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Surprising Science

Hurricane Florence is so huge, astronauts had to use a super wide-angle lens

Images revealing the power of Hurricane Florence enthrall us and terrify us at the same time.
Wide-angle photo of Hurricane Florence from the ISS high above (Alexander Gerst/European Space Agency/Twitter)
Key Takeaways
  • The worst part of Hurricane Florence are the high and destructive storm surges it caused.
  • Photography from space captured the scope of the storm.
  • The science involved is fascinating but scary.

Every now and then, nature throws out a storm so massive we can only gaze upon it in humbling awe at its fearsome power. When Alexander Gerst and Ricky Arnold, astronauts aboard the International Space Station (ISS), attempted to photograph Hurricane Florence, the storm was so big they “could only capture her with a super wide-angle lens,” according to Gerst. The pictures they managed to take are both beautiful and terrifying. The storm was 500 miles wide at the time, with its outer bands stretching over the equivalent of a full third of the U.S. East Coast

Video of Hurricane Florence. (courtesy of NASA)

What’s so scary about Florence?

A hurricane’s numerical classification tends to dominate the headlines, but it tells only part of the story—it rates a storm’s wind speeds—and not necessarily the most life-threatening part. Florence’s worst aspect: it’s slowing down and stalling over coastal areas, causing up to 19-foot storm surges, and dropping from 6 to 40 (!) inches of rain. And any hurricane produces disruptive, dangerous winds, regardless of its official category.

NOAA’s precipitation prediction for the week ending September 19, 2018. (NOAA)

A fascinating glimpse at nature

Onboard the ISS, Gerst was able to capture some incredible images looking down in the storm’s eye.

The eye of the storm. (Alexander Gerst/European Space Agency/Twitter)

(Alexander Gerst/European Space Agency/Twitter)

(Alexander Gerst/European Space Agency/Twitter)

Of course, as stately as Florence’s eye may look in these pictures, an NOAA video reminds us that it’s a churning place full of tremendous latent power.

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(NOAA)

Beautiful, Deadly

The science geeks in us marvel and are thrilled at storms such as Florence. However, the potential for human tragedy from such majestic displays eventually brings us back down to Earth. Although we’re infatuated now, as Earth’s weather grows more extreme, our feelings may well darken under such threatening skies.


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