GPM Applications Banner: Disasters

Using GPM Data for Disasters and Risk Management

Too much or too little rainfall can have significant impacts on populations around the world. As population and global temperatures increase, it is crucial to understand what locations will become more vulnerable to extreme rainfall and drought and the subsequent natural hazards (e.g., landslides) and risks (e.g., lose of property) they impose. Satellites allow us to monitor changes in the precipitation, especially over oceans and regions where ground-based data are sparse. With its near-real-time precipitation estimates and near global coverage, GPM serves as an essential tool for assessing risk and planning disaster response and recovery.  For example, near-real-time precipitation data from GPM are used within various models to help monitor and predict the path and intensity of tropical storms, vegetation fire starting and spreading, and landslide activity across the globe. The Disasters and Risk Management applications area seeks to use the GPM precipitation satellite data to improve forecasting, preparation, response, recovery, mitigation and insurance of natural hazards including tropical cyclones, floods, droughts, wildfires, landslides, and other extreme weather events.



GPM Data for Decision Making


GPM's GMI / DPR provides views of hurricane Lane’s precipitation, showing intense storms near the center on August 19, 2018. Credit: Hal Pierce (SSAI/NASA GSFC).


The GPM Mission provides insight into how and why some tropical cyclones intensify and others weaken as they move from tropical to mid-latitude systems. The GPM Core Observatory’s GMI and DPR instruments allow scientists to study the internal structure of storms throughout their life cycle, and view how they change over time. Specifically, the GMI has the capability to measure the amount, size, intensity, and type of precipitation, from heavy-to moderate rain to light rain and snowfall. The DPR returns three-dimensional profiles and intensities of liquid and solid precipitation, revealing the internal structure of storms within and below clouds. Scientists use these instruments to track tropical cyclones and forecast their progression and to verify their tropical cyclone computer models. They also use instrument data to understand the distribution and movement of latent heat throughout the storm, particularly in the development of hot towers in the wall of clouds around the eye, which have been linked to rapid intensification. Together, these instruments will improve hurricane tracking and forecasts, which can help decision makers save lives.

View tropical cyclones articles


Submerged Houston neighborhoods in the wake of Tropical Storm Harvey on August 29, 2017. Credit: Marcus Yam / Getty Images

To better understand and predict floods scientists have developed hydrological models based on how much rainfall occurs and where the water will likely go once it hits the ground. They use several satellite precipitation datasets within these models to provide near real-time estimates of when and where areas may flood on local, regional, and global scales. GPM provides frequent precipitation observations with near global coverage, of which 80% are less than 3 hours apart, exceeding the minimum deemed necessary for hydrometeorological applications. Therefore, rainfall data measured by the GPM Mission and its products, like the Integrated Multi-satellitE Retrievals for GPM (IMERG) data product, helps us better understand how changing precipitation patterns at multiple scales translates changes into hydrologic fluxes and states that can be used for flood detection and warning systems.

View floods articles


Aerial view of landslide that buried Colonia las Colinas, El Salvador. Credit: USGS

Landslides are one of the most pervasive hazards in the world, resulting in more fatalities and economic damage than is generally recognized. Saturating the soil on vulnerable slopes, intense and prolonged rainfall is the most frequent landslide trigger, but seismicity, river undercutting, freeze-thaw processes, and human activity can also cause extensive and devastating landslides. Understanding where and when landslides have occurred in the past and where they may occur in the future is extremely challenging because of the lack of ground-based sensors at the landslide site to provide both triggering information (e.g. rainfall intensity and duration), and the timing and extent of the mass movement events. Precipitation measurements from remote sensing allows us to gain new insight to identify landslide activity, characterize the triggering patterns of these events spatially and temporally, assess the surface conditions for potential activity, and support the full cycle of disaster risk assessment. In particular, GPM’s more frequent and more detailed coverage of precipitation across the globe can help improve landslide model accuracy and expand potential landslide forecasting capabilities.

Learn more about GPM applications for landslides


High severity fire in the western U.S. Credit: USDA Forest Service

Wildfires play an integral role in maintaining ecosystem biodiversity and structure.  Wildfires, which include any non-structure fire that occurs in vegetation or natural fuels, is an essential process that connects terrestrial systems to the atmosphere and climate.  However, the effects of fire can be disastrous, both immediately (e.g., poor air quality, loss of life and property) and through post-fire impacts (floods, debris flows/landslides, poor water quality). Wildfires can be triggered by several factors including lightning, high winds, drought, and people. 

There are several ongoing activities using remote sensing data to support pre-, active- and post-fire research, as well as the applicable use of these data and products in support of management decisions and strategies, policy planning and in setting rules and regulations. Frequent precipitation measurements from GPM along with temperature and land cover measurements from other satellites can provide key information to determine the overall dryness of an area and the potential start and spread of a vegetation fire. 

View wildfires articles


GPM's GMI and DPR observe rainfall accumulation over the storm and 3-D vertical structure in a line of intense storms associated with the mesoscale convection system over northern New Mexico and Oklahoma on June 25, 2018. Credit: Hal Pierce (SSAI/NASA GSFC)


Many regions in the world experience severe weather such as thunderstorms, hail, tornadoes, and blizzards every year. Severe weather usually comes with heavy precipitation and causes unexpected hydrometeorological hazards, such as floods or landslides, which can affect thousands of people, posing a threat on life and property. Therefore, it is critically important to monitor severe weather and estimate heavy precipitation so that the occurrence and intensity of associated hydrometeorological hazards can be well identified, detected, and forecasted. Where ground-based instruments are sparse, remote sensing systems can be especially useful to observe and monitor these extreme events. Microwave sensors used by the GPM Mission allows scientists to map thunderstorm cores to gain insight into storm structures and mesoscale dynamics (e.g. thunderstorms to hurricanes) as well as detect light rain to moderate-to heavy rain and snowfall. Delivery of precipitation data from the GPM Mission is crucial for operational and research organizations to advance precipitation measurement science to improve weather forecasting that can subsequently benefit society for years to come. 

View severe weather articles



Coast Guardsmen use a boat to assist residents during severe flooding around Baton Rouge, LA on August 14, 2016. Credit: Petty Officer 3rd Class Brandon Giles/Coast Guard

Every year, landslides wipe out roads or town, devastating floods put city blocks underwater, or a violent hurricane devastates the coastal communities. Natural hazards, like Hurricane Maria or flooding in Houston, have huge impacts on people around the world. Heavy rains and large storm systems are often significant factors that cause these disasters to have huge economic costs or even kill people. The best defense against natural hazards is accurate and early warning systems. Understanding the timing, location, and intensity of precipitation extremes using GPM data, organizations that handle disaster response and recovery can monitor, assess, and understand the damage or potential damage of a disaster. These efforts help to minimize the impact of a natural disaster as well as effectively coordinate with organizations and the public before, during, after so as many people are safe and needs are met. 


A house on the Jersey Shore submerged in water in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy.  Credit: Jim Greenhill via BU Today

The insurance and disaster management industries are closely related; dealing with the risk of natural disaster and managing the events following disasters. Reinsurance companies work to understand the need of its potential customers and the risks to which they may be exposed.  A companies’ success is generally tied to the ability to forecast the probability of natural hazards, including storms, floods, and landslides. Earth Science data and information derived from remote sensing instruments over the last decade have made it more feasible to develop climate records and understand region’s susceptibility to a natural disaster. Such data are then used to design payout triggers when natural hazards occurs. Policyholders are then compensated according to the strength of the measured event against those triggers. Specially, reinsurance companies across the world use rainfall data from GPM to develop rainfall thresholds to design insurance payouts when disasters strike. 

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IMERG Rainfall Totals from Cyclone Tauktae
NASA combined data from multiple satellites in the GPM Constellation to estimate precipitation rates and totals from Tropical Cyclone Tauktae in May 2021. The below animation shows precipitation rates (blue/yellow shading) and accumulations (green shading) at half-hourly intervals from May 12-19, 2021, derived from NASA's IMERG algorithm. Underneath the precipitation data, cloud cover is shown in shades of white/gray based on geosynchronous satellite infrared observations. On top of the precipitation data, the cyclone's approximate track is displayed based on estimates from the Joint Typhoon
IMERG Precipitation Totals from Eastern Australia, March 16 - 23, 2021
During the week ending on March 23, 2021, two locations in Australia experienced unusually high rainfall totals. According to news reports a persistent system brought flooding rains to Australia's east coast from Brisbane to Sydney and points further south. The preliminary estimate from NASA's multi-satellite global precipitation analysis is that more than 24 inches fell just off the coast of Australia in 7 days with accumulations in coastal areas exceeding 16 inches. Near the Strzelecki Desert in central Australia, a storm system brought 8 inches of precipitation during the same 7-day period. Most of the rain fell during a 3-day period (0000 UTC on 20 March to 2359 UTC on 22 March).
IMERG Sees Winter Storms Impact the Southern U.S.
In mid-February 2021, large areas of the Continental United States experienced extreme cold temperatures as a result of a strong Arctic high pressure system. The cold temperatures were accompanied by several pulses of precipitation over the Southeast US through the mid-Atlantic, as well as the Pacific Northwest. The combination of cold temperatures and precipitation resulted in widespread power outages to millions of people in Texas, Kentucky, West Virginia, and Oregon, among other states.
IMERG Captures Rainfall from Tropical Cyclone Ana in Fiji
NASA combined data from multiple satellites to estimate the rainfall from Tropical Cyclone Ana in the Southwest Pacific Ocean amid an ongoing Madden-Julian Oscillation (MJO) event. The Madden-Julian Oscillation is a 20 to 90 day pattern of alternating wet and dry conditions that often begins in the tropical Indian Ocean and moves eastward into the Pacific. This animation shows rainfall rates (blue/yellow shading) and rainfall accumulations (green shading) at half-hourly intervals from January 26 - February 2, 2021, using NASA's IMERG algorithm, overlaid on shades of white/gray from NOAA
IMERG Rainfall Total from Week of Jan 25 2021
NASA combined data from multiple satellites to estimate the rainfall from an "atmospheric river" event over the U.S. West Coast in near real-time at half-hourly intervals from January 25 - 29, 2021. Atmospheric rivers are long, narrow corridors of water vapor that can lead to heavy precipitation when they encounter land. This animation shows estimated rainfall rates in blue and yellow shading and total rainfall accumulations in green shading, from NASA's IMERG algorithm, overlaid on shades of white and gray from NOAA infrared satellite data which shows cloudiness. On January 25, 2021, a low
IMERG Rainfall Rates and MUR Sea Surface Temperatures from the 2020 Hurricane Season
Forecasters predicted an above-normal hurricane season for 2020. They weren’t wrong. As the 2020 Atlantic hurricane season smashed records with an unprecedented 30 named storms, NASA’s Earth Applied Sciences Disasters Program stood up to the challenge. The Disasters Program helps leaders and responders at national, regional, and local levels leverage NASA’s technology and expertise to assess, predict, and understand disasters' impacts. The Disasters Program targets a wide range of hazards and disasters, and while NASA is not an operational response agency, the agency offers access to unique
IMERG Total from Cyclone Gati
On November 22, 2020, Cyclone Gati became the strongest storm to hit Somalia since satellite records began five decades ago. Gati made landfall with maximum sustained winds of 170 kilometers (105 miles) per hour, a category 2 storm on the Saffir-Simpson scale. The storm brought more than a year’s worth of rain to the region in two days. Local authorities report at least eight people were killed and thousands have been displaced. The map above shows rainfall accumulation from November 21-23, 2020. These data are remotely-sensed estimates that come from the Integrated Multi-Satellite Retrievals
Landslide Risk in Central America
On November 3, 2020, Hurricane Eta made landfall as one of the most powerful hurricanes to hit Central America in years. The category 4 storm destroyed hundreds of homes, killed more than 100 people, and brought torrential rains that triggered large and numerous landslides in Guatemala and Honduras. Less than two weeks later, Hurricane Iota—an even more powerful category 4 storm—nearly retraced Eta’s path. Within hours of Eta’s landfall and flooding rains, researchers at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center worked to predict landslides and map the storm’s aftermath. One team assessed potential
Hurricane Eta over Florida
After striking the northeast coast of Nicaragua as a powerful Category 4 storm back on November 3, Hurricane Eta weakened rapidly over Central America but still brought major flooding and triggered numerous landslides that so far have resulted in at least 250 fatalities across the region, according to media reports. Eta was down to a tropical depression when the center re-emerged over the northwestern Caribbean on the evening of November 5. An upper-level trough over the Gulf of Mexico first steered Eta northeastward towards Cuba on the 6th. Because it was disorganized after its trek across
Hurricane Eta IMERG Screenshot
The extremely active 2020 Atlantic hurricane season, aided by the ongoing La Niña, continues on. After Hurricane Zeta made landfall along the northern part of the Gulf Coast, yet another hurricane has arisen - Hurricane Eta, the strongest of the season. Like Zeta, Eta also formed in the Caribbean, where sea surface temperatures are still running quite warm at around 29° C, almost a full degree above average and well above the typical 26° C needed for tropical cyclone development. But while Zeta turned north into the Gulf of Mexico, Eta moved westward where it delivered powerful winds and

Cameras outside the International Space Station captured dramatic views of Hurricane Zeta at 12:50 pm ET October 28, as it churned 200 miles south-southwest of New Orleans packing winds of 90 miles an hour. Credit: NASA International Space Station

GPM overpass of Tropical Storm Zeta on October 25 at approximately 2:15pm CDT (19:15 UTC). Half-hourly rainfall estimates from NASA’s multi-satellite IMERG dataset are shown in 2D on the ground, while rainfall rates from GPM’s DPR instrument are shown as a 3D point cloud, with liquid precipitation shown in green, yellow and red, and frozen precipitation shown in blue and purple. Credit: NASA Goddard Scientific Visualization Studio

View an interactive 3D visualization of this overpass in STORM Event Viewer

GPM captured Dorian at 10:41 UTC (6:41 am EDT) on the 4th of September when the storm was moving north-northwest parallel to the coast of Florida about 90 miles due east of Daytona Beach.  Three days earlier, Dorian had struck the northern Bahamas as one of the most powerful Category 5 hurricanes on record in the Atlantic with sustained winds of 185 mph.  The powerful storm to ravaged the northern Bahamas for 2 full days.  During this time, Dorian began to weaken due to its interactions with the islands as well as the upwelling of cooler ocean waters from having remained in the same location...

The Global Precipitation Measurement (GPM) Core Observatory captured these images of Hurricane Dorian on September 1st  (21:22 UTC) as the storm was directly over Abaco Island in The Bahamas.  At that time, the storm was a category 5 hurricane with maximum sustained winds of 185 mph (295 km/h) with gusts over 200 mph.

Hurricane Dorian on September 1, 2019 (21:22 UTC) over Abaco Island in The Bahamas

Visualizers: Kel Elkins (lead), Greg Shirah, Alex Kekesi

For more information or to download this public domain video, go to

NASA has a unique and important view of hurricanes around the planet. Satellites and aircraft watch as storms form, travel across the ocean and sometimes, make landfall. After the hurricanes have passed, the satellites and aircraft see the aftermath of hurricanes, from downed forests to mass power loss. Complete transcript available.

Music credit: "Northern Breeze" by Denis Levaillant [SACEM], "Stunning Horizon" by Maxime Lebidois [SACEM], Ronan Maillard [SACEM], "Magnetic Force" by JC Lemay [SACEM] from Killer Tracks

This video is public domain and along with other supporting visualizations...

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