Using a new technology that scans hurricanes from outer space, meteorologists have been better able to predict how much damage storms are capable of, reports CBS News Correspondent Jerry Bowen.
The Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission, or TRMM, is a spacecraft that takes 3-D images of storms.
Using TRMM, meteorologists can track the more devastating hurricanes such as Mitch, and read their intensity in visual cues. For example, red indicates heavy precipitation -- more than two inches an hour.
Hurricane Bonnie only glanced up the eastern seaboard, causing minor coastal flooding, but TRMM revealed its true power for disaster had it reached landfall. With its 3-D imaging, Bonnie was shown to have columns of intense rain clouds, towering nearly 12 miles. These so-called "hot towers" may help forecasters.
"These are very, very tall clouds for hurricanes," says Marshall Shepherd of NASA's Goddard Space Center. "We haven't seen these types of clouds in hurricanes before. We think by monitoring these clouds we may be able to determine whether this is a sign of an intensifying hurricane."
They may also help predict potential killer hurricanes much earlier.
"Whereas before we could only see the tops of these systems, we now can see sort of under the hood of these systems," Shepherd says.
Enhancing this year's unrelenting hurricane season was a steady La Nina in the Pacific Ocean -- an abnormal cooling of the ocean s temperatures -- seen in green by the TRMM satellite, parting the red-hot waters of last year's El Nino.
More high winds and heavy rains could be on the way with a stronger La Nina.
All of which gives the busy TRMM spacecraft more to look at, and the rain has revealed a surprise. Rain drops aren't blob-like -- they're tiny. This may be no comfort to flood victims, but a stunner to the scientists who believe there's a link to climate change.
However, the discovery is so new, researchers don't know whether it's another signal of global warming or relief.
Reported By Jerry Bowen