John Metcalfe was CityLab’s Bay Area bureau chief, covering climate change and the science of cities.
A space-based animation shows how fierce storms are sowing destruction over the South.
The U.S. South is currently being pummeled by an outbreak of severe storms. At least 16 people have already died, and tornado warnings are still active in three states as of 5:30 p.m. EDT. The genesis of this nasty weather is now on display at NASA's website, which has compiled satellite footage of this major system whipping over the land. And it's every bit as humbling as you'd imagine: titanic clouds boiling into the atmosphere over and over again, obscuring structure-demolishing winds lashing at the earth below.
This animation of images from NOAA's GOES-East satellite tracks the weather from Saturday night to Monday morning. A violent squall line of thunderstorms starts to form around 10:45 EDT on Sunday morning. "This storm system generated reports of tornadoes from Nebraska, Kansas, Iowa, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Louisiana, and Mississippi," writes NASA:
Vilonia and Mayflower, Arkansas, are two towns that met with brutal destruction. The above image from NOAA shows disturbances in the atmosphere about an hour before Sunday's tornadoes were reported in these locales. The rush of terrific winds that followed turned over vehicles like they were made of cork, reports CNN:
"There were cars flipped everywhere, there were people screaming," James Bryant, a Mississippi State University meteorology student, told CNN's "New Day" on Monday. "It was a tough scene."...
Another meteorology student, Cotton Rohrscheib, described how the storm picked up his truck and skidded it about 120 feet down a highway.
"We were all hunkered down inside of the truck, and praying," he said.
Another signifier of the power of this system comes from the National Weather Service's Storm Prediction Center, which logged 30 reports of tornadoes on Sunday as well as more than 200 reports of hail and damaging winds. (Today's storm-reports list is also daunting, with at least one multi-vortex tornado spotted crossing a highway in Mississippi.) The outbreak has left parts of the land looking clear-cut, as seen in this aerial footage near Mayflower. It's just one more testament to the tumultuous start of peak tornado season every spring: