WATCH: Here’s the powerful storm that a Royal Caribbean cruise ship literally blundered into — as seen from space

By Tom Yulsman | February 12, 2016 1:53 am
Royal Caribbean

The development and rapid intensification of a powerful cyclonic storm off the U.S. East Coast on Sunday, Feb. 7, 2016, is seen in this animation of images from the GOES-14 satellite. A Royal Caribbean cruise ship sailed into the maw of the storm despite forecasts long ahead of time that it would form. (Source: Cooperative Institute for Meteorological Satellite Studies.)

There’s a good chance you’ve heard about that Royal Caribbean cruise ship that negligently blundered right into the maw of a powerful, hurricane-strength Atlantic cyclone on Sunday. (If not, keep reading — details are coming.)

Now, click on the image above to watch a spectacularly detailed animation of satellite images showing the development and rapid intensification of the storm off the U.S. East Coast on Sunday, Feb. 7.

The animation, originally posted at the CIMSS Satellite Blog, consists of imagery from the GOES-14 weather satellite. GOES-14 actually is a spare that can be put into a “rapid scan” mode in which the satellite captures an image at the speedy pace of one a minute. This is in contrast to its two siblings, which have a much more leisurely pace of one image every 15 minutes.

With one-minute imagery, scientists and forecasters can do a better job of tracking the development of weather, most especially a rapidly developing storm like the one that Royal Caribbean’s Anthem of the Seas steamed right into.

Despite Royal Caribbean’s Tweeted claim that the 168,666-ton cruise ship  — one of the world’s largest — “encountered an unexpectedly severe storm off Cape Hatteras,” there was absolutely no reason whatsoever for that to have happened.

The following graphic is a forecast for Sunday issued by NOAA’s Ocean Prediction Center at 1 p.m. EST on Friday, Feb. 5th — 48 hours before the mishap. It clearly demonstrates that the storm was predicted far enough in advance for the ship to have avoided danger. I’ve annotated the graphic to draw your attention to two aspects:

Royal Caribbean

The surface forecast for the evening of Sunday, Feb. 7, 2016. (Source: NOAA/OPC)

As the graphic shows, a full two days before the ship got into trouble, the forecast for Sunday was for rapidly-intensifying hurricane-force winds.

“Royal Caribbean’s claim that this was not predicted is bullfeathers,” said Al Roker, weather anchor on NBC’s Today Show.

In a day and age when satellite technology can produce the kind of stunning imagery like that at the top of this post, it’s shocking that something like this could happen. Luckily, thanks to the skill of the crew, no one was seriously injured and the ship returned safely to port.

But what will that happen next time?

Royal Caribbean


And I’m sorry, but I do have to ask this of the executives of Royal Caribbean: What about the graphic above — a model forecast of winds in the region your ship was sailing into — did you not understand?

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Extreme Weather, select, Top Posts, Weather
  • OWilson

    Tropical cyclones are a natural, regular and essential feature of our climate.

    They moderate temperatures, by taking excess heat from the tropics and distribute warmth and precipitation to the “temperate zones” – see Wiki

    Occasionally and rarely they can cause damage to humans and their infrastructure, severely, in the case where people live at or below sea level.

    Folks should keep that in mind when reading usual alarmist articles such as this one, “”A powerful, hurricane-strength Atlantic cyclone”” and the other one posted a couple days ago. “”An “awesome” and likely hurricane force cyclone spinning up in the Pacific””.

    NOAA’s National Hurricane Center has no records of either of these supposed “hurricanes” on their site.

    Why the unholy hype and rush to judgement? :)

    • Emkay

      Headlines! ‘This Just In’ and all that sensationalistic BS..

      • Tom Yulsman

        Mr. Emkay: There is nothing about this story or it’s headline that is bullshit or sensationalistic. So if you don’t like how I handle things here at ImaGeo, please go somewhere else. I want nothing to do with helping you remain sealed in your bubble of sanctimony.

        • Emkay

          My comment was a reply to ‘OWilson’ ! a play on his ‘hype and ‘alarmist comments. Sorry if I re-touched your hype nerve as you strive to do the right thing… move on..

    • Tom Yulsman

      Mr. Wilson: It seems as if you like to criticize just for the sake of criticizing. Does it make you feel superior? Or perhaps you come from another time and space dimension where up is actually down, down is really up, and objective facts actually do not actually exist? How postmodern of you.

      In this case, the storm was undeniably a “hurricane-strength Atlantic cyclone,” as I wrote. It was forecast to be just that — as the graphic I published from the Ocean Prediction Center documents. And it actually developed that way, as the weather records document.

      So perhaps you can explain why you think mentioning an objective fact that is very much directly relevant to the incident that my post was about is somehow “alarmist.” Do you think the readers of Discover, and citizens generally, do not deserve to know all the facts — especially those that raise questions about safety on a major cruise line?

      The role of the press is to provide information citizens need to remain free and self-governing, and also to make wise decisions about myriad aspects of their lives. In this case, people considering a cruise on a Royal Caribbean ship deserve to know that one of their vessels literally did blunder into a very real, meticulously documented — and well forecast — hurricane-strength cyclone. You evidently don’t. What does that say about you? That you prefer to remain ignorant? Or that criticizing other people makes you feel better? Perhaps both?

      Please feel free to continue. As long as you keep to the topic at hand and remain reasonably civil, you can keep on commenting. Just know that reasonable people don’t take you seriously.

      • OWilson

        Your magazine, along with LiveScience is a major resource on Global Warming for our schoolkids.

        Your blog is filed under “Climate Change”, but your unrelenting narrative of one side of the debate is sometimes a little over the top, If I may say so.

        Your recent headlines here are:

        ‘Absurdly’ high Arctic warmth drives sea ice to record low”

        “Warming of globe in 2015 shattered all previous records”

        “Global warming in December blows the previous record right out of the (exceedingly warm) water”

        “One of the most powerful N. Atlantic storms on record builds 55-ft waves and brings winter melting to North Pole”

        I taught school, so please forgive me if I don’t want the children I know to get the impression that the “seas are exceedingly warm”, global temperatures are “absurdly high”., or that the North Pole is actually melting.

        But you say you have all the science on your side, so I’m sure a little dissenting view can’t hurt.

  • Alphan Namli

    Scientists and forecasters can do a better job of tracking the development of weather, most especially a rapidly developing storm like the one that Royal Caribbean’s Anthem of the Seas steamed right into.

  • Mike Richardson

    It looks like Royal Caribbean may have been placing profit ahead of passenger safety, gambling that the storm would veer off course or weaken. This is the kind of thing that better forecasts are supposed to prevent, but a forecast isn’t much use if you choose to ignore it.

  • John C

    If I can spot a storm n my iPhone…



ImaGeo is a visual blog focusing on the intersection of imagery, imagination and Earth. It focuses on spectacular visuals related to the science of our planet, with an emphasis (although not an exclusive one) on the unfolding Anthropocene Epoch.

About Tom Yulsman

Tom Yulsman is Director of the Center for Environmental Journalism and a Professor of Journalism at the University of Colorado, Boulder. He also continues to work as a science and environmental journalist with more than 30 years of experience producing content for major publications. His work has appeared in the New York Times, Washington Post, Audubon, Climate Central, Columbia Journalism Review, Discover, Nieman Reports, and many other publications. He has held a variety of editorial positions over the years, including a stint as editor-in-chief of Earth magazine. Yulsman has written one book: Origins: the Quest for Our Cosmic Roots, published by the Institute of Physics in 2003.


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