosion of the western eyewall is much more clear using the 89 GHz RGB, showing the asymmetry in Dorian’s deep convection on the left side of the eye (Fig 4f).

Figure 4. As in Figure 2, but for the GPM Constellation 89 GHz Passive Microwave RGB.


Sitkowski, M., J.P. Kossin, and C.M. Rozoff, 2011: Intensity and Structure Changes during Hurricane Eyewall Replacement Cycles.Mon. Wea. Rev.,139, 3829–3847,

Kuo, H., C. Chang, Y. Yang, and H. Jiang, 2009: Western North Pacific Typhoons with Concentric Eyewalls.Mon. Wea. Rev.,137, 3758–3770,

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

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.