Suggested Searches

Earth’s Weather Watchers

Season 4Episode 2May 31, 2022

Planets throughout the universe are full of fascinating weather, including Earth! Hear how NASA and NOAA work together to predict, monitor, and respond to Earth’s ever-changing weather. Explore Earth’s weather with Dalia Kirschbaum, Marangelly Fuentes, and Dan Lindsey.

Earth Weather Illustration

Earth Weather Illustration

Our universe is a wild and wonderful place. Join NASA astronauts, scientists and engineers on a new adventure each episode — all you need is your curiosity. Explore the lifesaving systems of space suits, break through the sound barrier, and search for life among the stars. First-time space explorers welcome.

Episode Description: Planets throughout the universe are full of fascinating weather, including Earth! Hear how NASA and NOAA work together to predict, monitor, and respond to Earth’s ever-changing weather. Explore Earth’s weather with Dalia Kirschbaum, Marangelly Fuentes, and Dan Lindsey.


[Song: All Bets Are Off Instrumental by Deshayes]

Dalia Kirschbaum

When I was growing up in Minnesota, the first thing we always ask about is the weather. The first thing you talk about is the weather in the Midwest, that’s just at least that from my upbringing.

[[Meteorologist audio: “Good morning Minnesota! We’ve got some cold weather headed our way this weekend with temps around negative 15 degrees Fahrenheit and dropping…]]

Dalia Kirschbaum

So it was always first and foremost because it was either really cold or it was really wet or it was unseasonably warm. And I think that that was always just how we present kind of the status of the day.

[[Meteorologist audio: “As we look into next week we might get some sun but we’re spending a few solid days below zero – and don’t forget about that windchill…”

Dalia Kirschbaum

We are impacted by weather all the time, every day. We make choices about our clothes, about our cars, about schools opening or closing. To be able to have tools and develop tools to better understand those processes is so vital to advancing kind of this integrated understanding of our Earth system.

[Theme Song: Curiosity by SYSTEM Sounds]

HOST PADI BOYD: This is NASA’s Curious Universe. Our universe is a wild and wonderful place. I’m your host Padi Boyd and in this podcast, NASA is your tour guide.

HOST PADI BOYD: Take a minute and think about how you got ready this morning. Or how you will get ready later today. Did you decide to wear a tee shirt, or put on a heavy jacket? Did you slip on some flip flops, or pull on snow boots instead? Are you going sledding today, or surfing?

HOST PADI BOYD: Odds are, your decisions had something to do with the weather.

HOST PADI BOYD: The weather today, tomorrow, and even yesterday has a huge impact on how we go about our lives, whetherwe think about it or not.

HOST PADI BOYD: And the weather doesn’t justaffect what we choose to wear on a given day, it affects our decisions. If you know a storm is coming, you might decide to stock up on groceries. And here at NASA, the weather decides if we can send a rocket into space!

HOST PADI BOYD: Many government agencies keep track of Earth’s changing weather. NASA collaborates with NOAA – the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration – to help monitor trends and predict upcoming weather events that could really impact people on the ground.

[Song: Striving for Equality Instrumental by Wiedmann]

HOST PADI BOYD: So ..what exactly do we mean when we talk about “the weather”?

Marangelly Fuentes

We’re talking about precipitation, we’re talking about temperature, we’re talking about humidity, what the wind will look like. We’re talking about how a natural disaster could impact a certain area in the next couple of days.

Marangelly Fuentes

My name is Marangelly Cordero-Fuentes, I am a tropical cyclones expert. I am the program manager for one of the big NASA contracts for hydrosphere, biosphere, and geophysics.

HOST PADI BOYD: Marangelly is one of NASA’s meteorologists, who uses models and data to predict what the weather will be.

HOST PADI BOYD: It’s so important for people to be prepared, especially when it comes to severe storms or other unusual weather events.

HOST PADI BOYD: One of the first goals of weather scientists is to make sure people know what’s coming…before it gets there.

Marangelly Fuentes

For me to have the ability to tell somebody that is close to me or not even, not even, even a stranger, is extremely personal. To let people know that they have to get ready, let people know that you might have 36 inches of snow coming your way, and make sure that you have all your basic needs, your medication, you have your food, etc.

[Song: Power Games Instrumental by Deshayes]

Marangelly Fuentes

So NOAA is the agency that really does all the public forecasts and predictions for the general public. But one of the responsibilities that NASA as a partner to NOAA is to launch weather satellites into orbit, and build these instruments that the satellites have to collect information like temperature. Some of that data, a large number of that data comes from satellites about six to 7 million at a time.

Marangelly Fuentes

We aid other agencies in their ability to do proper weather forecasting by providing these vehicles that help them collect that data, and then give you a five-day forecast.

HOST PADI BOYD: Scientists at NASA track our everyday weather, but also extreme or strange weather events. Marangelly specifically studies tropical cyclones or hurricanes.

HOST PADI BOYD: These huge storms start out along the coast of Africa and build as they travel across the ocean. If they meet land, they can cause a lot of destruction, so scientists like Marangelly watch them carefully as they form, and use models to predict if and when they might make landfall.

[[Sounds of storm, high winds, and waves]]

Marangelly Fuentes

If you have a series of thunderstorms that just come to the ocean, and they start feeding out of that warm water and that you know, humidity and latent heat, etc. They will intensify.

Marangelly Fuentes

The gasoline of a hurricane is warm water. If you think of a hurricane, you think about a cylinder from the bottom of the ocean to the top of the troposphere, which is the first layer of the atmosphere, you’re going to have this eye or cylinder and the clouds are just rotating around that centric low. At the bottom in the ocean, like right at the surface of the ocean, this centric low is just getting water, warm water in up and that when the water goes up, when you hit land, that’s what causes a storm surge right because there’s nowhere to go up, you’re gonna hit land is just gonna go into the land.

HOST PADI BOYD: Marangelly grew up on the island of Puerto Rico, which is often in the path of tropical storms. Having experienced these storms first-hand, she knows just how important it is to be informed.

[Song: Candles Underscore by Cotton Niblett]

Marangelly Fuentes

I moved out of Puerto Rico a long time ago. But I still have the sense of responsibility to let them know what I believe is going to happen if a storm forms and after looking at all the data and looking at my knowledge right after utilizing all that, to let them know, ‘If I were you I would prepare for a disaster.’ And that’s what happened when Maria hit.

HOST PADI BOYD: Hurricane Maria was a category 5 hurricane that hit the Caribbean head-on in 2017. Puerto Rico, Dominica, and Saint Croix sustained lasting damage. Maria was the deadliest storm of the 2017 hurricane season.

Marangelly Fuentes

It was five days before when it formed. I saw every model predicting a hit directly to Puerto Rico. And the forecast never changed, the models were to the tee, to the point, never changed. And I remember calling my mother and saying, ‘I’m sorry I have to tell you this. But you’re going to get hit by a hurricane.’ At the time, I was honestly not expecting it to become a category five hurricane. I was more looking into a three. I think it was one of my worst experiences to let my family know I have family that I knew their homes were not going to sustain and stay up so I had to tell family members, ‘Don’t stay in your house. Your house will not survive this.’ Many of them lost everything and if they stayed in their homes, they would have lost their life.

HOST PADI BOYD: In this case, Marangelly was able to contact her family directly…while NASA, NOAA, and even European weather agencies, collected and shared the data and let the public know what was coming.

HOST PADI BOYD: And that’s the goal for so many weather scientists – to make sure people all over the world are well informed.

Marangelly Fuentes

It’s extremely important to make sure the public knows what’s coming. Science has advanced so much in my field that we are capable as tropical cyclone scientists to save lives.

[Song: Presidential Candidates Instrumental by Dury]

HOST PADI BOYD: In order to warn people about weather events like these, meteorologists take in tons of data.

HOST PADI BOYD: These phenomena are huge and interconnected, so weather trackers like Marangelly study everything from pressure, temperature, precipitation, and more. They put all that data into mathematical models, to forecast when and where storms can occur.

Marangelly Fuentes

Math is a big part of meteorology. It is all about equations and all about numbers. So the biggest tool that we use is programming. You know, we are programming all day. You are dealing with large numbers of data. And we build some codes that will allow us to read massive amounts of data in a couple of seconds.

HOST PADI BOYD: Scientists could predict where and when Hurricane Maria would make landfall five days before it happened. But how do we collect the information that makes that possible?

HOST PADI BOYD: NASA builds and launches Earth-observing satellites that orbit our home planet, taking pictures and keeping track of tons of different weather information.

HOST PADI BOYD: This is where our partnership with NOAA comes into play.

[Song: Neutral Motion Instrumental by Chevalier]

Dan Lindsey

Hi, my name is Dan Lindsey. I work for NOAA, which is the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. And I work for the satellite portion of NOAA, we call that NESDIS. It’s an acronym as usual with the government.

Dan Lindsey

I’m a meteorologist by training, or I guess, technically an atmospheric scientist, basically the same thing.

Dan Lindsey

I got interested in weather as a kid. I grew up in Georgia. You may remember the ‘Storm of the Century’, which was a big storm that happened along the east coast of the US back in 1993. I was in high school at the time, and we received in north Georgia 16 inches of snow, which to me was the most exciting thing in the world. Because in Georgia, it doesn’t snow very often. And usually just an inch or two at a time.

HOST PADI BOYD: Dan is part of a huge team of scientists on the NOAA side, monitoring the changing patterns of Earth’s weather.

Dan Lindsey

What I’m actually more involved in with regard to weather is the observational side. It’s not predicting what’s going to happen tomorrow, necessarily, but it’s observing what is happening now. And one of the most fundamental ways to do that is from satellites.

HOST PADI BOYD: In order to forecast what’s ahead for tomorrow’s weather, you have to watch what’s happening today! Dan and other scientists use imaging and information from satellites orbiting the Earth, to keep track of weather worldwide.

HOST PADI BOYD: NOAA currently owns or operates 16 satellites, all orbiting out in space. These Earth-observing satellites come in all shapes and sizes.

HOST PADI BOYD: They range from the size of a riding lawnmower to a small school bus.

Dan Lindsey

One type of satellite is called a geostationary satellite. It orbits at the same rate that the Earth spins. So what that means is, it’s always looking at the same place on Earth at all times. The advantage of that is we’re able to collect an image every few minutes and string those together into a series of images that we would call a loop or an animation. And it’s really analogous to time-lapse photography from Earth.

[Song: Seeds of Possibilities Instrumental by Dury]

Dan Lindsey

We collect this at different wavelengths, including the visible, so it’s sort of an approximation of what our eyes would see if we were sitting up on the satellite looking down. And the result of that is we can track clouds and track storm systems. There’s a hurricane striking Florida, they’ll show satellite images, satellite animations of the hurricane spinning and then coming onshore. That data is collected from these weather satellites that I’m talking about.

HOST PADI BOYD: Dan works on a fleet of satellites called “GOES” – an acronym for Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellites.

HOST PADI BOYD: The moving images you might have seen on a weather report or news program likely came from these satellites.

[[Meteorologist voice: We are monitoring this storm right here as it’s coming in over the ocean. You can see from the satellite images that it’s building up steam in the Atlantic. We’ll be watching it though and keeping you up to date on how things look out there…]]

HOST PADI BOYD: By taking pictures of the same area over and over again, we can watch where storms move and how they change. Plus, by having this view from above, we can take the huge size of these systems into account.

Dan Lindsey

The biggest advantage of satellites is the ability to see a very large area at the same time, including remote areas. Let’s say we were on the Earth and we wanted to know what is happening halfway between California and Hawaii. So this is in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. That’s not easy to do. We could send a ship out there. But you know, a ship is just going to give you a point observation at the surface. From a satellite, we’re so far away at this geostationary orbit that we can see the entire hemisphere all at once. And we scan the entire hemisphere every 10 minutes. It allows us to keep track of where the storms are to be able to track them. And in some cases warn the public if it’s something like a hurricane or other dangerous things that we can see from satellite.

HOST PADI BOYD: Earth-observing satellites like GOES scan large areas at once – whole hemispheres – and they have an additional function that really comes in handy during an emergency.

Dan Lindsey

Say that someone is lost, lost at sea. They can put out sort of an SOS, ‘help me please’ type of signal. Our GOES satellites are able to relay that message back to people who can actually send out a help party.

HOST PADI BOYD: As an NOAA scientist, Dan works closely with NASA’s Earth team to observe the weather. NASA is responsible for building and launching satellites into orbit, and from there NOAA takes in data and distributes it to the public.

[Song: Across the Mountains Underscore by Chevalier]

Dan Lindsey

Generally speaking, NOAA’s job is to take the data from the satellites, provide it to the National Weather Service, which is another part of NOAA. The National Weather Service then and I’ll use a severe thunderstorm as an example.

[[Sounds of thunderstorm, hail]]

Dan Lindsey

They would take that information and issue their severe thunderstorm warning…

[[Meteorologist audio: And as you can see here we’ve got a storm front moving in from the southeast. We’re tracking thunderstorms with high winds and the potential for some hail…]]

Dan Lindsey

…and they would tell the public: Large hail is possible, damaging hail, strong winds greater than 60 miles per hour are possible. Take necessary precautions, those types of warnings.

[[Meteorologist audio: Now would be a great time to charge up your batteries. Look around for some blankets and candles just in case we do lose power during the storm. Make sure you stay off the roads if you can because it might get kind of slippery and dangerous out there…]]

Dan Lindsey

And there’s even things beyond weather, which we contribute to things like wildfires. Wildfires have been a big problem, especially the last few years, and especially out west. Our satellites are able to detect the hot spots from those wildfires as well.

HOST PADI BOYD: The National Weather Service is responsible for a lot of the notifications you’ve probably seen about weather. The warnings come on different cell phone apps, local news and radio stations, and even those interruptions that can sometimes play during a tv show!

HOST PADI BOYD: So now that the weather has been predicted and monitored, what comes next? This is when the science of understanding and responding starts.

Dalia Kirschbaum

My name is Dalia Kirschbaum, I am Chief of the Hydrological Sciences Lab at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. I also do research in natural disasters and work with new missions at NASA to study rain and snow around the world.

[Song: Time Passing Marimba Instrumental by Chevalier]

Dalia Kirschbaum

I loved math from a really early age. In fact, I would always remember sneaking little math, scrap sheets of paper at home to do extra math problems. But I really wasn’t quite sure where to take it. And so I decided to pursue my PhD, and really focus on how we can understand natural disasters, which is an area that I found fascinating.

HOST PADI BOYD: Who would’ve thought our everyday weather would have so much to do with math? But scientists use math and computer programming to find real-world solutions to problems on the ground.

Dalia Kirschbaum

I grew up in Minnesota, and there weren’t a whole lot of disasters that you would think of like hurricanes or earthquakes, but there were frequent floods.

[[Sounds of rushing flood waters]]

Dalia Kirschbaum

And I do recall, when I was younger, and even in high school, we went to go help. Like when the Red River flooded, school groups went and helped to put out sandbags. And I think that that piqued my interest in extremes and how the hydrologic cycle, you know, doesn’t always operate normally. It can have extreme impacts to communities. The connection that I found between extreme weather, tornadoes and extreme thunderstorms, and then the impacts to populations always inspired me from an early age to see how I could help.

HOST PADI BOYD: The hydrological cycle is the way water moves around our Earth’s systems. You might remember a diagram from science class showing evaporation, condensation, and precipitation.

HOST PADI BOYD: And when Dalia studies the hydrological cycle, that does include things like rain and Minnesotan snow. But there’s more to Earth’s weather systems than you might think.

Dalia Kirschbaum

One of the things that I do in my career is I study landslides. I’ve been doing this for about 15 years now.

[[Sound of landslides, falling rocks]]

Dalia Kirschbaum

And I work with a really amazing team, and collaborators all over the world to see how we can take different satellite data, and combine it to better understand where and when landslides happen. And so we have the only dynamic or continually updating model of rainfall-triggered landslides around the world. And we’ve also incorporated the estimate of exposure, which means that not only where is the hazard for landslides, but who and what may be impacted.

[Song: Unresolved Instrumental by Chevalier]

Dalia Kirschbaum

And we also look at not only modeling the processes but using high-resolution imagery to map landslides and use artificial intelligence or machine learning techniques to really get at where these landslides are happening. And that helps us to better inform and improve our models.

HOST PADI BOYD: Dalia is also a Disaster Response Coordinator, working with communities around the world who have experienced a natural disaster.

HOST PADI BOYD: The Disaster Response team uses NASA data and satellites to map out how to best bring relief to areas in need and potentially prevent destruction in the future.

Dalia Kirschbaum

One of the things that NASA has been enabling for many, many years is helping operational agencies and partners around the world to better respond to disasters. But not only that, to look at the entire disaster lifecycle, and that’s from planning and forecasting, through to response, to ultimately recovery, and hopefully resilience building. We have a team at NASA, again, working with people all over the world to help bring that different satellite information and products to bear during disasters and throughout the disaster lifecycle.

HOST PADI BOYD: We can use satellite data in many ways… from imaging hurricanes to tracking power outages.

HOST PADI BOYD: NASA launched its first weather satellite in 1960 and has been collecting data on Earth’s changing ecosystems for over 60 years! By learning how weather patterns are changing, we can track how the Earth is changing over long periods of time. This is particularly important for studying climate change.

[Song: Intriguing Coincidence Underscore by Chevalier]

Dalia Kirschbaum

I think the first thing to note is the difference between weather and climate. It’s time right? So weather is kind of like our mood on any given day. And climate’s like our personality.

Dalia Kirschbaum

One of the important things we do at NASA is have long-term data records to look and monitor our weather from day to day and observe those changes over time.

Dalia Kirschbaum

So we know that our Earth is changing and warming but it’s not equal everywhere. Global observations of our Earth are really vital so that we can monitor these changes and their impacts over time, as well as use this information to improve our models and predict how our climate may change in the future.

HOST PADI BOYD: The Earth is warming and we’re already seeing changes in our weather patterns. Severe weather events have intensified as the climate of our home planet changes.

Dalia Kirschbaum

We also know that we’re experiencing these changes in each of our communities in different ways.

[Song: Bigger Ideas Underscore by Cacae]

Dalia Kirschbaum

And that’s really where NASA Earth Science is going is how we can combine different types of satellite information with models and ground-based observations to really get an integrated picture of our Earth system. Because it’s not just looking at temperature, precipitation or humidity. We need to understand all of it together. And that’s really where we are evolving at NASA and with our partners, is to look at that in an integrated way just like we do in our everyday lives when we make an unconscious or conscious decision of whether or not to put on a sweatshirt or a t-shirt. That’s kind of how I, I think of it, which is I guess, all the time.

HOST PADI BOYD: Earth’s weather is wild, but it isn’t always wonderful. So whether we’re facing a snow day or a natural disaster, we like to be aware. And this is more important than ever due to climate change.

HOST PADI BOYD: Everyone on our planet is impacted every day by the whims of the weather.

HOST PADI BOYD: So the next time you think about weather – if it’s to bask in a sunny afternoon, or prepare for an incoming storm- take a minute to think about how fascinating and interconnected the Earth really is.

[[Meteorologist audio: And that’s been the six o clock weather report, now back to you…]]

[Song: Curiosity Outro by SYSTEM Sounds]

HOST PADI BOYD: This is NASA’s Curious Universe. This episode was written and produced by Christina Dana. Our executive producer is Katie Atkinson. The Curious Universe team includes Maddie Arnold and Micheala Sosby.

HOST PADI BOYD: Our theme song was composed by Matt Russo and Andrew Santaguida of System Sounds.

HOST PADI BOYD: Special thanks to Ellen Gray, Katy Mersmann, Derrol Nail, Anthony Hight, John Sackman, Lorne Mathre, Jake Richmond, and the Earth team.

HOST PADI BOYD: If you liked this episode, please let us know by leaving us a review, tweeting about the show @NASA, and sharing NASA’s Curious Universe with a friend.

HOST PADI BOYD: Still curious about NASA? You can send us questions about this episode or a previous one and we’ll try to track down the answers! You can email a voice recording or send a written note to Go to for more information.