Kincade fire, October 24, 2019 © 2019, Planet Labs Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Krissy is Planet's wordsmith. She loves writing about rocket science and innovative technologies, among other Earth-shaking topics.

The Kincade and Saddleridge Fires, Dallas Tornadoes and Japan’s Typhoon


As natural disasters continue to leave their mark on communities and environments, satellite imagery is proving useful to journalists as they inform the public about these important events. Here are some examples of how satellite data can be utilized to help monitor environmental catastrophes.

Kincade Fire

Over a thousand firefighters are currently battling the Kincade fire in Sonoma County today as wind-driven flames continue to tear through California’s wine country. At present, the fire is only five percent contained, and Planet continues to monitor the situation and provide reporters with the data they need to inform the public of the fire’s spread, as seen in the Washington Post, CNN, and SFist coverage this morning.

Kincade fire, October 24, 2019 © 2019, Planet Labs Inc. All Rights Reserved.

As for the fire’s cause, state regulators are investigating a piece of broken equipment at a transmission tower owned by Pacific Gas and Electric to see if it had a role in sparking the flames.

Saddleridge Fire

As of Tuesday this week, the Saddleridge fire that started in northern San Fernando Valley on October 10 is 97 percent contained, with 8,800 acres charred, according to officials. Soon after the fires began, satellite imagery showed the location of the fires as smoke clouds billowed over the area 20 miles north of Los Angeles, forcing school closures and causing traffic jams as many fled their homes.

Planet imagery shows smoke from the Saddleridge Fire about 20 miles north of downtown Los Angeles © 2019, Planet Labs Inc. All Rights Reserved.

While the cause remains a mystery, L.A. fire department investigators identified the point of origin as a 50-by-70-foot area under a Southern California Edison high-voltage transmission tower near Saddleridge Road, according to the Los Angeles Daily News.

Dallas Tornado

A tornado twisted through northwest Dallas this Sunday, and reporters utilized satellite imagery and data to show the extent of the damage.

Planet imagery shows the tornado’s path of damage through parts of northern and northwest Dallas © 2019, Planet Labs Inc. All Rights Reserved.

“Stunning before and after photos from satellites have since emerged depicting the tempest’s fury as up to 140 mph winds carved a path 15 miles long,” writes Washington Post reporter Matthew Cappucci. “The photos, from Planet Labs, are sobering, revealing the power and caprice of the voracious vortex.”

As revealed in the Post’s coverage, Cappucci used our data to confirm reports of damaged buildings and properly convey to the public the scope of the damage that can occur with 90 mph winds.

Planet imagery shows school buildings that suffered damage. To the far left, several buildings have been reduced to rubble due to 90 mph winds. © 2019, Planet Labs Inc. All Rights Reserved.

“On the right, by the high school, you’ll notice several piles of rubble,” Cappucci writes. “These were originally modular buildings that succumbed in high-end EF-1 winds. It should be apparent why remaining in a mobile home for a tornado invites the chance of serious injury or death.”

Satellite imagery can also show how twisters can affect bodies of water. Two pools at the Royal Lane Condominiums in Preston Royal Office Park, for example, now appear to be drained in the tornado’s wake.

Planet imagery showing The Royal Lane Condominiums. In the middle upper part of the image, it’s clear that water is from the two southern pools. © 2019, Planet Labs Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Sunday’s tornado was one of at least nine that devastated parts of Dallas and neighboring locations.

Japan’s Typhoon

Typhoon Hagibis—what some are calling the worst storm Japan has seen in over 60 years—battered the land and left parts of eastern and central Japan under water.

Featured in Reuter’s in-depth report, our satellite imagery shows recreational floodplains that have been completely inundated.

BBC reporters also utilized our imagery to show the effects of the flooding on the Naka river in Hinuma, as well as the Tama, Tone and Watarase rivers.

Hinuma River, Japan, October 13, 2019 // Credit: Rob Simmon, Planet

Hinuma River, Japan, October 13, 2019 © 2019, Planet Labs Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Emergency response teams continue to partake in search and rescue operations to save those affected by the flooding and landslides.

Keeping a Dove’s Eye on Things

In the vein of monitoring environmental impacts, California just announced plans to use Planet’s Doves to monitor wildfires within the state and coal plants around the world.

The idea spawned from Satellites for Climate Action, an initiative to help people using Planet’s data to understand how the world is moving toward a “low-carbon future,” Quartz reports.

Following a series of exciting product and satellite technology announcements at Planet’s Explore 19 conference last week—Governor Gavin Newsom delivered spirited remarks on the capabilities of our imagery and data.

“What frustrates you also frustrates folks in positions like mine … receiving some report that says everything we kind of already knew, but with old data that doesn’t meet the moment. And then [that data] collects dust, generates a headline–maybe a task force–and we meet to collect another annual report that does the same,” Newsom said. “What I love about [Planet] is that it’s promoting the ability to, in [near-real] time, at 10:30 every morning, collect data and make real what that data holds and what it promises.”

Journalists! Planet imagery can be useful for reporters who are investigating important issues. You can sign up for a Planet Explorer account—free for the first two weeks—to unlock the potential for visual and compelling stories.