WunderBlog Archive » Category 6™

Category 6 has moved! See the latest from Dr. Jeff Masters and Bob Henson here.

Incredible Lightning Photos of the Eye of Bansi From the International Space Station

By: Jeff Masters 2:10 AM GMT on January 18, 2015

One of the most incredible photographs ever of a tropical cyclone was taken this week of Tropical Cyclone Bansi in the South Indian Ocean, which peaked as a Category 5 storm with 160 mph winds on January 13 at 00 UTC. Lightning within an intense thunderstorm in the eyewall of the storm lit up the eye at night, which was captured on the International Space Station by Astronaut Sam Cristoforetti in the photos below. Bansi grazed the French island of La Reunion, off the coast of Madagascar, on January 13. The storm dumped up to 22 inches of rain, according to RSMC-Tropical Cyclone Centre La Reunion, the official agency for monitoring tropical cyclones in the southwest Indian Ocean. More populated areas of the island picked up 6 -10 inches of rain. La Reunion is notorious for its incredible rains from tropical cyclones, due to its steep volcanic terrain and location in the Southwest Indian Ocean's "hurricane alley." According to the World Meteorological Organization, world rainfall records that have been set there include:

12 hours: 45.00" (1.144 m), Jan. 7 - 8, 1966 during Tropical Cyclone Denise
24 hours:  71.85" (1.825 m), Jan. 7 - 8, 1966 during Tropical Cyclone Denise
72 hours: 154.72" (3.930 m), Feb. 24 - 26, 2007 during Tropical Cyclone Gamede
96 hours: 194.33" (4.936 m), Feb. 24 - 27, 2007 during Tropical Cyclone Gamede
10 days: 223.50" (5.678 m), Jan. 18 - 27, 1980 as Tropical Cyclone Hyacinthe moved slowly over the island

The 12-hour rainfall record of 45" on La Reunion is more rain than Death Valley, California gets in twenty years!

Figures 1 and 2. Lighting in the eyewall lights up the eye of Tropical Cyclone Bansi, as seen from the International Space Station. The date of the photos was not given, but presumably was January 13, 2015, when Bansi was near peak intensity as a Category 5 storm with 160 mph winds. Image credit: Astronaut Sam Cristoforetti.

Bansi one of the strongest tropical cyclones on record in the Southwest Indian Ocean
According to TWC's Michael Lowry, very few stronger tropical cyclones have been recorded in the Southwest Indian Ocean. The strongest storm on record to form there was Tropical Cyclone Agnielle of November 1995, which peaked as a Category 5 storm with 175 mph winds. The only other Cat 5s to form in the basin were Geralda (January 1994) and Gafilo (March 2004), which had top sustained winds of 165 mph and 160 mph, respectively. Bansi was a Category 1 storm on Saturday evening, and was headed east-southeastwards towards colder waters and an expected dissipation on Monday.

Jeff Masters


The views of the author are his/her own and do not necessarily represent the position of The Weather Company or its parent, IBM.