Hurricane Ernesto

Hurricane Ernesto

Tropical Storm Ernesto formed in the eastern Caribbean Sea on August 24, 2006. Within a day, it had become organized enough to be classified as a tropical storm and get named as the fifth storm of the 2006 Atlantic hurricane season. Ernesto built in power gradually as it moved westward and slightly north through the Caribbean Sea, just reaching hurricane strength as it neared Hispaniola on August 27. However, the interactions of the storm with land robbed Ernesto of enough power for it to be downgraded back to tropical-storm status. It remained a tropical storm as it passed over the southern tip of Haiti, traveled along the spine of mountains that run the length of Cuba, and crossed the Straits of Florida. Ernesto made landfall in southern Florida on August 30, and it was predicted head northeastward into the Atlantic and then come back ashore near the South Carolina-North Carolina border.

This photo-like image was acquired by the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on the Aqua satellite on August 28, 2006, at 2:00 p.m. local time (18:00 UTC). Tropical Storm Ernesto at the time of this image was a well-developed storm system, but its interactions with Hispaniola and Cuba had disrupted its shape enough to prevent the formation of a well-defined eye. The spiral-arm structure of clouds was also not as distinct as it would be in a well-developed hurricane. Thus, even as the storm was crossing the warm waters of the Straits of Florida, the storm still was unable to significantly re-intensify. According to the University of Hawaii’s Tropical Storm Information Center, Ernesto had sustained peak winds of around 75 kilometers per hour (45 miles per hour) at the time of this image.

Before August 30, weather forecasters anticipated the storm could re-intensify into a hurricane in the Straits of Florida. With that forecast in hand, NASA mission planners opted to bring the Space Shuttle Atlantis off Launch Pad 39B at the Kennedy Space Center where it was waiting for launch and into its hangar to protect it from potential damage. Partway through the transfer, the forecast changed as weather observations showed how severely Ernesto’s interactions with the mountains of Cuba had disrupted the storm. Mission planners then reversed course and sent the shuttle back to its launch pad to resume preparations for a possible launch in the following week. When deciding whether to continue or delay launch preparations, mission teams have to balance safety concerns, launch-window opportunities, and the schedule for construction of the International Space Station.

You can read more about shuttle operations and launch schedules, including details of STS-115, the flight to resume construction on the International Space Station, at the Kennedy Space Flight Center shuttle launch information site.

NASA image by Jeff Schmaltz, MODIS Rapid Response Team, Goddard Space Flight Center.