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NASA Satellite Spies Quick Birth & Death of Tropical Cyclone

tropical cyclone Oswald, Australia storm
These two images of Tropical Storm Oswald show the storm's progression and deterioration over the Cape York Peninsula, Queensland. The MODIS instrument aboard NASA's Aqua satellite captured these on Jan. 21 and Jan. 22 as Oswald made landfall. (Image credit: NASA Goddard MODIS Rapid Response Team)

Tropical Storm Oswald formed on Monday (Jan. 21) in the Gulf of Carpentaria off the west coast of Australia's Cape York Peninsula. By the following day, it had already made landfall over the southwestern portion of the peninsula; since then, it has dissipated into a remnant low pressure system.

The entire brief life cycle of the storm was observed from above by NASA's Aqua satellite.

The satellite spotted Oswald just off the coast of the peninsula on Jan. 20 at 11:30 p.m. EST (0430 UTC Jan. 21), according to a NASA statement. The image captured by the satellite's Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) instrument "showed tight bands of thunderstorms," the NASA statement said. By the time MODIS snapped another image of the storm on the following day, those thunderstorm bands had weakened and the storm had begun to move ashore.

Between Jan. 21 and Jan. 22, the storm's winds had dropped in speed, from 40 mph (64.8 kph) to 28.7 mph (46.3 kph), according to NASA.

The Atmospheric Infrared Sounder (AIRS) instrument aboard Aqua also took an image of the storm on Jan. 22 that showed cold cloud tops, which indicate strong storms. The storms were associated with both Oswald and a low pressure system generated by the seasonal monsoon that was also affecting the Cape York Peninsula, NASA said.

At 1 a.m. EST (0600 UTC) on Jan. 22, Oswald was downgraded to a remnant low and became extratropical, meaning that its source of energy shifted away from warm tropical waters and convection to the change in temperature across regions of the atmosphere.

The town of Tully, Queensland, known for the abundant rainfall it receives, saw more than 600 millimeters (23.6 inches) in just two days, according to the Daily Telegraph. Authorities warned of the potential for flooding, with some roads being closed due to inundation, the newspaper reported on its website.

The Australian cyclone season runs from November through April, which are summer months in the Southern Hemisphere.

This story was provided by OurAmazingPlanet, a sister site to LiveScience. Reach Andrea Thompson at and follow her on twitter @AndreaTOAP. Follow OurAmazingPlanet on Twitter @OAPlanet. We're also on Facebook and Google+.

Andrea Thompson
Andrea Thompson

Andrea Thompson is an associate editor at Scientific American, where she covers sustainability, energy and the environment. Prior to that, she was a senior writer covering climate science at Climate Central and a reporter and editor at Live Science, where she primarily covered Earth science and the environment. She holds a graduate degree in science health and environmental reporting from New York University, as well as a bachelor of science and and masters of science in atmospheric chemistry from the Georgia Institute of Technology.