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Storms look scary ... even from space

You may be able to debate which monuments are visible from outer space, but there's no debating this picture: Three storms dominate the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico in the image from the GOES-13 satellite, which is managed by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and provides data to NASA. From left to right are Tropical Storm Karl, which is heading for Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula; Hurricane Igor, a Category 4 storm that forecasters say will arc northward through the Atlantic; and Hurricane Julia, a Category 1 storm expected to parallel Igor's path.

Igor looks particularly scary: The CIMSS Satellite Blog offers a series of amazing animated images showing monstrous clouds churning around the hurricane's well-defined, 20-nautical-mile-wide eye.

Hurricane Igor

Ed Olsen / NASA / JPL

Color-coded infrared imagery from the AIRS instrument aboard NASA's Aqua satellite shows Hurricane Igor with a clear and large eye, with very strong convection (purple) and high, powerful thunderstorm cloud tops around the center. The dark orange areas indicate ocean temperatures well over the 80-degree-Fahrenheit threshold needed to maintain intensity.

An infrared image from NASA's Aqua satellite illustrates in psychedelic colors just what it is that keeps the storm going. The satellite's Atmospheric Infrared Sounder, or AIRS, detected temperatures that dropped to 90 degrees below zero Fahrenheit (-68 degrees Celsius) at Igor's cloud tops (shown in purple). The big chill suggests that the clouds are rising to the top of the troposphere, driven by strong winds.

Meanwhile, the water surrounding Igor is very warm. The deep orange colors represent sea surface temperatures in excess of 80 degrees F (27 degrees C) — warm enough to keep Igor in business for days. In a news release, NASA notes that the temperature difference between the cold cloud tops and the warm waters that are powering the storm exceeds 170 degrees Fahrenheit, or 95 degrees Celsius. That's just about equal to the difference between boiling and freezing water.

To keep track of these scary storms in the days ahead, click into the Weather section and check out our whiz-bang Hurricane Tracker. And for a quick primer on hurricane science, take a spin through our "Birth of a Hurricane" interactive.

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