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Hurricane Patricia
An infrared image from the Suomi NPP satellite’s VIIRS instrument shows the well-defined eye of Hurricane Patricia as of 9:20 GMT Friday. (Credit: NASA / NOAA / CIMSS)

Even the International Space Station’s commander is worried about Hurricane Patricia, the strongest storm ever tracked by the National Hurricane Center.

NASA astronaut Scott Kelly, who is currently heading the station’s crew during his yearlong tour of orbital duty, passed along a picture showing the monstrous whirl of white clouds as it approached Mexico today:

Satellites operated by NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration have been tracking Patricia’s trek through the Pacific – and when the readings from space are combined with data from probes that are being dropped into the maw of the Category 5 storm, the conclusion is that this one ranks as the strongest hurricane on record for the Western Hemisphere.

Maximum sustained winds rose to near 200 mph, with higher gusts, and diminished only slightly to 190 mph as of the center’s 2 p.m. PT advisory. It said the eye of the “potentially catastrophic” storm is projected to cross Mexico’s Pacific coast within the next few hours, between Manzanillo and Cabo Corrientes – just south of Puerto Vallarta, a tourist hot spot. Patricia should then move quickly to the north-northeast across western and northern Mexico. Keep an eye on the center’s website for updates.

Among the satellites tracking the storm are NOAA’s GOES-15 weather satellite. Check out GOES-15’s animated GIF of the storm’s progress, which complements Scott Kelly’s view from the space station. There’s also a false-color GOES-15 animation showing the storm in infrared wavelengths. The Cooperative Institute for Meteorological Satellite Studies at the University of Wisconsin is providing GOES imagery galore.

The Suomi NPP satellite, a joint project of NASA and NOAA, is also on the case: The Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite, or VIIRS, can determine the temperature of the storm’s cloud tops – which serves to show how the storm is developing.

Suomi NPP view of Hurricane Patricia
A wide-angle view from the Suomi NPP satellite shows Hurricane Patricia approaching the outline of the Mexican coast. (Credit: NRL / NASA / NOAA)

The RapidScat instrument that’s mounted on the space station’s exterior is measuring the strength of the storm’s surface winds. Here’s a spooky look at Hurricane Patricia’s wind patterns, as visualized by the Earth Wind Map website using data from the National Weather Service’s Global Forecast System.

Earth Wind Map view of Hurricane Patricia
Earth Wind Map provides a visualization of wind patterns, highlighted by Hurricane Patricia. (Credit: GFS / NCEP / NWS)

Meanwhile, the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer on NASA’s Terra satellite captured this view of the hurricane and its “pinhole” eye:

Terra view of Hurricane Patricia
This view from the MODIS instrument on NASA’s Terra satellite shows the eastern quadrant of Hurricane Patricia passing over Mexico, with its “pinhole” eye nearing the coast at 10:30 a.m. PT. (Credit: NASA Goddard MODIS Rapid Response Team)

Patricia is projected to dump as much as 20 inches of rain on some areas, giving rise to life-threatening flash floods and mudslides. The only good news is that the storm is expected to weaken quickly as it moves inland.

To get a wider perspective on the situation in the days ahead, keep track of the daily views from the Deep Space Climate Observatory.

EPIC view of Hurricane Patricia
Hurricane Patricia can be seen near the Mexican coast, just above center in this image from the EPIC camera on the Deep Space Climate Observatory. The image was acquired on Oct. 22. (Credit: NASA DSCOVR EPIC team)
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