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Weathering the Storm with our Global Precipitation Measurement Mission

Weathering the Storm with our Global Precipitation Measurement Mission

How much rain falls in a hurricane? How much snow falls in a nor’easter? What even is a nor’easter? These are the sorts of questions answered by our Global Precipitation Measurement Mission, or GPM.

GPM measures precipitation: Rain, snow, sleet, freezing rain, hail, ice pellets. It tells meteorologists the volume, intensity and location of the precipitation that falls in weather systems, helping them improve their forecasting, gather information about extreme weather and better understand Earth’s energy and water cycles.

And putting all that together, one of GPM’s specialties is measuring storms.

GPM is marking its fifth birthday this year, and to celebrate, we’re looking back on some severe storms that the mission measured in its first five years.

1. The Nor’easter of 2018


A nor’easter is a swirling storm with strong northeasterly winds and often lots of snow. In January 2018, the mission’s main satellite, the Core Observatory, flew over the East Coast in time to capture the development of a nor’easter. The storm dumped 18 inches of snow in parts of New England and unleashed winds up to 80 miles per hour!

2. Hurricane Harvey 


Hurricane Harvey came to a virtual halt over eastern Texas in August 2017, producing the largest rain event in U.S. history. Harvey dropped up to 5 feet of rain, causing $125 billion in damage. The Core Observatory passed over the storm several times, using its radar and microwave instruments to capture the devastating deluge.

3. Typhoon Vongfong

In October 2014, GPM flew over one of its very first Category 5 typhoons – tropical storms with wind speeds faster than 157 miles per hour. The storm was Typhoon Vongfong, which caused $48 million in damage in Japan, the Philippines and Taiwan. We were able to see both the pattern and the intensity of Vongfong’s rain, which let meteorologists know the storm’s structure and how it might behave.

4. Near Real-Time Global Precipitation Calculations

The Core Observatory isn’t GPM’s only satellite! A dozen other satellites from different countries and government agencies come together to share their microwave measurements with the Core Observatory. Together, they are called the GPM Constellation, and they create one of its most impressive products, IMERG.

IMERG stands for “Integrated Multi-satellitE Retrievals for GPM,” and it uses the info from all the satellites in the Constellation to calculate global precipitation in near real time. In other words, we can see where it’s raining anywhere in the world, practically live.

5. Hurricane Ophelia

Hurricane Ophelia hit Ireland and the United Kingdom in October 2017, pounding them with winds up to 115 miles per hour, reddening the skies with dust from the Sahara Desert and causing more than $79 million in damages. Several satellites from the Constellation passed over Ophelia, watching this mid-latitude weather system develop into a Category 3 hurricane – the easternmost Category 3 storm in the satellite era (since 1970).

From the softest snow to the fiercest hurricanes, GPM is keeping a weather eye open for precipitation around the world. And we’re on cloud nine about that.

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