NASA Satellites Track Tropical Storm Debby

Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission satellite serves as a "rain gauge in space"

Patience Wait, Contributor

June 26, 2012

3 Min Read

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NASA is tracking the heavy rainfall being dumped on Florida and southern Georgia by tropical storm Debby, using a satellite it calls its "flying rain gauge in space." The Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission (TRMM) satellite generates imagery that scientists are using to calculate rainfall rates and totals.

Debby, which formed June 23 in the central Gulf of Mexico, is noteworthy partly because this is the earliest date in hurricane season for a fourth named storm.

TRMM data shows that Debby has been a major rain-producing storm. The satellite imagery showed that Debby's heaviest rains were falling at a rate of over 2 inches per hour, NASA said on its website. The storm dumped nearly 7 inches of rain on Gainesville, Fla., on June 24, that city's second-highest one-day total.

Instruments on the satellite are used by Goddard Space Flight Center to provide rainfall images. The satellite's precipitation radar provides rain rates in the center of image swaths, while a microwave imager produces rain rates in the outer swaths, the agency explained. The rain rates are overlaid on infrared and visible data gathered by the TRMM's visible infrared scanner.

NASA's tracking of Debby helps identify locations that have potential for flooding. The slower a storm moves--and Debby has been moving slowly--the more time it rains over a given area, increasing the magnitude of flooding.

Coastal flooding and the potential for isolated tornadoes are continuing threats. The storm is expected to continue bringing heavy rains to northern and central Florida where some areas could see in excess of 20 inches of rain, according to NASA. Storm speed is what matters most when it comes to rainfall; the slower the storm, the more time it has to rain over a given area.

[ Government agencies monitor a lot of different things. Read TSA Wants To Monitor Employee Computer Activities. ]

The TRMM satellite is a joint mission between NASA and JAXA, the Japanese space agency.

NASA's website provides views of tropical storm Debby from space. In one image, clouds cover the entire state of Florida, in the words of NASA, like "a large white blanket." Researchers at Goddard have also created a video animation that shows the path of the storm over the past two days.

In addition to TRMM, other satellites providing data and images on the storm include NASA's Aqua and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's GOES-13.

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Patience Wait


Washington-based Patience Wait contributes articles about government IT to InformationWeek.

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