Satellite altimetry and the intensification of Hurricane Katrina



Remotely sensed infrared images of Hurricane Katrina taken on 26, 27, and 28 August 2005 (Figure 1, left panels) show the aerial extent of the cloud cover and the central “eye” increasing as the storm that swamped areas of the U.S. Gulf Coast intensified. Computer animations of such image sequences show forecasters the tracks of storms and are a familiar staple of weather news. Less well known is the role that satellite altimetry plays both in forecasting conditions that can intensify a tropical storm and in observing the storm conditions at the sea surface.

Satellite altimeter data indicate that Katrina intensified over areas of anomalously high dynamic topography rather than areas of unusually warm surface waters. Altimeter data from Katrina also for the first time observed the building of a storm surge.