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Hurricane Irma's Caribbean destruction seen from space - KVOA | KVOA.com | Tucson, Arizona

Hurricane Irma's Caribbean destruction seen from space

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NASA Earth Observatory images by Joshua Stevens NASA Earth Observatory images by Joshua Stevens

NASA - Hurricane Irma churned across the Atlantic Ocean in September 2017, battering several Caribbean islands before moving on to the Florida Keys and the U.S. mainland. As the clouds cleared over places like the Virgin Islands, the destruction became obvious even from space.

These natural-color images, captured by the Operational Land Imager (OLI) on the Landsat 8 satellite, show some of Irma’s effect on the U.S. and British Virgin Islands. The views were acquired on August 25 and September 10, before and after the storm passed. They are among the few relatively cloud-free images of the area so far.

The most obvious change is the widespread browning of the landscape. There are a number of possible reasons for this. Lush green tropical vegetation can be ripped away by a storm’s strong winds, leaving the satellite with a view of more bare ground. Also, salt spray whipped up by the hurricane can damage and desiccate leaves while they are still on the trees.

Irma passed the northernmost Virgin Islands on the afternoon of September 6. At the time, Irma was a category 5 storm with maximum sustained winds that measured 295 kilometers (185 miles) per hour. According to news reports, the islands saw “significant devastation.”

A close-up of Virgin Gorda gives a better sense of the changes. Note how some of the vegetation on the south and west of the island is a bit greener, likely because it was partly shielded from winds by the hills in the center. The destruction is also clearly visible on Barbuda—an eastern Caribbean island that was directly hit by the storm’s powerful eye.

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