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What Natural Disasters Look Like From Space

By Edited May 2, 2015 8 18

Natural disasters are violent, terrifying and fascinating—even when viewed from space.

Despite being photographed 6000 miles above Earth from the relative safety of parylene protected satellites, these disasters will still leave you in shock and awe. 

This first satellite image captures the worst snowstorm to hit the United States since the 1950s. As the image shows, the snow, sleet and freezing rain stretched all the way from Texas, through the Rocky Mountains, and into New England.

Winter Storm Over the United States
Credit: NOAA

Phoenix Haboob

This massive dust storm, also known as a haboob, swallowed Phoenix on the evening of July 5, 2011. The wall of dust was over a mile high and 50 miles wide, and rolled in at 60 mph. Visiblity dropped to zero in some places, and 10,000 people were left without power. Haboobs are fairly common in this part of the United States, but they're hard to predict and rarely this powerful. The satellite image is impressive...

Haboob in Arizona (July 5, 2011)

...but not as impressive as the ground-level view!

Haboob in Arizona
Credit: Mike Olbinski

Hurricane Katrina

Hurricane Katrina is not only one of the most famous hurricanes of all time, she's also the most expensive natural distaster in American history. She slammed into the US Gulf Coast on August 29, destroying beachfront towns and flooding over 80% of New Orleans. Over 1 million people were displaced from their homes, and almost 2000 died.

Hurricane Katrina (2005)
Credit: NASA

Cleveland Volcano, Aleutian Islands

This photo was taken from the International Space Station on May 3, 2006. It's an image of Mount Cleveland, located on the remote landmass in the Aleutian Islands. It's so far away from civilization that astronauts were the first to observe and report it. With over 21 eruptions in the past 230 years, Mt. Cleveland is the most active volcano in the Aleutian Arc.

Cleveland Volcano
Credit: NASA


This incredible image was taken by the International Space Station on Feb 5, 2008. It shows the basic structure of thunderstorms, including the anvil cloud and cumulous towers.

Credit: NASA

Tornado Track in Western Massachusetts

On July 1, 2011, a supercell thunderstorm produced an EF3 tornado (severe but not devasting) that cut a  39-mile path of destruction across southwest and south-central Massachusetts. 

Credit: NASA

Alberta Wildfires

In mid-May 2011, large fires devastated central and northern Alberta. The Slave Lake fire, which destroyed 40% of the town, can be seen in the middle of this satellite image. The Fort McMurray fire, which burned 96 square miles (25,000 hectares) can be seen in the top right.

Wildfires in Northern Alberta
Credit: NASA


Jul 26, 2011 9:56am
Research ancient case studies and by comparison, these are small. Try reading "Earth In Upheaval" by Immanuel Velikovsky.
Aug 18, 2011 7:37am
great article. Keep em coming!! Thumbs up from me!!
Aug 18, 2011 8:59am
wow this is really impressive. thanks for sharing
Aug 18, 2011 9:38am
Fantastic images. Thankyou
Aug 18, 2011 2:48pm
These images of natural disasters from space are amazing. Thank you for sharing them with us!
Aug 18, 2011 4:22pm
Very impressive pictures! Thanks.
Aug 18, 2011 4:23pm
Very impressive pictures - NASA has some great archives and the pictures are free to use in articles.
Aug 19, 2011 9:45am
Good stuff!
Aug 23, 2011 2:19am
Aug 24, 2011 4:13am
Wow! Amazing pictures.
Aug 26, 2011 6:39pm
Very impressive and amazing photographs.
Aug 27, 2011 6:41am
Very interesting to see. Thanks for sharing.
Aug 27, 2011 4:04pm
Katrina was HUGE
Aug 31, 2011 6:47pm
Cool.. Nice photos and essay.
Sep 1, 2011 2:48pm
Amazing idea for an article; wonderful photographs.
Sep 12, 2011 2:00pm
Photographs are very nice. But these disasters are some of the most sad moments in human history
Sep 18, 2011 4:20pm
Great photos! I was right in the middle of the Phoenix Haboob and the view from the ground is definitely more impressive!
Jun 16, 2013 5:59pm
Some good photos, well done
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