Tropical Cyclones Data Pathfinder

NASA provides datasets, tools, and near real-time data for use in understanding the formation, movement, and impacts of tropical cyclonic storms.
Hurricane Isabel, which was once a powerful Category 5 hurricane in the central Atlantic with winds estimated at 160 mph, finally came ashore on September 18, 2003, as a much weaker Category 2 storm. Credit: NASA.

Tropical cyclones are one of the biggest threats to life and property. As defined by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), a tropical cyclone is a rotating storm originating over a tropical ocean basin that has a low pressure center (the eye). The diameter of a tropical cyclone is typically 124 to 311 miles (200 to 500 km), but can be as large as 621 miles (1,000 km). These massive storms bring sustained high wind and heavy rainfall, and can devastate coastal communities with storm surges and both coastal and inland areas with flooding and wind damage.

The U.S. National Hurricane Center, which is part of NOAA, provides up-to-date information on storm tracking and intensity within the Atlantic and East Pacific Ocean basins; the U.S. Naval Oceanography Portal provides information on storm tracking within the West Pacific and Indian Ocean basins through its Joint Typhoon Warning Center. Note that hurricanes, cyclones, and typhoons are all cyclonic storms with wind speeds over 64 knots; the terminology is dependent on the ocean basin in which the storm forms.

NASA provides information that can help in pre-storm emergency preparedness as well as post-storm damage assessment and response. In addition to the datasets below, NASA has projects and initiatives that also may have cyclone-related data or tools.

If you have specific questions about these data or need help working with a data tool, please visit the Earthdata Forum. The Forum is where you can interact with other users and NASA subject matter experts on a variety of Earth science research and applications topics.

Find the Data

NASA provides information that can help in pre-storm emergency preparedness.
NASA near real-time datasets are available as rapidly as three hours after a satellite observation, and are excellent resources for monitoring storm progression and impacts.
Numerous NASA datasets are available that can be used in damage assessment and response following a storm.
Tools for Data Access and Visualization

Earthdata Search | Panoply | Giovanni | Worldview | AppEEARS | Soil Moisture Visualizer | MODIS/VIIRS Subsetting Tools Suite | Spatial Data Access Tool (SDAT)| Sentinel Toolbox

Earthdata Search

Earthdata Search is a tool for data discovery of Earth Observation data collections from NASA’s Earth Observing System Data and Information System (EOSDIS), as well as U.S and international agencies across the Earth science disciplines. Users (including those without specific knowledge of the data) can search for and read about data collections, search for data files by date and spatial area, preview browse images, and download or submit requests for data files, with customization for select data collections.


In the project area, for some datasets, you can customize your granule. You can reformat the data and output as HDF, NetCDF, ASCII, KML, or GeoTIFF format. You can also choose from a variety of projection options. Lastly, you can subset the data, obtaining only the bands that are needed.



Files in HDF and NetCDF format can be viewed in Panoply, a cross-platform application that plots geo-referenced and other arrays. Panoply offers additional functionality, such as slicing and plotting arrays, combining arrays, and exporting plots and animations.


Giovanni is an online environment for the display and analysis of geophysical parameters. There are many options for analysis. The following are the more popular ones.

  • Time-averaged maps are a simple way to observe the variability of data values over a region of interest.
  • Map animations are a means to observe spatial patterns and detect unusual events over time.
  • Area-averaged time series are used to display the value of a data variable that has been averaged from all the data values acquired for a selected region for each time step.
  • Histogram plots are used to display the distribution of values of a data variable in a selected region and time interval.

For more detailed tutorials:

  • Giovanni How-To’s on GES DISC's YouTube channel.
  • Data recipe for downloading a Giovanni map in NetCDF format, and converting its data to quantifiable map data in the form of latitude-longitude-data value ASCII text.


NASA’s EOSDIS Worldview visualization application provides the capability to interactively browse over 1000 global, full-resolution satellite imagery layers and then download the underlying data. Many of the available imagery layers are updated within three hours of observation, essentially showing the entire Earth as it looks “right now.” This supports time-critical application areas such as wildfire management, air quality measurements, and flood monitoring. Imagery in Worldview is provided by NASA’s Global Imagery Browse Services (GIBS). Worldview now includes nine geostationary imagery layers from GOES-East, GOES-West and Himawari-8 available at ten minute increments for the last 30 days. These layers include Red Visible, which can be used for analyzing daytime clouds, fog, insolation, and winds; Clean Infrared, which provides cloud top temperature and information about precipitation; and Air Mass RGB, which enables the visualization of the differentiation between air mass types (e.g., dry air, moist air, etc.). These full disk hemispheric views allow for almost real-time viewing of changes occurring around most of the world.



AppEEARS, from LP DAAC, offers a simple and efficient way to access and transform geospatial data from a variety of federal data archives. AppEEARS enables users to subset geospatial datasets using spatial, temporal, and band/layer parameters. Two types of sample requests are available: point samples for geographic coordinates and area samples for spatial areas via vector polygons.

Performing Area Extractions

After choosing to request an area extraction, you will be taken to the Extract Area Sample page where you will specify a series of parameters that are used to extract data for your area(s) of interest.

Spatial Subsetting

Define your region of interest in one of these three ways:

  • Upload a vector polygon file in shapefile format (you can upload a single file with multiple features or multipart single features). Files in .shp, .shx, .dbf, or .prj format must be zipped into a file folder to upload.
  • Upload a vector polygon file in GeoJSON format (can upload a single file with multiple features or multipart single features).
  • Draw a polygon on the map by clicking on the Bounding box or Polygon icons (single feature only).

Select the date range for your time period of interest.

Specify the range of dates for which you wish to extract data by entering a start and end date (MM-DD-YYYY) or by clicking on the Calendar icon and selecting a start and end date in the calendar.

Adding Data Layers

Enter the product short name (e.g., MOD09A1, ECO3ETPTJPL), keywords from the product long name, a spatial resolution, a temporal extent, or a temporal resolution into the search bar. A list of available products matching your query will be generated. Select the layer(s) of interest to add to the Selected layers list. Layers from multiple products can be added to a single request. Be sure to read the list of available products available through AppEEARS.

Selecting Output Options

Two output file formats are available:

  • GeoTIFF
  • NetCDF4

If GeoTIFF is selected, one GeoTIFF will be created for each feature in the input vector polygon file for each layer by observation. If NetCDF4 is selected, outputs will be grouped into files in .nc format by product and by feature.


Interacting with Results

Once your request is completed, from the Explore Requests page, click the View icon in order to view and interact with your results. This will take you to the View Area Sample page.

The Layer Stats plot provides time series boxplots for all of the sample data for a given feature, data layer, and observation. Each input feature is renamed with a unique AppEEARS ID (AID). If your feature contains attribute table information, you can view the feature attribute table data by clicking on the Information icon to the right of the Feature dropdown. To view statistics from different features or layers, select a different AID from the Feature dropdown and/or a different layer of interest from the Layer dropdown.


Be sure to check out the AppEEARS documentation to learn more about downloading the output files in GeoTIFF or NetCDF4 format.

Soil Moisture Visualizer

ORNL DAAC has developed a Soil Moisture Visualizer tool (read about it at Soil Moisture Data Sets Become Fertile Ground for Applications) that integrates a variety of different soil moisture datasets over North America. The visualization tool incorporates in-situ, airborne, and remote sensing data into one easy-to-use platform. This integration helps to validate and calibrate the data, and provides spatial and temporal data continuity. It also facilitates exploratory analysis and data discovery for different groups of users. The Soil Moisture Visualizer offers the capability to geographically subset and download time series data in .csv format. For more information on the available datasets and use of the visualizer, view the Soil Moisture Visualizer Guide.

To use the visualizer, select a dataset of interest under Data. Depending on the dataset chosen, the visualizer provides the included latitude/longitude or an actual site location name and relative time frames of data collection. Upon selection of the parameter, the tool displays a time series with available datasets. All measurements are volumetric soil moisture. Surface soil moisture is the daily average of measurements at 0-5 cm depth, and root zone soil moisture (RZSM) is the daily average of measurements at 0-100 cm depth. Lastly it provides data sources for download.


MODIS/VIIRS Subsetting Tools Suite

ORNL DAAC also has several MODIS and VIIRS Subset Tools for subsetting data.

  • With the Global Subset Tool, you can request a subset for any location on earth, provided as GeoTIFF and in text format, including interactive time-series plots and more. Users specify a site by entering the site's geographic coordinates and the area surrounding that site, from one pixel up to 201 x 201 km. From the available datasets, you can specify a date and then select from MODIS Sinusoidal Projection or Geographic Lat/Long. You will need to register for an Earthdata Login to access the data.
  • With the Fixed Subsets Tool, you can download pre-processed subsets for 3000+ field and flux tower sites for validation of models and remote sensing products. The goal of the Fixed Sites Subsets Tool is to prepare summaries of selected data products for the community to characterize field sites. It includes sites from networks such as National Ecological Observatory Network, Forest Global Earth Observatory, Phenology Camera network, and Long Term Ecological Research that are of relevance to the biodiversity community.
  • With the Web Service, you can retrieve subset data (in real-time) for any location(s), time period, and area programmatically using a REST web service. Web service client and libraries are available in multiple programming languages, allowing integration of subsets into users' workflow.

Spatial Data Access Tool (SDAT)

ORNL DAAC’s SDAT is an Open Geospatial Consortium standards-based web application to visualize and download spatial data in various user-selected spatial/temporal extents, file formats, and projections. Several data sets including land cover, biophysical properties, elevation, and selected ORNL DAAC archived data are available through SDAT. KMZ files are also provided for data visualization in Google Earth.

Within SDAT, select a dataset of interest. Upon selection, the map service will open displaying the various measurements, with the associated granule, and a visualization of the selected granule.


You can then select your spatial extent, projection, and output format for downloading.


Sentinel Toolbox

Before choosing data, it’s important to determine which band meets your needs, as radar signals penetrate deeper as the sensor wavelength increases. This difference in penetration is due to the dielectric properties of a given medium, which dictate how much of the incoming radiation scatters at the surface, how much signal penetrates into the medium, and how much of the energy gets lost to the medium through absorption.


Note that for biomass estimation, L-band and P-band sensors are preferred over higher frequencies and smaller wavelengths for two reasons: 1) at these bands, the radar waves or energy can penetrate the tree canopy and scatter from larger woody components of the forest, and 2) the scattering from larger tree components, unlike leaves, are more stable temporally and remain highly coherent over the acquisition period in the case of repeated measurements for change detection or interferometric applications (adapted from the SAR Handbook, 2019).

The C-band can be used for low-vegetation biomass such as grasslands, shrublands, sparse woodlands, young secondary regeneration, and low-density wetlands.

Another important parameter to take into consideration when choosing a dataset is the polarization, or the direction in which the signal is transmitted and/or received: horizontally or vertically. Dual polarization, for example, refers to two different signal directions, horizontal/vertical and vertical/horizontal (HV and VH). Knowing the polarization from which a SAR image was acquired is important, as signals at different polarizations interact differently with objects on the ground, affecting the recorded radar brightness in a specific polarization channel.


SAR data are complex, requiring a certain level of processing skill.

The European Space Agency's (ESA) Sentinel-1 Mission consists of two satellites, Sentinel-1A and Sentinel-1B, with SAR instruments operating at a C-Band frequency. They orbit 180° apart, together imaging the entire Earth every six days. SAR is an active sensor which can penetrate cloud cover and vegetation canopy and can observe at night; therefore it is ideal for flood inundation mapping. It also provides information useful in detecting the movement of Earth material after an earthquake, volcanic eruption, or landslide. SAR data are very complex to process, however, ESA has developed a Sentinel-1 Toolbox to aid with processing and analyzing Sentinel-1 data.

For more information on active sensors, see What is Remote Sensing?

Flood Inundation Mapping

Once you have downloaded the needed SAR data product, it must be calibrated to account for distortion in the data. The objective in performing calibration is to create an image where the value of each pixel is directly related to the backscatter of the surface. So calibration takes into account radiometric distortion, signal loss as the wave propagates, saturation, and speckle. This process is critical for analyzing images quantitatively; it is also important for comparing images from different sensors, modalities, processors, and different acquisition dates.


Important note: DO NOT unzip the downloaded SAR file . Calibration is done by following these steps:

  1. Radiometric calibration is performed by selecting Radar/Radiometric/Calibration (leave parameters as default).
  2. Geometric correction is done next to fix the main geometric distortions, due to Slant Range, Layover, Shadow, and Foreshortening. Terrain correction can be performed by selecting Radar/Geometric/Terrain Correction/ Range-Doppler Terrain Correction. This requires a digital elevation model (within the processing parameters, SRTM is the default selection). You can also specify a map projection in the processing parameters.

Another characteristic of SAR images that must be accounted for is speckle. Speckle is the grey level variation that occurs between adjacent resolution cells, creating a grainy texture. Within the Toolbox, speckle can be removed by selecting “Radar/Speckle Filtering/Single Product Speckle Filter,” and then choosing a type of filter; “Lee” is one of the most common.


For further information on SAR flood inundation mapping, see ASF DAAC's data recipes for those related to flood inundation.

Return to the Disaster Data Pathfinder

Last Updated