Joplin, Missouri Tornado Seen From Space

Article written: 24 May , 2011
Updated: 18 Jan , 2016

This video from NOAA’s GOES geostationary satellite shows the development of the supercell storm that produced the devastating tornado that struck Joplin, Missouri. Here you can see the storm develop over Missouri, Oklahoma, Kansas state lines on May 22, 2011 between 12:44pm to 7:15pm CDT. This was part of the great wave of severe storms that swept across the central United States, with tornado warnings from Minneapolis to Dallas. The most damaging storm struck Joplin at 5:30 pm local time (2230 UTC), killing at least 116 people.

Below is imagery from the Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission satellite (TRMM).

This animation blends a visible image of the supercell's clouds as seen from the GOES-13 satellite with a rainfall analysis from the TRMM satellite to show where the heaviest rainfall (red) was occurring. Credit: NASA/SSAI, Hal Pierce

TRMM captured an image of the rainfall rate in the supercell thunderstorm/tornado that struck Joplin, Missouri.

TRMM can calculate rain rates weather systems. On May 22 at 2042 UTC (3:42 p.m. CDT), about two hours before the deadly tornado touched down in Joplin, Missouri, TRMM captured rainfall rates in the supercell that was approaching Joplin from the west. A supercell, also known as a rotating thunderstorm, is a thunderstorm with a deep, continuously-rotating updraft.

“This supercell contained a deadly tornado as it moved into southwestern Missouri a few hours later and hit Joplin, Missouri,” said Hal Pierce, meteorologist on NASA’s TRMM team who created images using TRMM rainfall imagery. TRMM’s Microwave Imager (TMI) and Precipitation Radar (PR) were used to create images that showed an analysis of rainfall in the vicinity of the storm. TRMM data revealed a large area of heavy rainfall, where rainfall rates were more than 2 inches (50 millimeters) per hour.

Boston Globe’s Big Picture shows some of the devastation close up.

Sources: NOAA, NASA

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