Hurricane Isaac menaces the Gulf coast

By Phil Plait | August 29, 2012 1:03 pm

Hurricane Isaac is hitting the Gulf coast of the US right now, battering the area with 120 kph winds. Just after local midnight on August 28, the Suomi NPP Earth-observing satellite took this eerie and beautiful picture of Isaac when it was still a growing tropical storm:

[Click to encoriolisenate; bigger versions are available on Flickr.]

This picture is a combination of several images taken in different filters, including is in the visible light and infrared, and uses light intensifiers to make faint things viewable [Note: this is actually one image, not a composition of several filtered images. Thanks to Robert Simmon for the correction!]. The waxing gibbous (just past half-full) Moon didn’t set until after 2:00 a.m. local time, so it’s possible the cloud illumination here was coming from that. And of course you can see the city lights, including New Orleans already under the outer bands of the storm.

NASA’s Earth Observatory just posted another, more recent picture in visible light from the Terra satellite, too.

Pictures of hurricanes from space are amazing. As always, there’s a fascinating dichotomy to pictures like this, a simultaneous ethereal beauty and repellent violence. Hurricanes are magnificent, and terrifying.

I hope everyone in the area stays safe. I’ve been through a few hurricanes, and they’re not fun at all.

Image credit: NASA Earth Observatory

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Pretty pictures

Comments (9)

  1. jgarfink

    You know, if you ignore the whole devastating-to-people-and-places parts of hurricanes, they’re really kinda cool.

  2. That is an incredible photo.

    “Hurricanes are magnificent, and terrifying.”

    I agree. Living in Florida, we’re on a roller coaster of emotions as tropical depressions form. We anxiously wait to see how strong the storm is going to get and where it’s going to land. It can be exhausting. Hurricane season 2004 comes to mind with Hurricanes Charley, Frances, & Jeanne coming in one right after another. I think we were all shell-shocked for a long time afterwards.

    Sending safe wishes to everyone in Isaac’s path.

  3. VinceRN

    I love big weather like this, at least in the abstract. What it does on the ground sometimes, not so much.

  4. carbonUnit

    C’mon, Issac, quit drenching the gulf coast and get your butt up here into the midwest where we desperately need rain! (Just don’t Ike us…)

  5. Rift

    Good grief, that really puts a perspective on how flippin’ huge these things are that you just don’t get on weather maps.

    And what carbonUnit said… :)

  6. Lars Bruchmann

    I love how I can identify cities and even Interstate Highways. Even Tulsa is visible NE of OKC, which is north of the DFW area. Amazing.

  7. FMCH

    Hey, I can see my house! Well, sorta anyway. It’s in one of those blobs of light on Floridas east coast.

  8. Butor

    I bet it menaces with spikes of cloud, too.

  9. DLC

    “You know, if you ignore the whole devastating-to-people-and-places parts of hurricanes, they’re really kinda cool.”

    I agree with this! Have you ever walked around in the middle of a Hurricane’s eye? Yes I know it sounds foolish, but it’s absolutely calm, and there is NO wind. I had a very surreal experience doing this when a category 4 hurricane was passing over an island I was living on when I was younger. The sheer amount of silence is scary.


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