Hurricane Ian Crosses Florida and Heads Toward South Carolina

Hurricane Ian’s rainfall accumulation up to 5AM EDT on September 30, 2022

As Hurricane Ian impacts Florida and South Carolina, NASA IMERG algorithm provides estimates of Ian’s rainfall over both land and sea. CEOSR team members assist NASA with visualizing this data and with monitoring the performance of the IMERG algorithm. Such evaluations assist with improving the algorithm, a new version of which is due to be released later this year or in early 2023.

The image above shows the rainfall accumulation from Hurricane Ian from when it formed in the Caribbean on September 25, 2022, through when it approached the coast of South Carolina on September 30. On September 28 and 29, Ian cross Florida going west to east from Ft. Myers to Cape Canaveral.

The image also show the locations of tornadoes and river flooding in Florida that were associated with the passage of Hurricane Ian. There were preliminary reports of tornadoes over southern Florida the night before Ian’s Florida landfall, which are marked by red triangles in the image. The tornadoes were associated with a large, persistent band of heavy rain that maintained a position
to the east of Hurricane Ian’s inner core during the days prior to the Florida landfall.

On September 29, the day Ian left Florida, numerous USGS stream gauges reach major-flood stage, meaning significant economic damage was expected. These stream gauges are marked with purple
bows in the image. Florida’s inland flooding was caused by Ian’s heavy rainfall. Along the coast, storm surge contributed to the height of the flood water.

Lightning before Landfall

Prior to making landfall in Florida on September 28, Hurricane Ian intensified over the Gulf of Mexico. During this time, its inner core dropped a considerable amount of rain and also exhibited many lightning flashes. This period is show in the image below.

Hurricane Ian’s rainfall accumulation during its approach to landfall in Florida

In the Gulf of Mexico, Ian’s eyewall was seen to contain particularly vigorous storm cells. Lightning was observed in Ian’s eyewall, whereas lightning had been near absent from Ian’s eyewall prior Ian passing over Cuba. Lightning strokes from the World Wide Lightning Location Network (WWLLN) are displayed in the image as small yellow dots. Over the Gulf of Mexico, the period of active eyewall lightning can be identified using the white dots in the image that indicate six-hourly locations of Hurricane Ian’s low-pressure center, as estimated by the National Hurricane Center.

Once in the Gulf of Mexico, Hurricane Ian intensified and underwent an eyewall replacement cycle early on September 28, according to the National Hurricane Center. During this period, NASA’s IMERG algorithm estimates that the rainfall accumulation under Ian’s inner core reached 12 to 20 inches. This accumulation is much higher than the 5-to-12-inch accumulation that Ian’s inner core had produced the day before, when the storm was located south of Cuba.

On September 27, stretching for several hundred miles to the east of Hurricane Ian’s inner core was a band of heavy rain storms and thunderstorms. These storms are seen in the IMERG rainfall accumulation, covering the southern tip of Florida during this period. During the night of September 27 and morning of September 28, these storms spawned a number of tornadoes according to preliminary reports from NOAA. These tornadoes are displayed as red dots in the image.

Credits: WWLLN data from the University of Washington with support from Jeremy Thomas and Natalia Solorzano at DigiPen Insitute of Technology and NorthWest Research Associates. Visualization Owen Kelley (CEOSR/NASA).


Hurricane Fiona from Caribbean to Canada

Hurricane Fiona and Its Landfall in Canada
Hurricane Fiona and Its Rainfall in Canada

Rainfall In Nova Scotia, Canada

CEOSR team members tracked Hurricane Fiona as it approached Canada in September, 2022. One of the tools they used was NASA’s IMERG algorithm, which provides estimates of global rainfall rates every 30 minutes with 0.1 degree latitude-longitude resolution. IMERG estimates of Hurricane Fiona’s rain accumulations in Nova Scotia were similar but somewhat lower than rain-gauge accumulations for the event. IMERG’s rainfall estimates are only approximate because they rely on morphing satellite microwave observations and on more frequent but less direct estimates of rainfall based on satellite infrared observations. None the less, over the open ocean, IMERG’s precipitation estimates are among the best available because the ocean is none instrumented with rain gauges or ground radars.

At approximately 4 AM local time (Atlantic Daylight Time) on Saturday, Sept. 24, Hurricane Fiona made landfall in Canada with a surface pressure of only 931 hPa at its center according to the National Hurricane Center (NHC). By 6 AM that morning, the NASA IMERG algorithm estimated that Hurricane Fiona had dropped in excess of 6 inches of rainfall off the coast of Nova Scotia. Rain was still accumulating over Atlantic Canada at that time. The image below shows these IMERG rainfall estimates and the NHC estimate of the distance that tropical-storm strength winds (39 mph, 34 knots) extend from the hurricane’s center.

Fiona’s 3-day rainfall accumulations in Canada were generally in the 2-to-8-inch range, according to rain-gauge data provided by the Canadian government: historical data. Selected gauges are shown in the image using circles that are color-coded with the same color table as the IMERG data. The IMERG-estimated 3-day accumulation over Nova Scotia is, for the most part, in the same 2-to-8-inch range as the rain-gauge data.

On September 23, which was one day before the Canadian landfall, IMERG estimated higher rainfall totals of over 12 inches when Hurricane Fiona passed near Bermuda. The storm was moving forward more slowly at that time, which increased rainfall totals. Rainfall totals were even higher when Hurricane Fiona passed through the Caribbean, as described in the section below.

September 23, a north-south-oriented cold front moved east off the shore of New England and the US Mid-Atlantic region. Rain and thunderstorms associated with that cold front are seen in the IMERG rainfall image, specifically along the coast of Maine and Massachusetts. The blue contour indicates 2-to-4-inch accumulation from the cold front along the Maine coast.

Rainfall in the Caribbean

Hurricane Fiona (2022) in the Caribbean Sea

Between Sept. 16 and 19, 2022, Hurricane Fiona struck Guadeloupe, Puerto Rico, and the Dominican Republic. NASA estimated precipitation in the region in near real-time using data from an international constellation of satellites processed by the IMERG algorithm.

IMERG estimated that Fiona dropped 12 to 18 inches of rainfall over Guadeloupe and over the ocean just south of Puerto Rico. Media sources and the National Weather Service reported that heavy rainfall accumulation extended somewhat further north, exceeding 20 inches over part of southeastern and central Puerto Rico.  Some locations with particularly high accumulation from the storm are indicated with white dots in the image.

IMERG’s strength is its global reach, including regions of land and ocean where ground-based weather radar data is unavailable. Where ground radar or rain gauges are present, they may do better at capturing small, intense rain cells and the local effects of mountainous terrain. These strengths and limitations are illustrated by IMERG’s ability to depict Fiona’s full swath of rain across the Atlantic and its underestimation in Puerto Rico.

The National Hurricane Center reported that tropical-storm strength winds extended out from the center of the storm at the distances indicated in the three wind figures shown in the image.  At the first two times shown (September 15 and 17), Fiona was a tropical storm with maximum sustained surface winds 39-73 mph. By September 19, Fiona had strengthened to a category-2 hurricane (96-110 mph winds). 

Credits: Visualization by Owen Kelley (CEOSR/NASA).