Scientists operating the NASA Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission (TRMM) satellite had the foresight to image the interior of Hurricane Isaac with the spacecraft's advanced scientific instruments, just a couple of hours before it made landfall. The data reveal the hot towers powering the storm.
TRMM is capable of revealing the inner structure of storms, because it uses a radar instrument to conduct measurements. Hot towers, some of the most important components of tropical storms, are basically extremely tall complexes of rain clouds. The satellite saw two of them inside Hurricane Isaac.
These clouds are referred to as being hot because they release a lot of latent heat, not because they have high temperatures per se. “The latent heat is an important ingredient in fueling the updrafts that allow the towers to rise to such icy heights,” NASA Goddard researcher scientist Owen Kelly explains.
Researchers now plan to use the TRMM data to gain a deeper understanding of how these structures influence the development of tropical storms, cyclones and hurricanes.