John Metcalfe was CityLab’s Bay Area bureau chief, covering climate change and the science of cities.
Even from space, the storm that dropped the Moore tornado looks chilling.
As predicted by one meteorologist in awe over Moore's violent tornado history, the National Weather Service has upgraded the beast that tore through town Monday from EF4 to EF5-grade strength. There's no higher power rating for twisters – since these behemoths only come on average once a year, let's hope this was the last for 2013.
The view on the ground of the Moore tornado must've been unbearable. From space, it's still chilling. NASA's Aqua satellite took the above image at 2:40 p.m. CDT, five minutes before the storm dropped the tornado onto the surprisingly storm-shelterless Oklahoma. Summarizes the space agency:
The red line on the image depicts the tornado’s track. It touched down west of Newcastle at 2:56 p.m. and moved northeast toward Moore, where it caused dozens of deaths, hundreds of injuries, and widespread destruction to property and public buildings. The tornado had dissipated by 3:36 p.m., after traveling approximately 17 to 20 miles (27 to 32 kilometers).
The tornado moved through Moore like a sluggish lawnmower – with a top speed of 25 m.p.h., it was slower than the usual twister – and that likely contributed to the vast amount of damage it caused. You'll see it creep across the prairie in this satellite time-lapse footage compiled by NASA's Robert Simmon, using images snapped by NOAA's GOES-East satellite. The time window is from 10:45 a.m. to 6:45 p.m. CDT:
The visualization artists at NOAA found yet another way to picture this freak of the skies. This map shows the "rotational velocity" of the storm's wind currents as they appeared Monday on radar screens. Several strong whirls of air are visible over the state, with one beating a path straight through Moore. NOAA's National Severe Storms Laboratory is hoping this method of monitoring dangerous systems will one day help "identify potential tornado structures and increase lead-time for severe weather warnings":
Top image courtesy of Jeff Schmaltz/NASA