Examining Hurricane Otis as Seen from Space

In October 2023, Hurricane Otis made headlines as it approached Mexico’s southern Pacific coast. Originally classified as a tropical storm, Otis quickly intensified and became a category five hurricane within just 12 hours, surprising forecasters and local authorities. With sustained winds reaching around 265 km per hour, it became the strongest hurricane on record to hit Mexico’s Pacific coast. The devastation caused by Hurricane Otis was captured in a remarkable image taken by Copernicus Sentinel-3’s Ocean and Land Colour Instrument.

The image, acquired on 24 October 2023, shows Hurricane Otis near Acapulco, where it made landfall the following day. The eye of the storm, with a diameter of approximately 25 km, is clearly visible in the image. Acapulco, a city with almost one million residents, is covered by storm clouds, indicating the severity of the impact it experienced. Mexico City, the densely populated capital of Mexico, appears as a brown area in the cloud-free part of the image, located north of the hurricane. Interestingly, the image also reveals the presence of the Popocat├ępetl active volcano about 70 km southeast of Mexico City.

In response to the devastation caused by Hurricane Otis, emergency response efforts were mobilized. The International Charter Space and Major Disasters, along with the Copernicus Emergency Mapping Service, provided valuable maps based on satellite data to aid in these efforts. Satellite imagery plays an important role in tracking hurricanes and providing important information to authorities. Earth observation satellites can track the size, wind speed, and path of storms while also capturing features that contribute to their intensification.

Copernicus Sentinel-3, with its daily revisits and high spatial resolution, is particularly well-equipped to measure, monitor, and understand large-scale global dynamics such as hurricanes. It provides essential information in near-real time for ocean and weather forecasting. This capability is vital for authorities and emergency services to take timely precautionary measures and respond effectively to natural disasters like Hurricane Otis.

Hurricane Otis serves as a reminder of the power and destructiveness of nature. However, with advanced satellite technology like Copernicus Sentinel-3, we are better equipped to track, monitor, and predict these natural phenomena. The ability to gather crucial information about storms in near-real time is important for safeguarding lives and minimizing the impact of such catastrophic events. As we continue to advance our understanding of hurricanes, we can hope to be better prepared for future natural disasters.