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 rainfall from the Pakistan Floods 2020
In the last week of August 2020, Pakistan's largest city, Karachi, received over 8 inches of rainfall according to NASA's IMERG dataset, causing destructive flooding in the region. The amount of rain that fell that week is roughly equivalent to the amount that Karachi typically receives in an entire year, based on IMERG's 19-year global climatology. In a typical year, most of Karachi's rain will fall in July and August, but the rainfall during the week of August 23rd was unusually heavy. The top panel of the three panels in this image shows the depth of the 7-day rainfall accumulation in
IMERG Rainfall Totals from Hurricanes Marco and Laura
The northern Gulf Coast, specifically Louisiana, saw two tropical cyclones make landfall in the same week just days apart. The two systems, however, could not have been more different when they arrived. Despite forming a day later, Marco was the first system to make landfall on the Gulf Coast. Marco originated from a tropical easterly wave that was moving from the central to the western Caribbean. After becoming a tropical depression (TD) on the 20th of August, TD #14 turned northwestward the following day as it approached the coast of Central America and moved into the northwest Caribbean
GPM Overpass of Hurricane Laura 8/27/20
After crossing western Cuba, Tropical Storm Laura emerged into the Gulf of Mexico where warm water, low wind shear and a moist environment made conditions ideal for intensification. As it made its way through the Gulf of Mexico Laura strengthened - from a category 1 hurricane with sustained winds of 75 mph on the morning of Tuesday August 25th, to a powerful category 4 storm, with sustained winds of 150 mph on the evening of Wednesday August 26th - an increase of 75 mph in just 36 hours. At this point Laura was nearing the coast of western Louisiana, and made landfall near Cameron, Louisiana
Hurricane Laura on August 27, 2020
Update on August 28, 2020: During its approach to Louisiana, Hurricane Laura dramatically intensified from Category 2 to 4 (105 mph to 150 mph) between at 1AM and 7PM Central Time (CDT) on August 26, 2020. In the updated movie below, the precipitation falling from Laura is shown through 10:30PM CDT, August 27, as estimated by NASA's IMERG algorithm. To open the animation in a separate window, click here. On August 26, Laura became the first North Atlantic hurricane to reach "major hurricane" status this year, meaning that it reached category 3 on the Saffir-Simpson hurricane-intensity scale
GPM Overpass of Hurricane Laura 8/26/20 10:00pm CT
Hurricane Laura began as a tropical depression on August 21st near the U.S. Virgin Islands, and over the next several days rapidly intensified to a dangerous category 4 hurricane at it moved towards the U.S. Gulf Coast. Laura made landfall as strong category 4 hurricane near Cameron, Louisiana shortly after midnight on August 27, 2020, bringing extreme rainfall, storm surge, and winds up to 150 mph. The NASA / JAXA GPM Core Observatory satellite flew over Hurricane Laura shortly before it made landfall at 10:00pm CT on Wednesday, August 26th, then again at 7:42am CT on Thursday, August 27th
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 Sees Hurricanes Maria and Jose
GPM passed over both Hurricane Maria and Hurricane Jose on September 18th, 2017. As the camera moves in on the Maria, DPR's volumetric view of the storm is revealed. A slicing plane moves across the volume to display precipitation rates throughout the storm. Shades of green to red represent liquid precipitation extending down to the ground. The Global Precipitation Measurement (GPM) mission shows the rainfall distribution for two major storms churning in the Atlantic and Caribbean basins. The visualization shows Hurricane Jose as it continues to slowly move northward off the US East Coast east...
GPM Examines Hurricane Irma
The GPM core observatory satellite had an exceptional view of hurricane Irma's eye when it flew above it on September 5, 2017 at 12:52 PM AST (1652 UTC). This visualization shows a rainfall analysis that was derived from GPM's Microwave Imager (GMI) and Dual-Frequency Precipitation Radar (DPR) data. Irma was approaching the Leeward Islands with maximum sustained winds of about 178 mph (155 kts). This made Irma a dangerous category five hurricane on the Saffir-Simpson hurricane wind scale. Intense rainfall is shown within Irma's nearly circular eye. This 3-D cross-section through Irma's eye was...
Hurricane Irma's Heat Engine Exposed
At 1 PM EDT (1700 UTC) on September 5, 2017, the radar on the Global Precipitation Measuring Mission (GPM) satellite captured this 3D view of the heat engine inside of category-5 Hurricane Irma. Under the central ring of clouds that circles the eye, water that had evaporated from the ocean surface condenses, releases heat, and powers the circling winds of the hurricane. The radar on the GPM satellite is able to estimate how much water is falling as precipitation inside of the hurricane, which serves as a guide to how much energy is being released inside the hurricane's central "heat engine."...

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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