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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IMERG analysis of monsoon rainfall in India, July 2021
After a relatively quiet period of below normal activity that began in the latter part of June and extended into the first half of July, and which resulted in rainfall deficits over much of India, the South Asian monsoon surged to life last week, bringing heavy rains, widespread flooding and landslides. Among the hardest hit areas was the western state of Maharashtra, which extends from the central west coast of India inland. A key geographical feature along the west coast of India is the Western Ghats. This coastal mountain range runs roughly north-south for about 1000 miles along the west
Arizona GPM DPR Convective Storm 3D View 2021 July 15
There is a monsoon that occurs in the southwestern U.S. each summer, and it brought heavy rain to the deserts of Arizona this week. This monsoon is less well known than India's Summer Monsoon, but both monsoons have similar causes [1, 2, 3]. In western Mexico and the southern edge of the southwest U.S., most of the year's rain typically falls in just three months: June, July, and August. The region is shown in light blue in the below climate map, which shows where summer rainfall predominates (Figure 1). This seasonal pattern is known as the North American Monsoon. The map was generated using
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.
GPM Overpass of Hurricane Zeta on 10/28/20
As Hurricane Zeta moves towards landfall on the U.S. Gulf Coast, NASA has eyes on the storm with an array of Earth-observing instruments and stands ready to aid affected communities with critical data and analysis. Zeta is following a path similar to Hurricane Delta, which after crossing the Yucatan Peninsula made its way across the Gulf of Mexico and struck the Louisiana coast as a Category 2 hurricane on October 9. If Zeta makes landfall as expected along the northern Gulf Coast, it will become the 7th named storm to do so in this record-breaking season, following Tropical Storm Cristobal
Hurricane Forecasting Screenshot
The powerful hurricane that struck Galveston, Texas on September 8, 1900, killing an estimated 8,000 people and destroying more than 3,600 buildings, took the coastal city by surprise. This video looks at advances in hurricane forecasting in the 120 years since, with a focus on the contributions from weather satellites. This satellite technology has allowed us to track hurricanes – their location, movement and intensity. “One of the dramatic impacts is that satellite data keeps an eye on the target," especially over unpopulated areas such as oceans, said JPSS Director Greg Mandt. “We’re sort...
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.

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

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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