The massive tornado that tore through parts of Oklahoma on My 20, 2013 left a 32 km (20-mile) swath of destruction and death, with winds approaching 320 km/hr (200 mph). The US National Weather Service said the 3 km (2-mile)-wide tornado spent 40 minutes on the ground in the area of Moore, Oklahoma, outside of Oklahoma City, destroying schools, a hospital and hundreds of homes, killing dozens of people. Satellite images and video show how the storm developed.
Below is a video showing satellite imagery from the GOES 13 satellite from May 19-20, 2013. It shows the tornado outbreak and supercell thunderstorms that developed across portions of the Great Plains:
Weather satellites help scientists to observe weather patterns from the unique vantage point of space. This provides the ability to see a larger area of the Earth rather than with conventional radar which does not reveal a true overview of cloud structure and wind patterns.
These satellites can measure many different things, such as in the image below, which looks at water vapor content of the clouds. The satellites operated by NASA and NOAA and are equipped to send back images in infrared and other wavelengths, providing snapshots of things like the water vapor measurements, temperatures, wind patterns, cloud coverage, storm movement and many other readings. This information also helps with the prediction of storms, allowing for warnings for people to seek shelter from potentially destructive weather events.
The news from Oklahoma is ongoing, and we encourage you to keep current on the latest information from other news sites. But as Phil Plait pointed out, if you are interested in helping the people involved in this tragedy, the Take Part website has a list of organizations that are in the area providing support.
You can see more images from Oklahoma tornado at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center Flickr page.
Sources: Marshall Space Flight Center Earth Science office, NOAA Satellite Information office, NOAA website, National Weather Service