Oklahoma Tornado Storm System Captured By Satellites
May 22, 2013

Satellites Capture Storm System That Created Devastating Oklahoma Tornado

[Watch the video “Satellite Sees Storm System Generate Powerful Oklahoma Tornado”]

Peter Suciu for redOrbit.com — Your Universe Online

When it comes to natural disasters, survivors often ask why and how such a thing could have occurred. In the case of the tornado that struck and devastated Moore, Oklahoma this week, those questions will still be asked, but researchers can at least determine how the storm was generated.

Satellites operated by NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) were able to observe the storm system that generated this week´s severe weather, including the supercell thunderstorms in the south central United States which spawned the F-4 tornado that struck 10 miles south of Oklahoma City on Monday afternoon.

Before, during and even after the tornado, the satellites were able to provide imagery and data to forecasters with the first tornado warning issued around 2:40 p.m. Central CDT. At 3:01 p.m. a tornado emergency was issued for Moore, and at 3:36pm the tornado spun down and dissipated.

The tornado that laid waste to Moore was an F-4 tornado on the enhanced Fujita scale, indicating sustained winds of 166 to 200 mph. The tornado that struck on Monday was about twice as wide as the one that struck the city on May 3, 1999.

NASA´s Aqua satellite was able to capture a visible-light image that provided a detailed look at the supercell thunderstorm. This NASA Earth Science satellite mission is part of NASA-based international Earth Observing System (EOS). It was launched on May 4, 2002 and has six EOS instruments on board that can collect information about Earth´s water cycle. This satellite provided Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS), which was able to help provide the first tornado warning.

NOAA´s GOES-13 satellite was also able to provide continuously updated satellite imagery that depicted the storm´s movement every 15 minutes, including an image that was captured at 2:55 p.m. CDT as the tornado began its deadly swath.

According to NOAA, “the tornado was generated near the bottom of a line of clouds resembling an exclamation mark .” The GOES-13 satellite imagery from the entire day was later assembled into an animation by the NASA GOES Project at NASA´s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.

After the tornado dissipated, the MODIS instrument aboard NASA´s Aqua satellite provided a image of the supercell thunderstorm that spawned the Moore tornado. That image was created by the NASA Goddard MODIS Rapid Response Team and Adam Voiland at the NASA Earth Observatory.

Following the dissipation of the tornado, the NASA-NOAA Suomi National Polar-orbiting Partnership satellite´s lightning observations further showed that the thunderstorm complex was still active after nightfall. This satellite carries sensitive, low-light instruments that can detect lightning in the middle of the night, whilst the the Day/Night band on Suomi NPP is able to produce nighttime imagery using illumination from natural sources such as the moon or forest fires as well as man-made sources like city lights.