Typhoon Maysak, an unusually early storm for the northwest Pacific, strengthened abruptly on the last day of March and grew into a category 5 super typhoon.
While Maysak was near peak intensity, astronauts on the International Space Station were treated to an awe-inspiring view of the storm. “Looking down into the eye—by far the widest one I’ve seen—it seemed like a black hole from a sci-fi movie,“ tweeted NASA astronaut Terry Virts. European Space Agency astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti shared the sentiment: “Commands respect even from space.”
What caught the astronauts’ attention was Maysak’s eye. Reported to be 30 kilometers (19 miles) wide by the Joint Typhoon Warning Center, the eye had a near perfect ring of convection swirling around it. At the time, the storm appeared to be an annular tropical cyclone, a subcategory of storm known as a truck tire or doughnut storm. Annular storms are less prone to fluctuations in their intensity and tend to be persistent.
The photograph of the eye also offers a good example of the stadium effect, a meteorological phenomenon defined by the eye being larger at the top of the storm than the bottom like the shape of a sports stadium. The effect happens because rising air in the eyewall tends to slope outward, while the air in the eye itself is descending. Cyclones typically form eyes when a storm’s winds exceed 125 kilometers per hour (78 miles). If an eye is growing smaller, it usually means the storm is strengthening.
In Maysak’s case, the storm weakened on its approach to the Philippines as it encountered stronger upper level winds and dry air. When it makes landfall on the island of Luzon on April 4, forecasters expect it will be a category 1 storm.
The Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS) on the Suomi NPP satellite captured the nighttime image. When the Suomi NPP satellite passed over the storm at 16:42 Universal Time on April 2, 2015, (12:42 a.m. local time on April 3), the storm lacked an obvious eye, suggesting it was weakening. “It has lost definition since last night,” Virts noted in a tweet from the Space Station.
NASA Earth Observatory image by Jesse Allen, using VIIRS day-night band data from the Suomi National Polar-orbiting Partnership. Suomi NPP is the result of a partnership between NASA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the Department of Defense. Photograph Samantha Cristoforetti for the European Space Agency. Caption by Adam Voiland.