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Hurricane Season 2010: Tropical Storm Ului (South Pacific Atlantic Ocean)
03.25.10
 
March 25, 2010

TRMM's rainfall estimates from March 15-22, 2010 for the central east coast of Queensland, Australia. > View larger image
TRMM's rainfall estimates for the 1-week period March 15 to 22, 2010 for the central east coast of Queensland, Australia show that Ului dumped upwards of 180 mm (~7 inches, shown in orange) of rain along its path.
Credit: SSAI/NASA, Hal Pierce
Areas of heavy rainfall were located to the north-northwest of the center (in red) falling at greater than 2 inches per hour. > View larger image
TRMM captured an image of Tropical Cyclone Ului's rainfall on March 14 at 2351 UTC. Areas of heavy rainfall were located to the north-northwest of the center (in red) falling at greater than 2 inches per hour.
Credit: SSAI/NASA, Hal Pierce
TRMM Sees Cyclone Ului Bring Heavy Rain to Queensland, Australia

Queensland, Australia was recently hit by its second tropical cyclone of the season.

Tropical Cyclone Olga, which made landfall on the east coast of Queensland just south of Cairns back in late January, brought widespread rains to the region. The most recent cyclone to hit Queensland is Tropical Cyclone Ului, which also made landfall on the east coast of Queensland but much farther south near Airlie Beach south of Townsville.

Ului, which formed near Vanuatu in the South Pacific, was at one time a powerful Category 5 cyclone with winds estimated at 140 knots (~160 mph) as it passed well to the south of the Solomon Islands. The cyclone then weakened as it turned southwest and headed through the Coral Sea towards Australia. Ului hit the Whitsunday Islands, located just off the Australian mainland, early Sunday morning (about 1:30 am local time) on the 21st of March 2010 as a Category 3 cyclone with winds gusting to 200 kph (~125 mph, equivalent to a Category 2 hurricane on the US Saffir-Simpson scale).

The storm quickly weakened to Category 2 as it made landfall near Airlie Beach on the mainland. Proserpine, just south of where the center crossed the coast, reported a wind gust of 146 kph (~90 mph). In addition to the strong gusty winds, which resulted in widespread power outages, Ului dumped heavy rains over the area.

Launched back in November of 1997 and armed with an array of active and passive sensors, the primary objective of the Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission satellite (better known as TRMM) is to measure rainfall from space. For increased coverage, TRMM can be used to calibrate rainfall estimates from other additional satellites. The TRMM-based, near-real time Multi-satellite Precipitation Analysis (TMPA) at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. is used to monitor rainfall over the global Tropics.

TMPA rainfall estimates for the 1-week period of March 15 to 22, 2010 for the central east coast of Queensland, Australia show that Ului dumped upwards of 180 mm (~7 inches, shown in orange) of rain along its path. Mackay airport, located about 100 km (~60 mi) south of Airlie Beach, reported 145 mm (~6 inches) of rain in 24 hours. Ului then quickly weakened as it moved westward and further inland and was downgraded to just a tropical low.

TRMM is a joint mission between NASA and the Japanese space agency JAXA.

Text credit: Rob Gutro, NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md.



March 22, 2010

TRMM data was used to create this image of precipitation from March 15-22 in Australia. > View larger image
TRMM data was used to create this image of the last seven days of precipitation (from March 15-22) in Australia. It indicates that rainfall between 100-200 mm (between 4-8 inches) of rainfall fell in areas of yellow and orange on Australia's northeast coast (Queensland).
Credit: NASA TRMM
> View TRMM Animation
NASA's TRMM rainfall data was used to create an animation of Cyclone Ului's approach and landfall in Queensland, Australia.
Credit: NASA TRMM
NASA's TRMM Satellite Measures Cyclone Ului's Australian Rainfall from Space

NASA and the Japanese Space Agency's Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission or TRMM satellite can estimate rainfall from space. TRMM is used to monitor tropical rainfall around the world, and can also calculate flood potential. TRMM data was used to create an animation of Tropical Cyclone Ului's track as it approached and made landfall in Queensland, Australia this weekend.

The TRMM animation of rainfall indicated that between 130 mm and 179 mm (5.1 and 7.0 inches) of rainfall fell in areas west of Collinsville, Queensland from Ului's landfall. TRMM data, along with information from other satellites, allows researchers to see how much rain is falling over most of the world every three hours and map areas of potential flooding. Maps that show areas of potential floods use precipitation radar data and high resolution measurements of water content of clouds made by microwave radiometers.

Those rainfall maps were made into a seven-day "movie loop" that allows users to track storms as they travel over land and oceans around the globe. The rainfall animations are developed in the Laboratory for Atmospheres of the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md. by the TRMM precipitation research team.

About 130mm (5.1 inches) or rainfall was estimated by TRMM at -20.38 latitude and 148.13 longitude, in Bogie, Queensland, Australia, near the Mount Aberdeen State Park. In Springlands, west of Collinsville, Queensland, near -20.88 latitude and 148.88 longitude, TRMM estimated a rainfall of 136mm (5.3 inches). At Mount Wyatt, 163mm (6.4 inches) of rain were estimated to have fallen, and southeast of Swan's Lagoon and Millaroo, TRMM estimated that 179mm (7.0 inches) of rain had fallen from Ului.

On March 20, Ului was a tropical storm with maximum sustained winds near 64 mph about 385 miles east of Cairns, Australia near 19.9 South and 151.7 East. Later in the day it brought sustained winds between 92-109 mph to Hamilton Island off Proserpine. By 2100 UTC (5 p.m. EDT) that day, Ului was 260 miles southeast of Cairns, Queensland, Australia with sustained winds near 52 mph (45 knots) . However, it briefly re-intensified with sustained winds near 109 mph before making landfall near Bowen at Airlie Beach.

Reports indicated that about 60,000 homes lost power and there was a lot of destruction to trees, houses, boats, power lines and sugar cane crops - a major crop in the region.

Ului headed west toward the Northern Territory where its rains have ended, and it is bringing only increased cloud cover and higher humidity. The Northern Territory may also see some isolated showers. As of March 22, all tropical cyclone watches and warnings were discontinued.

For more information about how TRMM looks at rainfall, visit NASA's TRMM website at: http://trmm.gsfc.nasa.gov/. TRMM is a joint mission between NASA and the Japanese space agency JAXA.

Text credit: Rob Gutro, NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md.



March 19, 2010

MODIS image of Ului> View larger image
NASA's MODIS instrument on the Aqua satellite captured a visible image of Tropical Cyclone Ului approaching Queensland, Australia (bottom left in image) at 03:35 UTC on March 19. Credit: NASA MODIS Rapid Response Team

AIRS image of Ului> View larger image
NASA's AIRS instrument on the Aqua satellite captured an infrared image of Ului's (far right) highest clouds (purple) seen around its center on March 18 at 15:17 UTC (11:17 a.m. EDT). Credit: NASA JPL, Ed Olsen
Warnings and Watches Up in Queensland for Tropical Storm Ului

Cyclone Ului has already caused some closures and preparations in northeastern Queensland, Australia in anticipation of the storm's landfall this weekend. NASA's Aqua satellite captured a visible image of Tropical Cyclone Ului approaching Queensland earlier today.

A tropical cyclone warning is in effect from Ayr to Yeppoon. Mainland areas of Queensland that are expected to be most impacted by Ului's landfall stretch from Ayr south to Yeppoon. That includes the city of Rockhampton, Byfield National Park, Byfield State Forest, Conway State Forest, Dryander National Park and State Forest, Gloucester Island National Park, Cape Palmerston National Park, the city of MacKay, Whitsunday Islands National Park, the town of Bowen, north to Ayr.

The Tropical Cyclone Watch area stretches north from Ayr to Cardwell, which includes the larger cities of Townsville and Thuringowa, Bowling Green Bay National Park, Hichinbrook Island National Park, Girringun National Park, Cardwell and Abergonie State Forests. Rail lines and coal ports in Queensland have already been closed down in anticipation of Ului's arrival this weekend. One report indicated that the coal terminal in Dalrymple Bay closed due to strong winds and rough seas.

At 1500 UTC (11 a.m. EDT) on Friday, March 19, Tropical Cyclone Ului's maximum sustained winds were near 63 mph (55 knots) making Ului a tropical storm. At that time, Ului's center was about 560 nautical miles east of Cairns, Australia near 18.2 degrees South latitude and 155.0 degrees East longitude. Ului was moving southwestward at 12 mph (11 knots). Coastal areas are already dealing with rough surf, and those conditions will continue into the weekend. In open ocean Ului is creating maximum significant wave heights up to 26 feet.

The Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer or MODIS instrument on NASA's Aqua satellite captured a visible image of Tropical Cyclone Ului approaching Queensland, Australia at 03:35 UTC on March 19 (11:35 p.m. EDT, March 18) and it revealed that Ului's eye had disappeared indicating that the storm had weakened. Infrared satellite imagery, such as that from the Atmospheric Infrared Sounder (AIRS) instrument on also on NASA's Aqua satellite showed that Ului's low-level center of circulation was partially exposed and that deep convection had waned. That means the center is now exposed to outside winds and dry air, which could weaken the storm further. A microwave satellite image revealed that the deepest convection and strongest thunderstorms were limited to the southern edge of the system.

The Joint Typhoon Warning Center forecast called for Ului to continue moving southwestward, while weakening from increasing vertical wind shear (winds that can tear a storm apart). By Sunday, Ului is expected to dissipate over land. Meanwhile, residents along the coast and in inland areas are bracing for Ului's landfall.

Text credit: Rob Gutro, NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md.



March 18, 2010

Queensland, Australia Now Expecting a Landfall from Cyclone Ului

MODIS image of  Tropical Cyclone Ului (20P) in the Coral Sea NASA's Terra satellite captured an image of Tropical Cyclone Ului (20P) in the Coral Sea at 8 p.m. EDT on March 17. Credit: NASA MODIS Rapid Response Team
› Larger image

AIRS image of Cyclone Ului on March 18 at 0247 UTC An infrared satellite image of Cyclone Ului on March 18 at 0247 UTC (10:47 p.m. March 17) clearly showed an eye, and strong, high, powerful thunderstorms (as cold as -63 Fahrenheit) around it. Credit: NASA JPL, Ed Olsen
› Larger image
Northeastern Queensland, Australia is on alert as Tropical Cyclone Ului continues tracking through the Coral Sea today, and is forecast to make a landfall on March 20. NASA's Terra and Aqua satellites have been providing satellite data on the storm to assist forecasters.

The Australian Bureau of Meteorology has issued a Tropical Cyclone Watch from Cardwell to Yeppoon in Queensland. There is also a High seas weather warning in effect for "metarea 10." Ocean vessels can expect very high seas and have been asked to report conditions to the Bureau. Meanwhile the Solomon Islands have also posted a Tropical Cyclone Watch for Rennell/Bellona.

On Thursday, March 18 at 1500 UTC (11 a.m. EDT), Tropical Cyclone Ului had maximum sustained winds near 92 mph (80 knots). The storm is about 300 miles in diameter. Tropical storm force winds extend about 155 miles from Ului's center, while hurricane force winds extend 45 miles out from the center. Ului was located about 670 nautical miles east of Cairns, Australia near near 15.9 South and 157.4 East. It has been crawling at 3 mph (2 knots) in a southwestward direction.

The Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer or MODIS instrument aboard NASA's Terra satellite captured an image of Tropical Cyclone Ului in the Coral Sea at 8 p.m. EDT on March 17 as it continues tracking toward Queensland, Australia. The image indicated that Ului was still maintaining good formation as a strong Category One cyclone on the Saffir-Simpson scale.

Animated infrared satellite imagery on March 18 at 0247 UTC (10:47 p.m. March 17) from the Atmospheric Infrared Sounder (AIRS) instrument on NASA's Aqua satellite clearly showed an eye, and strong, high, powerful thunderstorms (as cold as -63 Fahrenheit) around it , mostly in the northeast and southwest quadrants. Imagery also showed a decrease in convection especially in the northern edge of the storm.

People have already evacuated from the Great Barrier Reef islands of Heron and Lady Elliott, north of Brisbane, and more were leaving resort islands off the northeast coast. Coastal areas are already feeling the effects of rough surf ahead of the storm.

The Joint Typhoon Warning Center is forecasting for the storm, and noted that Ului is expected to turn southwestward and begin to accelerate.Cyclone Ului is expected to make landfall on the Queensland coast between the towns of Cardwell and Rockhampton over the weekend.

Text credit: Rob Gutro, NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md.



March 17, 2010

Residents of Queensland, Australia Watching Cyclone Ului Approaching

image of Ului NASA's Aqua satellite captured Tropical Cyclone Ului's cold thunderstorm cloud tops using infrared imagery on March 17 at 10:35 a.m. EDT after the storm had departed the Solomon Islands. Credit: NASA/JPL/Ed Olsen › Larger image Tropical Cyclone Ului has been almost sitting still in the Coral Sea for the last couple of days, but is once again moving and headed for a landfall in northeastern Queensland, Australia by the weekend.

The Atmospheric Infrared Sounder (AIRS) instrument on NASA's Aqua satellite captured Tropical Cyclone Ului's cold thunderstorm cloud tops on March 17 at 10:35 a.m. EDT (14:35 UTC) after the storm had departed the Solomon Islands. The infrared imagery revealed that the two strongest areas where convection was strongest in Ului were in the northern and southern areas around the eye. It is in those two areas that the highest, coldest thunderstorm tops were revealed by AIRS infrared imagery. Those thunderstorm cloud tops were as cold as -63 Fahrenheit, and were areas where heavy rain was falling.

At 1500 UTC (11 a.m. ET) on Wednesday, March 17, Tropical Cyclone Ului was located approximately 730 nautical miles east of Cairns, Australia, near 14.6 South and 158.0 East. It had maximum sustained winds near115 mph (100 knots) and is expected to maintain that intensity over the next day. Ului was moving south-southeast at 5 mph (4 knots) after being quasi-stationary for almost one and a half days. Ului is generating waves up to 23 feet high in the Coral Sea.

The Australian Bureau of Meteorology in Brisbane issued a high seas weather warning for "Met area 10," today, March 17 and a Hurricane Force Wind Warning for the North Eastern Area. They noted that Ului will remain well offshore today and Thursday, March 18, then will move closer to the Queensland coast on Friday. The Bureau noted that windy conditions over much of coastal waters off of Queensland's east coast will continue because of a tight pressure gradient generated by a combination of a high pressure system situated in the Tasman Sea and Severe Tropical Cyclone Ului, and that seas and ocean swells will increase along much of Queensland's coast as Ului approaches.

Ului is currently forecast to make landfall in northeast Queensland, south of Cairns some time on Friday, March 20. Residents along Queensland's coast should closely monitor local weather bulletins.

Text credit: Rob Gutro, NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md.



March 16, 2010

MODIS image of Tomas and Ului> View full image
On March 16 at 03:05 UTC, images from NASA's Aqua and Terra satellites were combined to show the close proximity of Tropical Cyclones Tomas (19P) and Ului (20P) in the southwestern Pacific Ocean. Credit: NASA MODIS Rapid Response Team
A NASA Satellite Mosaic of Twin Tropical Troublesome Cyclones: Tomas and Ului

Tropical Cyclones Tomas and Ului are both causing problems for residents in the South Pacific Ocean today, March 16, and watches and warnings are in effect for the Fiji Islands and the Solomon Islands, respectively. NASA's Aqua and Terra satellites passed over each storm and their images were combined to show the close proximity of the troublemaking twins.

Tropical Cyclone Ului is farthest west and is impacting the Solomon Islands. Regional warnings that are in effect for the Solomon Islands include a tropical cyclone warning for Rennell/Bellona. In addition, a tropical cyclone watch is up for Guadalcanal, Makira, Central, Western, Malaita, Isabel and Choiseul provinces including the Shortland Islands. The gale-force winds in Rennell and Bellona and southern Guadalcana provinces are expected to ease later in the day.

At 11 a.m. EDT (1500 UTC) today, March 16, Ului had maximum sustained winds near 126 mph (110 knots) making it a strong Category Three cyclone on the Saffir-Simpson scale. It was located about 725 nautical miles northeast of Cairns, Australia, near 13.6 South and 157.8 East. It was moving southwest near 4 mph (3 knots). For updates from the Solomon Island Meteorological Service: http://www.met.gov.sb/.

The Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer, or MODIS instrument on NASA's Aqua and Terra satellites captured an image that showed Ului's eye reduced down to 20 nautical miles in diameter, and is cloud-filled at 0305 UTC (11:05 p.m. EDT, March 15). Recent infrared satellite imagery shows spiral bands of thunderstorms continue to wrap around the storms center, and the storm still has good outflow. Sea surface temperatures are warm (at least 80 degrees Fahrenheit) and are enabling the system to maintain strength.

Ului is expected to turn west in two days, and steer toward the east coast of Australia, while gradually weakening from increased wind shear. Residents of Queensland, Australia should monitor tropical cyclone forecasts and bulletins.

Meanwhile, farther east lays Tropical Cyclone Tomas. At 5 a.m. EDT (0900 UTC) today, Tomas was packing maximum sustained winds near 115 mph (100 knots) also making the cyclone a Category Three storm on the Saffir-Simpson hurricane scale. Tomas, also known as Cyclone 14F in the Fiji Islands, was moving south at 13 mph (11 knots). At that time it was located approximately 215 nautical miles east-southeast of Nadi, Fiji, near 19.5 degrees South latitude and 179.3 West longitude.

Watches and Warnings are in effect for the Fiji Islands. In Fiji a Cyclone Warning is in effect for eastern quarter of Ono-I-Lau, Vatoa and nearby islands. Meanwhile a gale warning is in effect for the following: Oneata, Vanuavatu, Matuku, Totoya, Moce, Komo, Fulaga, Ogea, Namuka, Kabara and nearby islands. For updates from the Fiji Meteorological Service: http://www.met.gov.fj/.

Trouble is coming for Tomas, and that means weakening awaits the system as it continues moving south. Satellite data has shown that Tomas' eye has become ragged, cloud-filled and asymmetric, indicating a weakening storm. In the next day, vertical wind shear is forecast to increase, and wind shear can weaken a storm. In addition, Tomas is moving into an area of cooler sea surface temperatures which will also rapidly decay the tropical cyclone.

Text credit: Rob Gutro, NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center



March 15, 2010

NASA's AIRS instrument provided an infrared look at Ului's cold thunderstorm cloudtops (blue and purple) on March 14 at 0311 UTC.  Ului's eye is visible in the storm's center. > View larger image
NASA's AIRS instrument provided an infrared look at Ului's cold thunderstorm cloudtops (blue and purple) on March 14 at 0311 UTC. Ului's eye is visible in the storm's center.
Credit: NASA JPL, Ed Olsen
Solomon Islands Under Warnings for Category 4 Cyclone Ului

There are two powerful cyclones in the Southern Pacific Ocean this week, Tomas and Ului. Ului is a Category Four Cyclone on the Saffir-Simpson Scale and is affecting the Solomon Islands where warnings and watches have been posted today, March 15. NASA satellite data has confirmed that Ului is a strong cyclone with a wide reach.

Tropical cyclone warnings in the Solomon Islands are in effect for Rennell and Bellona, A tropical cyclone watch is in effect for the provinces of Guadalcanal, Makira, Central, Western, Malaita, Isabel and Choiseul, in addition to the Shortland Islands.

The Solomon Islands is a country in Melanesia, east of Papua New Guinea that is made up of almost one thousand islands. The combined islands cover a land mass of 10,965 square miles (28,400 square kilometers).

NASA's Atmospheric Infrared Sounder (AIRS) instrument provided an infrared look at Tomas' cold thunderstorm cloud tops (blue and purple) on March 14 at 0311 UTC. AIRS is an instrument that flies on NASA's Aqua satellite. The AIRS image showed a massive area of strong, high thunderstorms surrounding the eye of the storm. The thunderstorm cloud tops are so high that they are as cold as minus 63 degrees Fahrenheit, and bearing heavy rain. Satellite imagery also showed the majority of deep convection is located on the western side of the storm.

At 11 a.m. EDT (1500 UTC) today, March 15, Tropical Cyclone Ului was packing maximum sustained winds near 149 mph (130 knots). It was located near 13.1 South and 158.4 East, about 924 nautical miles north-northeast of Brisbane, Australia. It was moving west near 5 mph (4 knots). Ului is forecast to continue to track westward for the next 12 hours and then begin to turn southward. Cyclone Ului is forecast to begin weakening as it encounters and area of increasing vertical wind shear. Meanwhile Ului is generating dangerously high waves up to 36 feet in the waters of the Southern Pacific Ocean.

The Solomon Islands are not the only ones concerned with Ului. The Australian Government Bureau of Meteorology (ABM) in Queensland posted a bulletin today, March 15 at 10 p.m. local time (Queensland). At that time, Cyclone Ului was located over the north-east Coral Sea near latitude 13.1 south longitude 158.7 east, which is about 838 miles (1350 kilometers) northeast of Mackay, Queensland, Australia. The ABM said that "Severe Tropical Cyclone Ului poses no immediate threat to the Queensland coast and is expected to remain well off the Queensland coast for at least the next few days." The Joint Typhoon Warning Center, however, has issued a forecast track that takes Ului toward Queensland around March 20, so residents on Queensland's northeast coast should monitor the storm.

For Australia's Bureau of Meteorology tropical cyclone updates: http://www.bom.gov.au/weather/cyclone/

Text credit: Rob Gutro, NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center



March 14, 2010

TRMM captured the rainfall rates of Cyclone Ului on March 14. The yellow and green areas indicate moderate rainfall between .78 to 1.57 inches per hour. Red areas are heavy rainfall at almost 2 inches per hour. > View larger image
TRMM captured the rainfall rates of Cyclone Ului on March 14. The yellow and green areas indicate moderate rainfall between .78 to 1.57 inches per hour. Red areas are heavy rainfall at almost 2 inches per hour.
Credit: NASA/SSAI, Hal Pierce
NASA's TRMM Satellite Sees Heavy Rainfall in Powerful Cyclone Ului

The Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission (TRMM) satellite flew over Cyclone Ului in the south Pacific on March 14, 2010 at 2351 UTC (7:51 p.m. EDT) and captured an image of its heavy rainfall.

TRMM showed well defined concentric rain bands were spiraling into UluiI's eye at a time when wind speeds were estimated to be 130 knots (~149.5 mph). Ului had weakened from a category 5 tropical cyclone with wind speeds of 140 knots (~161 mph) on March 13, 2010.

TRMM noticed Ului had areas of heavy rainfall where rain was falling at about 2 inches per hour. However, most of the rain was moderate, falling at rates between 20 and 40 millimeters (.78 to 1.57 inches) per hour.

TRMM images are pretty complicated to create. They're made at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. At Goddard, rain rates in the center of the swath (the satellite's orbit path over the storm) are created from the TRMM Precipitation Radar (PR) instrument. The TRMM PR is the only space borne radar of its kind. The rain rates in the outer portion of the storm are created from a different instrument on the satellite, called the TRMM Microwave Imager (TMI). The rain rates are then overlaid on infrared (IR) data from the TRMM Visible Infrared Scanner (VIRS). TRMM is managed by NASA and the Japanese Space Agency, JAXA.

For more information about TRMM, visit: http://www.trmm.gsfc.nasa.gov/.

Text credit: Hal Pierce, SSAI/NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center



March 12, 2010

AIRS showed a well-developed storm with a large cluster of high, cold (purple), strong thunderstorms. > View larger image
AIRS image on March 12 at 14:17 a.m. ET (9:17 a.m. ET) showed a well-developed storm with a large cluster of high, cold (purple), strong thunderstorms around the center of Tropical Storm Ului.
Credit: NASA JPL, Ed Olsen
NASA's Aqua Satellite Shows Strong Convection in Tropical Storm Ului

NASA's Aqua satellite flew over Tropical Storm Ului during the morning hours (Eastern Time) on March 12 and noticed a large area of strong convection in the storm's center, indicating strengthening.

The Atmospheric Infrared Sounder (AIRS) instrument on Aqua captured an infrared image of Ului, formerly Tropical Depression 20P, on March 12 at 14:17 a.m. ET (9:17 a.m. ET). The infrared image showed a well –developed storm with a large cluster of high, cold (colder than minus 63 Fahrenheit), strong thunderstorms around the center of Tropical Storm Ului.

Tropical cyclone 20P formed during the very early morning hours today, March 12, and by late morning (Eastern Time) had strengthened into a tropical storm in the South Pacific Ocean. In fact, regional gale warnings are now in effect for Sanma and Torres.

The Torres Islands are in the Torba Province of Vanuatu, the northernmost island group in the country. Sanma is a province located in the northern section of the nation of Vanuatu, and is located on the nation's largest island, Espiritu Santo. Sanma is about 1,553 miles (2,500 km) northeast of Sydney, Australia.

On Friday, March 12 at 1 a.m. ET (0600 UTC), Ului's center was about 50 nautical miles west of Vanuatu, near 14.9 degrees South latitude and 165.7 East longitude. It was moving west near 7 mph (6 knots) and had maximum sustained winds near 52 mph (45 knots). As Tropical Storm Ului continues to track west, once it passes 160 degrees East it will be covered by the Bureau of Meteorology in Australia.

The Joint Typhoon Warning Center noted that "Animated multispectral satellite imagery shows a well-defined low level circulation center (llcc) with banding convection starting to wrap into the system center," indicating strengthening, and that's what is forecast over the weekend.

Text credit: Rob Gutro, NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center