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.

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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

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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

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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

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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
 

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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

 

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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. 

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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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GPM Overpass of Hurricane Idalia
After threatening much of Florida’s western coast, Hurricane Idalia made landfall Wednesday morning in the Big Bend region of Florida’s northwest coast near Keaton Beach at 7:45 a.m. EDT, Aug. 30, as a strong Category 3 storm with sustained winds reported at 125 mph by the National Hurricane Center. Idalia’s formation was somewhat unusual. Typically, when entering the heart of the hurricane season tropical storms and hurricanes form and expand eastward across the tropical Atlantic region towards Africa’s coast. However, storms occasionally still form in the western Caribbean, as was the case
GPM Overpass of Tropical Storm Franklin on Aug. 29 2023
After becoming a tropical storm in the east-central Caribbean on the afternoon of Aug. 20 and moving generally westward for two days, Tropical Storm Franklin took a northward track and struck the southern coast of the Dominican Republic south of Barahona on the morning of Aug. 23 as a moderate tropical storm with sustained winds reported at 50 mph by the National Hurricane Center (NHC). Franklin brought heavy rains and flooding to the area, resulting in landslides, power outages and at least 2 fatalities in the Dominican Republic according to media reports . After traversing the mountainous
IMERG rainfall totals from Hurricane Hilary.
Hurricane Hilary is being hailed as a historic storm after becoming the first tropical storm to hit California since Sept. 24, 1939. The storm has had a large impact on the region - in addition to gusty winds, Hilary’s rains have resulted in widespread flooding, landslides, washed out roads and numerous other closures. Like most East Pacific tropical cyclones, Hilary originated from a westward propagating tropical wave that crossed over Central America from the western Caribbean into the eastern Pacific. Known as “African easterly waves”, these are the same waves that emerge off the coast of
GPM Overpass of Typhoon Khanun
The Northwest Pacific typhoon season has been quite active recently. Following in the wake of Super Typhoon Doksuri, which skirted the northern tip of Luzon July 25 and 26 and continued on to bring extreme rainfall to southeast coast of China, is yet another powerful storm - Typhoon Khanun. Khanun (known as “Falcon” in the Philippines) began in the West Pacific Ocean as an area of disturbed weather on July 24 situated well south of Guam and east of Palau. Over the next several days the system slowly intensified as it tracked northwestward towards the Ryuku Islands of southern Japan, becoming a
GPM Overpass of Hurricane Calvin on July 14
After a quiet start, the 2023 eastern Pacific hurricane season recently picked up in activity with the formation of the season’s first major hurricane, Hurricane Calvin. Calvin originated on July 11 from an area of low pressure located about 510 miles (~820 km) south-southwest of Manzanillo, Mexico, which had become organized enough for the National Hurricane Center (NHC) to declare it Tropical Depression 3E (TD 3E) that afternoon. Located over warm sea surface temperatures (SSTs) of around 84 oF (29 oC), thunderstorm activity near the center of TD 3E continued to increase overnight, and
Farmers looking at an App
Unexpected shocks from natural hazards can affect populations throughout the globe, threatening sustainable development and resilience. However, the impacts of these events, such as extreme precipitation or drought, disproportionately affect the developing world where individuals often are not insured and live and work in conditions that leave them vulnerable to natural disasters. This can lead to significant economic and environmental challenges if preventive measures or mitigating measures are not taken in time. To reduce risks from natural disasters and build climate resilience, decision...
Landslide Risk in High Mountain Asia
More frequent and intense rainfall events due to climate change could cause more landslides in the High Mountain Asia region of China, Tibet and Nepal, according to the first quantitative study of the link between precipitation and landslides in the region. The model shows landslide risk for High Mountain Asia increasing in the summer months in the years 2061-2100, thanks to increasingly frequent and intense rainfall events. Summer monsoon rains can destabilize steep mountainsides, triggering landslides. Credits: NASA's Earth Observatory/Joshua Stevens High Mountain Asia stores more fresh...
Rain Brought Brief Relief to Australia
For much of the 2019-2020 austral summer, plumes of bushfire smoke have billowed from southeastern Australia in such large amounts that the ground was barely visible in satellite images. In mid-January, some of those plumes were finally quelled by a few days of much-needed rainfall.
GPM Data Mitigates Landslide Risks in Bangladesh
Camp managers and other local officials overseeing Rohingya refugee camps in Bangladesh are now incorporating NASA satellite observations into their decision making in order to reduce the risk to refugees from landslides and other natural hazards. Information like daily rain totals can help inform how to lay out refugee camps and store supplies. More than 740,000 Rohingya refugees have fled to Bangladesh since August 2017. Many of them have sought shelter in camps located in the hilly countryside, where landslide risk may be the greatest. Increasing this danger is Bangladesh’s intense monsoon season. Approximately 80 percent of Bangladesh's yearly rain falls in just five months, from June to October, bringing with it an increased risk of flash flooding and landslides.
Rain Patterns During the Alaska Wildfires
NASA's satellite-based estimate of global precipitation can provide valuable information to officials monitoring the many wildfires in Alaska this summer. Wildfires occur in Alaska each summer, but July 2019 is shaping up to be a particularly active month. Few rain gauges exist in the large tracts of Alaskan wilderness, but wildfires unchecked can spread to populated areas within the state. Satellite-based precipitation estimates are particularly valuable here because of precipitation's relationship to wildfire hazard. The movie shows NASA's IMERG precipitation estimates for May 1 through July...
NASA Rainfall Data and Global Fire Weather
The Global Fire WEather Database (GFWED) integrates different weather factors influencing the likelihood of a vegetation fire starting and spreading. It is based on the Fire Weather Index (FWI) System, which tracks the dryness of three general fuel classes, and the potential behavior of a fire if it were to start. Each day, FWI values are calculated from global weather data, including satellite rainfall data from the Global Precipitation Measurement (GPM) mission.
Help NASA Create the Largest Landslide Database
Landslides cause thousands of deaths and billions of dollars in property damage each year. Surprisingly, very few centralized global landslide databases exist, especially those that are publicly available. Now NASA scientists are working to fill the gap—and they want your help collecting information.
Modeling Landslide Threats in Near Realtime
For the first time, scientists can look at landslide threats anywhere around the world in near real-time, thanks to satellite data and a new model developed by NASA. The model, developed at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, estimates potential landslide activity triggered by rainfall. Rainfall is the most widespread trigger of landslides around the world. If conditions beneath Earth's surface are already unstable, heavy rains act as the last straw that causes mud, rocks or debris — or all combined — to move rapidly down mountains and hillsides. A new model has been...
GPM Catches Hurricane Nate's Landfall
NASA's GPM satellite helped track Nate's progress through the Gulf of Mexico and also captured Nate's landfall on the north central Gulf Coast. This animation shows instantaneous rainrate estimates from NASA's Integrated Multi-satellitE Retrievals for GPM or IMERG product over North America and the surrounding waters beginning on Thursday October 5th when Nate first became a tropical storm near the northeast coast of Nicaragua in the western Caribbean until its eventual landfall on the northern Gulf Coast on Sunday October 8th.
Intense Hurricanes Seen From Space
In 2017, we have seen four Atlantic storms rapidly intensify with three of those storms - Hurricane Harvey, Irma and Maria - making landfall. When hurricanes intensify a large amount in a short period, scientists call this process rapid intensification. This is the hardest aspect of a storm to forecast and it can be most critical to people's lives. While any hurricane can threaten lives and cause damage with storm surges, floods, and extreme winds, a rapidly intensifying hurricane can greatly increase these risks while giving populations limited time to prepare and evacuate.

GPM IMERG precipitation rates and totals from Tropical Cyclone Freddy, Feb. 6 - March 12, 2023. Credit: NASA 

Download in high resolution from the NASA Goddard Scientific Visualization Studio

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  https://svs.gsfc.nasa.gov/4751#27911

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