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You are here: GES DISC Home Hurricanes Additional Features Science Focus HURRICANE KATRINA AUGUST 23 - 30 2005


Hurricane Katrina track diagram

Figure 1. Best track analysis of Hurricane Katrina—the costliest natural disaster in US history 1


Storm Status

Wind Speed

Green=Tropical Depression

<39 mph

Yellow=Tropical Storm

39-73 mph

Light Red=Category 1-2 Hurricane

74-110 mph

Dark Red=Category 3-5 Hurricane



Katrina was one of the most powerful hurricanes ever, and will go down as the costliest natural disaster in recorded memory.   At one point, wind speeds topped 170 mph, and surface pressures tanked to below 905 mb—extraordinary for an Atlantic hurricane.  She resembled to epitome of all Atlantic hurricanes, and revealed the staggering amount of suffering a storm of her magnitude (Category 3 at landfall) can cause to those unprepared.  

Storm History

Katrina had her origins in the Bahamas as a rather disorganized area of cloudiness and thunderstorms.  During her early stages of development, the would-be Katrina looked like a sloppy concoction of disorganized cloudiness, and it seemed improbable that this area of low pressure could develop into anything consequential.  During the afternoon hours of 23 August, a Hurricane Reconnaissance Aircraft, along with buoy data and ship reports indicated that the area of disturbed weather in the southeastern Bahamas had become organized enough to be classified as a Tropical Depression (TD12)1.  A short 24 hours later, the shoddy mass of convection had organized into a concentrated area of showers and thunderstorms just east of Nassau, and was named Tropical Storm Katrina2

Katrina continued on a lazy westward track towards eastern Florida through the next 24 hours, and became a hurricane during the afternoon of 25 August, just 30 miles south-southeast of Boca-Raton, FL3.  At this point, Katrina looked like a healthy, developing hurricane with cloud top temperatures as low as –80C.  It was expected that Katrina would weaken shortly after making landfall in southern Florida, but she veered slightly off course and passed over the very moist Everglades south of lake Okeechobee, and was able to maintain hurricane intensity into the extreme eastern Gulf of Mexico. 


On 26 August, Katrina entered the Gulf of Mexico, where shear was low and Sea Surface Temperatures (SSTs) were high, ranging from 30-32C—a perfect environment for intensification.  During the overnight hours of 27 August, Katrina’s central pressure dropped from 950 mb, to nearly 930 mb—all in less than 12 hours.  Early on 28 August, the National Hurricane Center revised the intensity of Katrina upwards to a Category 5 with surface winds near 160 mph.  Less than three hours later, Hurricane Hunters measured a 166 kt flight level winds, and a 907 mb central pressure, which corresponded to surface wind speeds close to 175 mph—absolutely astonishing for an Atlantic Hurricane4.      

In a report issued by the Hurricane Center on December 20, 2005, Katrina made landfall as a strong Category 3 storm, instead of the Category 4 as originally thought.5  Still, the incredibly high storm surge coupled with the strong winds proved too much for the New Orleans area to bear, and the consequences were unfathomable.  As the Hurricane Center’s Tropical Cyclone Report so eloquently states:

        “The scope of human suffering inflicted by Hurricane Katrina in the United States has been greater than that of any hurricane to strike this country in several generations.”

Damage and Casualties   

Katrina first affected southern Florida as a weak hurricane, with maximum sustained winds near 75 mph-just barely a Category 1.  Even though Katrina maintained only minimal hurricane intensity at landfall, 14 deaths in Florida have been attributed directly to Katrina.6   However, the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico can rejuvenate even the most anemic of Hurricanes, and such is the case with Katrina as she crossed over southern Florida into the Gulf.

One thing is very certain, and that is that the true loss of life caused by Hurricane Katrina will never be known, but it is very likely that she was responsible for over 1500 fatalities7 in seven states, and over $100 billion in damages—more than twice that of Hurricane Andrew’s damages when adjusted for inflation.8


Data, Images and Animations

+Explore and analyze gridded data of the hurricane using the GES-DISC Interactive Online Visualization and Analysis Infrastructure (Giovanni)

+Use Mirador  to obtain data provided by the GES DISC DAAC for a hurricane event.

+View animations and images of Hurricane Katrina in the 2005 Past Hurricane Archive.


Katrina RGB
MODIS Terra RGB using the MOD02HKM product. This image is of the swath data from Aug 28 at 1705 hrs. More images like this and parameters animation created from other datasets can be seen in our Archive Image Gallery for hurricane Katrina .

Katrina and Rita Profiles

Figure 1

OMI TOMS-like Column Amount Ozone

Figure 2

Figure 1. Profile view comparison of Daily TRMM 3B42 Accumulated Rainfall, Daily AIRS Geopotential Height and Daily AIRS Cloud Fraction of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Figure 2. OMI TOMS-like Daily global product parameter Column Amount Ozone of Katrina on Aug. 28, 2006. Figure 3. OMI TOMS-like Daily global product parameter Effective Surface Reflectivity of Katrina on Aug. 28, 2006. Figure 4. MODIS Terra Cirrus Cloud Fraction NIR daytime of Katrina on Aug. 28, 2005.

OMI TOMS-like Effective Surface Reflectivity

Figure 3

MODIS Terra Cirrus Fraction NIR

Figure 4





1. Image courtesy of the NOAA coastal Services Center  Http://

2.Stewart, Stacy. “Tropical Depression Twelve Discussion Number 1.” 23 August 2005. (9 July 2006).

3. Stewart, Stacy. “Tropical Storm Katrina Discussion Number 5.” 24 August 2005. (9 July 2006).

4. Stewart, Stacy. “Hurricane Katrina Advisory Number 9.” 25 August 2005. (9 July 2006).

5. Pasch, Richard. “Hurricane Katrina Discussion Number 23.” 28 August 2005. (6 July 2006). 

6. Pain, John. “Hurricane Katrina Hit as Category 3, Not 4.” Associated Press. 20 December 2005. (5 July 2005).

7. Brown, Daniel P; Knabb, Richard D; Rhome, Jamie R. “Tropical Cyclone Report: Hurricane Katrina.” 20 December 2005.  

8. "Deaths of evacuees push toll to 1,577." New Orleans Times-Picayune. May 19, 2006.  

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Last updated: Jan 28, 2016 05:11 PM ET