Stunning NASA Visualizations: Sandy vs. Katrina

Hurricane Sandy, which made landfall near Atlantic City on Oct. 29, brought tropical storm force winds to a vast area that stretched nearly 1,000 miles across. The size of the storm enabled it to drive a record high storm surge into the New Jersey coast, New York City, and parts of Connecticut and Rhode Island. At The Battery in Lower Manhattan, the water reached a record 13.88 feet above the average low tide, which included a 9.23-foot storm surge.

At the time of landfall, Sandy was completing its transition from a purely tropical system, fed by warm ocean waters, to what is known as an extratropical cyclone — a low-pressure area fueled by temperature contrasts between warm and cool air masses.

The transition stretched Sandy into more of a comma shape than a round shape, bringing the storm's impacts to a broader area than a typical hurricane.

NASA put together two visualizations to show how Hurricane Sandy — which is likely to go down in history as one of the costliest hurricanes to strike the U.S. — compared to the storm that currently occupies the top spot on that list, Hurricane Katrina.

Visualization of Hurricane Sandy's winds shown on Oct. 28, 2012.
Click to enlarge the image. Credit: NASA/ISRO.

Visualization of Hurricane Katrina's winds on August 25, 2008.
Click to enlarge the image. Credit: NASA.

The pair of wind maps above illustrate some of the differences between the two types of storms.

According to NASA: “The map of Sandy’s winds (top), produced with data from a radar scatterometer on the Indian Space Research Organization’s (ISRO) Oceansat-2, shows the strength and direction of Sandy’s ocean surface winds on October 28. The map of Hurricane Katrina’s winds was made from similar data acquired on Aug. 28, 2005, by a radar scatterometer on NASA’s retired QuickSCAT satellite. In both maps, wind speeds above 40 mph are yellow; above 50 mph are orange; and above 60 mph are dark red.”

The visualizations show that both the extent and location of the strongest winds differed greatly between these two damaging storms. In the case of Katrina, tropical storm force winds stretched “about 300 miles from edge to edge,” and the strongest winds were located within a circle of towering thunderstorms surrounding the storm center, known as the eyewall. But with Sandy, tropical storm force winds extended a whopping 900 miles away from the storm, and the most intense winds were located well away from the storm's center. 

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