Hurricane double whammy

By Phil Plait | August 30, 2010 4:38 pm

Holy Hurricanes. NASA’s Terra Earth-observing satellite caught this incredible and beautiful image of two major hurricanes in the western Atlantic ocean:

[Click to encategory5ennate.]

The northern one is Danielle, the southern Earl. This image, taken on the morning of August 29 (just a few hours ago as I write this) shows them off the US east coast. The image has the Leeward Islands — north of Venezuela and east of Puerto Rico — outlined on the western side of Earl. It’s not likely that either will have their eyes move over land, but they hardly need to for there to be an impact. Earl is Category 4 as it is now (150 mph sustained winds) but that’s near the eye; the edges will almost certainly sweep over the coast of North Carolina which still means lots of wind and rain. Most likely the coast will be spared a full onslaught, but if you live there, it’s best to be prepared for stormy weather.

Danielle is weaker and likely to wane more as it moves north; the waters are colder, starving it of the heat needed to sustain its shape and coherence. Incredibly, though, it’s 1000 km (600 miles) across. Still, it’s unlikely to have much of an impact on the US.

Chris Mooney at Discover’s The Intersection blog is keeping a close eye on these, as well as on Fiona, which is starting to gain strength in the Atlantic as well. Chris wrote the fascinating book Storm World, which is about hurricanes, so it’s no surprise he’s on top of this. You can also read NASA’s Terra page about this image to learn more.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Miscellaneous, Pretty pictures
MORE ABOUT: hurricanes, Terra

Comments (38)

  1. Phil, awesome.

    Now, on a totally unrelated topic: Bad Universe. Excellent pilot. Wish I could comment directly, but I cannot friend you on Facebook (though you could friend me :-)) and emailing you…well, I read your web page, 100+ a day.
    Anyway, cannot wait for episodes 2 and 3.

  2. Messier Tidy Upper

    Nice picture of nasty storms. :-)

  3. Laura

    I know that hurricanes are incredibly destructive forces of nature, but does it make me a bad person when I confess that my first reaction was:

    “Double hurricanes all the way across the sky!”?

    You know what? I’ll just answer my own question.

    I am a bad person.

  4. Dan McDevitt

    I can no longer find the picture, but one year in the late 1990’s there were 5 active named storms in the Atlantic Basin at the same time. They were lined up across the East Coast, Caribbean Island Chain and across to Africa like some enormous squadron of destruction. It was an awesome sight.

  5. I thought I wrote something here already :^ . I like the dancing partners’ intricate dance.

  6. Chip

    [Shatner voice] They look as if- they’re – going to – merge – somehow! Spock. – Are they – actually – ONE Hurricane – in two parts? [/Shatner voice]

  7. That is truly awe inspiring. This little planet sure has a lot of interesting things happening on its surface that has nothing to do with those (marginally) clever hairless apes. We’re just along for the ride!

  8. Paleoprof

    Chris gets his hurricane info from Jeff Masters’ blog at The Weather Underground. THE place to go for Hurricane info.

  9. freelancer

    Holy Holly Ock a la!

  10. Giant swirly thing alert!

    They’re beautiful, though. Clouds shouldn’t be allowed to be dangerous.

    That’s just wrong.

  11. Autumn

    As a Floridian, these sorts of pictures just fill me with foreboding. And then awe. But then more foreboding. I’ve got a huge live oak looming (yes, dammit, trees can loom) over my house that I can’t afford to have taken down right now.

    Ironically, the movement to “preserve” forest cover in urban areas in north Florida has led to a proliferation of large oaks. They form the postcard-ready “tunnels” over many roads here, and are common in parks and urban centers. The problem is that most trees would never get as large as they are in a more “natural” setting; with human intervention, they grow to sizes that they, and the soil they grow in, can not support, and when the ground gets wet they fall a disconcerting amount of the time.

  12. mfumbesi
  13. @#4:

    Don’t worry, I thought the same thing.

    (So intense!)

  14. Scott B

    Beautiful picture.

  15. Shoeshine Boy
  16. alfaniner

    “Hang on! This is gonna be bad!”
    When the heat wave from the Midwest reaches the East Coast about the same time as these hurricanes, it’s going to be explosive (this weekend).

  17. Graham

    What’s that light band in the water, going nearly all the way up the photo? Starts most prominently at the bottom, SE of Earl.

    Doesn’t look like a Sun reflection.

  18. Darko

    This is a great picture, but what is the white strip running vertically across the image? Is this the Gulf stream?

  19. Did you see this pic of Earl from the space station. He’s (Douglas Wheelock) got several of them, but I find this one gorgeous.

    (PS – If you twitter haters had twitter, you would always be getting these awesome pics tweeted to you by Doug…just saying twitter is only what you make of it and if you follow cool people you get really cool things.)

  20. Brian

    @13 Autumn Says

    Baloney. We have trees on some property in central Florida that are two hundred years old. What I have seen is that the trees on the edges of a stand will take the brunt of the force and damage, leaving those on the interior in better shape.

    Human development carves out roadways and housing developments, which leaves all these large trees exposed to the wind. No wonder they all seem to lose branches and fall over in the cities.

  21. Blondin

    If hurricanes could play charades I would say the answer to this one is “M51”.

  22. Dwight

    I second Graham’s question.

    What’s that North-to-South white band under the water?

    Is that the Giant Northern Atlantic Sea Slug?

  23. Jason

    I am pretty sure the band is Sunlight. This is almost certainly multiple pictures stitched together, not a single image, and since the earth is curved and the satellite is following a curved path the “Spot” that would be the reflection for a single image turns into a streak when you stitch them altogether.

  24. Angela

    Oh great. It’s not like we don’t have enough problems in my state without adding a hurricane. I’m in the mountains, though, so we should be fine here. However, several storms have traversed the state to affect the mountains and foothills. Hurricane Hugo struck in 1989, and was still a category 1 hurricane when it hit Charlotte, NC, more than 200 miles from the coast; my home was another 100 miles away and trees toppled everywhere. I was a happy 8-year old when school was canceled for more than a week due to lack of electricity. In 2004, two storms less than 10 days apart lashed the western part of NC with torrential rains and led to widespread flooding. I was a happy graduate student when classes were canceled due to flooding, but an irritated graduate assistant when I pretty much swam to campus for work only to be told to go home as soon as I squished my way in the front door. Now that I’m a responsible home owner and academic advisor/ instructor, I will not be happy if Hurricane Earl hits our area again.

    Pretty pics, though. Rather misleadingly pretty, like a cute little kitten right before he goes for your eyes. (I wish it was Caturday already!)

  25. Pete


    Tsk, tsk….encategory5ate, or category5ennate, please!


  26. Metallisteve

    This is Hurricane Earl followed by TS Fiona…not Danielle and Earl as reported. At the time this was taken, Danielle was fading in the north Atlantic, well out of frame.

  27. PEIKev

    Not Earl/Fiona, you can see Cape Breton way up in the upper left corner, and Earl isn’t anywhere near that far north yet

  28. blank


  29. Yitz

    Chicken pox is not fatal for children. If you get it at age 18 months or older, you are protected for life. The vaccine only lasts 10 years.


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