Changing Planet

Oklahoma’s Monster Twister From Space

 

The devastating tornado that barreled through the Oklahoma City area on Monday has produced some stunning on-the-ground video footage. But cameras aboard weather satellites are also putting a new perspective on the supercell thunderstorm that spawned this monster twister.

These “eyes in space” provided key imagery and data of the May 20 storm for weather forecasters, and chronicled the tornado’s birth and rapid movement through populated areas. According to NASA, this unique vantage point from orbit shows the effects of the warm, moist air from the Gulf of Mexico flowing across Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, and Missouri—eventually triggering the two-mile-wide tornado.

The above time-lapse animation is a compilation of still images snapped every 15 minutes on May 20 by U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) GOES-13 satellite, positioned 35,800 km (22,300 miles) above Earth in a geosynchronous orbit. The video may look like a serene sight from space, but it belies the true destructive nature of this tornado, now classified as an EF5—the strongest possible category of tornado. An EF5 on the enhanced Fujita scale means wind speeds topped out at over 200 miles per hour.

Meanwhile, natural light still images like the one below from NASA’s Aqua satellite show the top of the Oklahoma storm just minutes before it spawned the deadly tornado. Other satellites were also put into play throughout the day to allow for continuous monitoring and tracking of the storm. Check out NASA’s compilation of various imagery and video of the powerful storm that hit Oklahoma on Monday.

On May 20, 2013, a supercell thunderstorm in central Oklahoma spawned a destructive tornado that passed just south of Oklahoma City.  NASA's Aqua satellite acquired this image of the storm at 2:40 p.m. local time. The red line depicts the tornado's track.  Credit: NASA/Jeff Schmaltz, LANCE/EOSDIS MODIS Rapid Response Team at NASA Goddard; caption by Adam Voiland
On May 20, 2013, a supercell thunderstorm in central Oklahoma spawned a destructive tornado that passed just south of Oklahoma City. NASA’s Aqua satellite acquired this image of the storm at 2:40 p.m. local time. The red line depicts the tornado’s track.
Credit: NASA/Jeff Schmaltz, LANCE/EOSDIS MODIS Rapid Response Team at NASA Goddard; caption by Adam Voiland
Andrew Fazekas, aka The Night Sky Guy, is a science writer, broadcaster, and lecturer who loves to share his passion for the wonders of the universe through all media. He is a regular contributor to National Geographic News and is the national cosmic correspondent for Canada’s Weather Network TV channel, space columnist for CBC Radio network, and a consultant for the Canadian Space Agency. As a member of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, Andrew has been observing the heavens from Montreal for over a quarter century and has never met a clear night sky he didn’t like.
  • werty

    great but the tornado is really fat.

  • Norm

    “What nature doesn’t do to us will be done by our fellow man” (sung by the Kingston Trio)

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