Resource Spotlight

Tropical Cyclones

Satellite image of Hurricane Maria off the Florida Coast
Suomi NPP/VIIRS true color image of Hurricane Maria acquired on September 24, 2017, as the storm moved off the U.S. East Coast. Credit: NASA Worldview.

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).

NASA's Earth Science Data Systems (ESDS) Program provides unrestricted access to data that can be used to monitor tropical cyclones as they develop and move across the ocean, such as true color imagery acquired by the Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS) aboard the joint NASA/NOAA Suomi National Polar-orbiting Partnership (Suomi NPP) satellite that can be interactively explored using the NASA Worldview Earth science data visualization tool. Data providing measurements of rainfall, cloud top temperature, and other variables for assessing storm strength and movement can be discovered and downloaded using NASA Earthdata Search.

Earth observation data are vital in planning for and dealing with the many hazards from tropical cyclones, such as storm surge, flooding, extreme winds, tornadoes, and lightning. Over the past 50 years, tropical cyclones have killed more than 779,000 people and caused more than $1.4 trillion in economic losses worldwide, according to the WMO.

Metrics related to the 2021 Atlantic Hurricane Season
While the 2021 Atlantic hurricane season was very active, activity in the Central Pacific basin managed by NOAA was below the seasonal average. Click on image for larger view. Credit: NOAA.

The 2021 Atlantic hurricane season (June 1 to November 30, 2021) was the third most active on record in terms of the number of named storms, according to NOAA, and was the first year that two consecutive Atlantic hurricane seasons exhausted the list of 21 tropical cyclone names. Activity in the Central Pacific basin, which is managed by NOAA, was below average, with three tropical cyclones (the seasonal average in this basin is four to five).

According to the annual Atlantic hurricane season forecast produced by Colorado State University (CSU) and updated on June 2, 2022, the 2022 season is forecast to be well above-average, with 20 named storms (the 1991-2020 average is 14), 10 hurricanes (the average is 7), and 5 major hurricanes (the average is 3). Updated forecasts will be issued on July 7 and August 4, with a verification report issued on November 30.

Terminology for these massive storms differs depending on the ocean basin in which they form:

  • Hurricane: Storms forming in the Caribbean Sea, the Gulf of Mexico, the North Atlantic Ocean, and the eastern and central North Pacific Ocean.
  • Typhoon: Storms forming in the western North Pacific Ocean.
  • Cyclone: Storms forming in the Bay of Bengal and Arabian Sea.
  • Severe Tropical Cyclone: Storms forming in the western South Pacific and southeast Indian Ocean.
  • Tropical Cyclone: Storms forming in the southwest Indian Ocean.

Cyclones Data Pathfinder

The Cyclones Data Pathfinder directs users to NASA datasets that can aid in pre-storm, near real-time, and post-storm assessment. The Data Pathfinder also provides access to tools and applications for discovering, visualizing, and working with NASA Earth Observing System Data and Information System (EOSDIS) data related to tropical cyclones.

Worldview and the Worldview Image of the Week Archive

The NASA Worldview imagery mapping and data visualization application gives users the ability to browse and view natural events, including tropical cyclones, as they are seen by sensors aboard NASA’s constellation of Earth observation satellites. Natural event metadata used in Worldview are curated and provided by NASA's Earth Observatory Natural Event Tracker (EONET) API. In addition, the Worldview Image of the Week collection showcases a wide range of Worldview imagery and data. Worldview uses NASA's Global Imagery Browse Services (GIBS) to rapidly retrieve imagery for interactive browsing.

The Suomi NPP/VIIRS Worldview image below is a true color image of Hurricane Maria acquired on September 24, 2017. Hurricane Maria was a Category 5 hurricane, the strongest storm designation on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale, and had winds as high as 174 mph. The storm devastated the northeastern Caribbean, particularly the islands of Dominica, Saint Croix, and Puerto Rico. Click anywhere on the image to interactively explore it; for full image functionality, click the icon in the upper right corner of the image.

Articles and Data User Profiles

Three panel image showing headshots of three Data User Profile subjects.
Left to right: Dr. Anna Wilson, Dr. Margaret "Maggie" Glasscoe, and Dave Jones use NASA Earth science data in their work and research related to tropical cyclones. Read more in their Data User Profiles. Credit: NASA EOSDIS.

Along with data available through Earthdata Search and NASA's Distributed Active Archive Centers (DAACs), dozens of Earthdata articles provide a wealth of background about tropical storms, missions collecting data related to these storms, and how these data are being applied. Data User Profiles show how individual scientists and researchers are using EOSDIS data to explore the science behind these storms.

Recent Articles

New Black Marble Nighttime Blue/Yellow Composite Product Makes Detecting Power Outages Easier
The NASA Black Marble Blue/Yellow Composite dataset from NASA’s Land-Atmosphere near real-time Capability for EOS (LANCE) enhances the ability to determine whether changes in nighttime lights are the result of power outages.

Data In Action—The 2020 Atlantic Hurricane Season: A Record Breaker
The 2020 Atlantic hurricane season was one of the most active and most expensive (in terms of property damage) on record. It produced 30 named storms and was the fifth consecutive hurricane season since 2016 to have an above-average number of storms. Of those 30 storms, 13 became hurricanes, 6 of which intensified into major hurricanes. In addition, 12 of the 13 hurricanes made landfall in the contiguous U.S., breaking a record set in 1916.

Data In Action—The NASA CYGNSS Mission: Tracking Winds from Space
The Cyclone Global Navigation Satellite System (CYGNSS) is a constellation of eight micro-satellites that launched on December 15, 2016. This NASA Earth System Science Pathfinder Mission measures surface wind speeds in the inner core of tropical cyclones.

Improving Hurricane Forecasts with Near Real-Time Imagery and Data
Scientists at NASA's Short-Term Prediction Research and Transition Center (SPoRT) use near real-time data to help the operational weather community with hurricane forecasting.

Other Relevant Articles

VIIRS Instruments Become More Essential as Terra and Aqua Drift from their Traditional Orbits
Recent maneuvers by NASA in February 2020 and March 2021 signal the eventual retirement of the agency's Terra and Aqua satellites, paving the way for the VIIRS instruments of the Joint Polar Satellite System to take the lead in providing critical Earth system observations.

Hurricane Ida 2021
Hurricane Ida struck southeast Louisiana as a powerful Category 4 storm on Sunday, August 29, 2021—the 16th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina’s landfall in 2005. This article by the NASA Earth Applied Sciences Disasters program area describes the agency's efforts to monitor this storm and its impacts.

Super Typhoon Rai
Typhoon Rai crossed the southern and central Philippines on December 16, 2021, having intensified to Category 5 strength just hours before landfall. Locally named Odette, the storm was one of the strongest recorded on Earth in 2021 and the sixth to reach Category 5. This Earth Observatory Image of the Day provides additional information about this immense storm.

Tropical Storm Elsa 2021
Tropical Storm Elsa was the third tropical storm system of the 2021 Atlantic hurricane season to make landfall in the continental U.S. In its role to aid risk reduction, response, and recovery for hurricanes and other disasters, the NASA Earth Applied Sciences Disasters program area activated efforts to monitor the storm.

Using NASA Earth Observations to Investigate Land Cover, Shoreline Change, and Sediment Transport in St. Joseph Peninsula after Hurricane Michael
T.H. Stone Memorial St. Joseph Peninsula State Park experienced significant damage from Hurricane Michael in 2018, the first Category 5 hurricane to hit the contiguous U.S. since 1992. NASA DEVELOP partnered with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) from September to November 2021 to determine the overall impact of Hurricane Michael on land cover and shoreline change by using NASA Earth observations.

From TRMM to GPM: The Evolution of NASA Precipitation Data
NASA’s global precipitation data and data processing systems have come a long way from the launch of the Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission (TRMM) in 1997 to the ongoing Global Precipitation Mission (GPM).

The Researcher, the Reef, and a Storm
Can marine reserves protect Earth’s underwater nurseries?

Time and Tide
Scientists pit nature against nature to protect New Yorkers from storms.

Relevant Data User Profiles

  • Dr. Rachel Albrecht pinpoints global lightning hotspots.
  • Dr. Emily Berndt improves short-term forecasts of high-impact weather.
  • Dr. Maggie Glascoe assess risks and responses to natural hazards on a global scale.
  • Dave Jones enables collaborative use of Earth science data in real-time across platforms by emergency responders and managers.
  • Dr. Pierre Kirstetter improves our understanding of precipitation and flooding.
  • Dr. Brian Mapes studies large-scale weather and climate processes.
  • Dr. Steven D. Miller uses nighttime lights data to evaluate Earth's nocturnal environment.
  • Dr. Nadia Smith builds and improves retrieval systems that provide important information to climate scientists and meteorologists around the globe.
  • Dr. Philip Thompson explores how and when global average sea level will affect vulnerable communities.
  • Dr. Anna Wilson develops accurate representations of atmospheric rivers to increase forecast accuracy and improve weather model outputs.

Explore more Data User Profiles


NASA Earthdata Webinars span the Earth science disciplines and are designed to help users learn about NASA Earth science data, services, and tools and show users how to work with these resources.

Data Recipes and Tutorials

Data recipes are step-by-step instructions for using and working with Earth science data, information, tools, and services. Tutorials cover many different data products across the Earth science disciplines and different data discovery and data access tools, including programming languages and related software.

Additional Resources

Screenshot of NASA Disasters page showing Hurricane Eta.
This interactive StoryMap from the NASA Disasters Mapping Portal shows data products and visualizations used to support response and recovery for Hurricanes Eta and Iota in 2020. Credit: NASA.

The Disasters program area of NASA’s Earth Science Applied Sciences Program uses Earth-observing data and applied research to improve the prediction of, preparation for, response to, and recovery from hurricanes and other disasters around the world. One resource they provide is the NASA Disasters Mapping Portal, an online interface for viewing, analyzing, and downloading the latest near real-time and disaster-specific products in Geographic Information Systems (GIS) format.

The Mapping Portal provides many resources for hurricane support, including information on past disasters to which NASA responded, near real-time data products, interactive StoryMaps, and more. The Disasters program has also developed a catalog of imagery and data products used in previous hurricane seasons by the disasters management community. Although not an exhaustive list, this information serves as a starting point for the use of available NASA science products.

NASA's Hurricanes and Tropical Storms landing page provides Hurricane Archives dating back to 2005 along with other NASA storm-related data. NASA's Hurricanes and Tropical Cyclones Image Gallery provides a wealth of storm images acquired from the International Space Station and other sources, while NASA's Hurricanes and Tropical Cyclones Video Gallery provides links to numerous videos about tropical storms and how NASA Earth science data are used to study, analyze, and track them. In addition, a new StoryMap by NASA's ArcGIS DAAC collaboration shows how tropical storms can be observed using NASA geographic information system (GIS) data.

The Global Precipitation Measurement (GPM) Extreme Weather News page provides an archive of hurricane and tropical storm analysis dating back to 2002, using precipitation data and imagery collected by the joint NASA/Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) GPM and Tropical Rainfall Measuring Missions (TRMM). GPM also provides a variety of precipitation visualization tools and data products that can be used to study tropical cyclones and support storm response.

Finally, NASA's Scientific Visualization Studio has numerous products related to hurricanestropical storms, and cyclones; NASA's Earth Observatory also has many stories related to hurricanestropical storms, and cyclones.

Last Updated
Jun 1, 2021