The tornado damage from this past weekend’s severe weather outbreak can be clearly seen from ground level. However thousands of miles above Earth, via satellite, the visible scars can be seen across many landscapes. This imagery is from NASA’s Aqua Satellite using the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS).
Notice how you can see the path of this tornado in Mississippi. This was the EF-4 that was as wide as 2 miles at its widest extent, traveling on the ground for more than 65 miles. The imagery, courtesy the Earth Laboratory of NASA, shows a brown stripe where the tornado’s path ripped the green vegetation away.
Take for instance the same image, but in infrared mode. This is a remote sensing tool allowing us to examine the radiant heat of objects. In this case, the untouched ground away from the tornado is a brighter orange, representing slightly cooler reflective temperature. On the other hand where the tornado struck, that line appears darker orange and correlates to warmer reflective temperature.
Why would it be hotter in the tornado damage path?
Look to the leaves. Since this tornado was so wide and so strong, it ripped the leaves off vegetation and killed many trees. As a result, those trees and surrounding vegetation are not cooling the air by “transpiration” which is basically evaporation from the leaves, into the air, which usually cools the air slightly.
Another case example of the recent severe weather outbreak takes us to South Carolina. Here, EF-3 tornado damage was observed by the European Space Agency’s Sentinel-2 Satellite.
This tornado in South Carolina can be more clearly seen when you look at the landscape before the severe weather event.
Comparing the @esa Sentinel-2 Satellite images from 4/13 (L) and 4/11 (R) we can see the tornado damage that occurred early Monday morning near the Savannah River Site. The damage scars stand out as new, lighter lines on the image. pic.twitter.com/8jvnGMpPrH
— NWS Columbia (@NWSColumbia) April 15, 2020
The EF-3 that hit South Carolina Monday was rare. A tornado of that strength and rating does not happen often in the state, according to Meteorologist Melissa Griffin.
Out of the 1,038 tornadoes on record for the state between 1950 and 2019, (E)F3+ tornadoes make up only 4% of all tornadoes that have hit South Carolina. (3% for (E)F3, 1% for (E)F4).
Over those 70 years, there is no record of an (E)F5 tornado anywhere in the state. pic.twitter.com/Fjjuy2j2Qg
— Melissa Griffin (@mlgriffinWX1) April 15, 2020
Additional severe weather is expected to occur this weekend, especially on Sunday the 19th of April.