scorecardSpace imagery shows 2 big hurricanes menacing the US East Coast. The International Space Station just flew over both of them.
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Space imagery shows 2 big hurricanes menacing the US East Coast. The International Space Station just flew over both of them.

Morgan McFall-Johnsen,Maiya Focht   

Space imagery shows 2 big hurricanes menacing the US East Coast. The International Space Station just flew over both of them.
LifeScience3 min read

Astronauts on the International Space Station just flew over two huge hurricanes that are troubling the US East Coast.

Hurricane Idalia is expected to strike first, with meteorologists predicting a Wednesday morning landfall. It's on track to churn itself into a major Category 3 hurricane.

When its life-threatening storm surge hits Florida, it could send a 15-foot wall of water and 110 mph winds onto the shores, devastating coastal towns, the National Hurricane Center forecasts.

Meanwhile, Hurricane Franklin is a Category 3 storm on its way toward the middle of the Atlantic. It's caused a tropical storm warning in Bermuda and life-threatening surf and rip currents on the US East Coast, the NHC reported.

Both stand out from space.

Video shows astronauts' view as they flew over the hurricanes

Because the hurricanes are so close together (on planetary scales), the International Space Station flew over them one after the other on Tuesday.

The resulting footage is eerie. Here's Hurricane Idalia as seen from the ISS:

Idalia already passed through Cuba, where it beat down towns still trying to stand back up after 2022's Hurricane Ian. Now it's beginning to flood Florida towns that Ian pummeled.

And here's what astronauts saw of Hurricane Franklin, sped up by 400%:

Satellites spotted both storms from space too

Satellite imagery shows both cyclones churning in the record-warm waters of the Gulf and the Atlantic.

You can see the storms even better in infrared. The satellite that captured this footage is operated by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The double-cyclone whammy comes in the middle of the 2023 Atlantic hurricane season, which NOAA predicted will be "above normal" with up to 11 hurricanes, and two to five of them reaching Category 3 or higher.

NOAA cited "record-warm" Atlantic seas as a major reason for its season forecast. That's because cyclones feed on warm water. Hurricanes can rapidly intensify in warm seas, as Idalia is currently doing in the Gulf of Mexico.

"Hurricanes draw their energy from their oceans. And right now the Gulf of Mexico is extremely warm," Rosimar Rios-Berrios, a hurricane scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research, told Insider.

That's one major reason that hurricanes are becoming more devastating due to climate change — the drastic increase of average global temperatures, caused by humans releasing heat-trapping gases like carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, which we do primarily by burning fossil fuels like coal and oil for energy.

How the climate crisis makes hurricanes worse

Rising global temperatures, and the resulting rise in ocean temperatures, are fueling a trend of stronger hurricanes (aka storms with higher sustained wind speeds).

Cyclones can also bring more rainfall due to climate change, because a warmer atmosphere holds more moisture.

Storm surge — ocean water that a cyclone pushes onto the land — is often the most devastating and deadly part of a hurricane. Those waters can now creep higher and further inland due to sea-level rise, which is caused by the melting of ice sheets at Earth's poles due to rising temperatures, as well as the fact that warm water expands.

"Something that we're very concerned about is that the combination of warm ocean waters fueling bursts from hurricanes on top of rising sea levels, that could mean that in the future we're going to continue to see unfortunately, very impactful hurricanes," Rios-Berrios said.

Climate change may even be causing cyclones' centers to move through space more slowly, meaning they sit over an area for longer, wreaking more destruction.

Astronauts can see a lot of that from their vantage point 250 miles above Earth.

NASA astronaut Megan McArthur previously told Insider from the ISS that she could see tropical storms and even the flooding that follows them.

"Over many years, scientists around the world have been sounding this alarm bell," McArthur said. "This is a warning for the entire global community. It's going to take the entire global community to face this and to work through these challenges."




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