Date

SUMMARY

Date: Dec. 10, 2021
Type: Severe & Winter Weather
Region: North America, Midwest U.S.
Info & Resources: 

Update Dec. 16, 2021

Satellites Map Tornado Damage in Kentucky

Detailed view of damage to Bowling Green, KY.
Zoomed view of a damage proxy map (DPM) showing likely damaged buildings and infrastructure in Bowling Green, KY, on Dec. 11, 2021. Credits: ARIA Team, NASA JPL. Copyright contains modified Copernicus Sentinel data (2021) processed by the ESA.

NASA researchers used satellite observations to create a damage proxy map (DPM) to help identify damaged buildings and infrastructure from the severe weather and tornadoes that hit Kentucky and surrounding states on Dec. 10, 2021. Click here to read the full story. 

Nighttime Images Detail Kentucky Blackout

These maps show nighttime light emissions before and after the severe storms passed through Kentucky. Credits: NASA Earth Observatory

A team of scientists from the Universities Space Research Association (USRA) and NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center (GSFC) processed and analyzed data from the Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS) on the NOAA–NASA Suomi NPP satellite to generate maps of nighttime light emissions before and after the severe storms passed through Kentucky. Click here to read the full story at NASA Earth Observatory.

Update Dec. 15, 2021

On the night of Friday, Dec. 10, the Midwestern U.S. was struck by a series of tornadoes, intense thunderstorms, and bursts of straight-line wind, leaving a path of destruction across up to eight states, including Arkansas, Missouri, Tennessee, Kentucky, and Illinois. Some of the worst damage came from a tornadic storm with a historically long track that started in Arkansas and crossed through Missouri, Tennessee, and Kentucky for several hours. The storm brought winds ranging from 158 to 206 miles (254 to 332 kilometers) per hour according to the NWS, and a ground track that may have blown across 200 miles (300 kilometers) and spanned 0.75 miles (1.2 kilometers) at its widest. The NWS is still conducting damage assessments to determine the strength of the multiple tornadoes which struck the region, some of which are expected to be EF3 strength or higher on the Enhanced Fujita (EF) scale.

The impacts from the storms have been devastating; with preliminary reports indicating it was the deadliest tornado event in the U.S. since the 2011 Joplin, Missouri tornado. Economically, the outbreak is already considered the costliest tornado event in U.S. history, with initial estimates of $18 billion in total damage and economic loss.

The town of Mayfield, Kentucky was one of the worst hit regions, with over 1,000 homes and businesses destroyed according to media reports. As of Tuesday, Dec. 14 the official death toll from the storms was 88 people, with many more still unaccounted for. Over 25,000 homes remain without power, and thousands of homes have no running water, wastewater treatment or natural gas. Cleanup and recovery from the damage may take years, according to emergency officials in Kentucky.

On December 12, 2021, the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Aqua satellite acquired this natural-color image of the tornado track across western Kentucky near Mayfield. This area endured some of the worst damage of the fierce storm front. Credits: NASA Earth Observatory

NASA’s Earth Applied Sciences Disasters program area has activated to support response and recovery for the storms with Earth-observing data and analysis. Researchers are working closely with stakeholders from FEMA and the National Weather Service (NWS), helping integrate satellite observations of the storms into their mapping portals. These include ESA Sentinel-2 and PlanetScope satellite imagery, work that was aided by the IMPACTS team at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center who manages NASA’s commercial smallsat data acquisition program. These data can aid disaster response teams in quantifying the location and extent of damage caused by the storms. Day-night-band data from the NASA / NOAA Suomi-NPP satellite are also being used to aid in identifying power outages. Data are also being shared on the NASA Disasters Mapping Portal.

NASA Disasters communications coordinator Timothy “Seph” Allen lives in between two of the worst-hit towns in Kentucky, Mayfield and Benton. “My family is grateful to be safe–and that we were prepared with supplies and a disaster plan,” said Allen “That said, I don’t think there’s anyone in this region who doesn’t know someone who has suffered tremendous loss.”  In the days since the storm hit, Allen has been traveling around the region to document the damage and aid recovery efforts. He was able to connect the incident commander in Mayfield with NASA Disasters coordinators to aid in quantifying the damage with satellite observations.

GOES-16 imagery of the tornadic storms from Dec. 9 -11.
(upper-left) Peak GOES-16 cloud-top height relative to the height of the NASA GMAO GEOS-5 tropopause analysis aggregated at 1-minute intervals from 21 UTC on 10 December to 09 UTC on 11 December 2021, showing that the updrafts of the most intense tornadic storms reached 1-2 km into the stratosphere. (upper-right) Minimum GOES-16 tropopause-relative infrared brightness temperature, showing streaks of cold temperatures corresponding to tornadic storm updrafts. (lower-left) Overshooting cloud top probability based on the spatial texture of infrared temperature showing the tracks of the most intense updrafts, most notably the Quad-State supercell storm. This product is described in detail in Khlopenkov et al. (JGR, 2021) and Cooney et al. (JGR, 2021) (lower-right) A map of preliminary severe weather reports obtained from the NOAA Storm Prediction Center and severe weather warnings issued by the National Weather Service throughout the period shown in the GOES-16 satellite products. Credits: Satellite Mapping and Assessment of Severe Hail (SMASH) Team, NASA Langley Research Center

Researchers from NASA's Langley Research Center, supported by the NASA ROSES A.37 research project “Hail Storm Risk Assessment Using Space-Borne Remote Sensing Observations and Reanalysis Data,” are studying the storms using GOES-16 geostationary satellite imagery. While the event was well observed by the U.S. NEXRAD radar network, the team is working to determine how well the storms were detected and characterized in terms of their intensity from a satellite perspective. The analysis of infrared temperature data shows that storm cloud tops reached as high as .62-1.24 miles (1-2 km) into the stratosphere (9.3 miles / 15 km above ground level), and that a distinct line of anomalously cold temperatures aligned with the primary supercell storm track across the quad-state region. Such cold temperatures indicate extremely strong updrafts that support development of powerful tornadoes.  This analysis builds upon previous work to find the signatures of tornadoes and extreme thunderstorms using infrared satellite data.

Update By: Jacob Reed, NASA Disasters

Emergency crews handing out supplies at a donation center at the Mayfield-Graves County Fairgrounds in Mayfield, Kentucky on Dec. 13, 2021. Credits: Timothy “Seph” Allen, NASA Disasters
Volunteer emergency crews hand out supplies at a donation center at the Mayfield-Graves County Fairgrounds in Mayfield, Kentucky, Dec. 13, 2021. Credits: Timothy “Seph” Allen, NASA Disasters
Damage to buildings near Mayfield, Kentucky. Credits: Timothy “Seph” Allen, NASA Disasters
Damage to a local church building on the outskirts of Mayfield, Kentucky, Dec. 13, 2021. Credits: Timothy “Seph” Allen, NASA Disasters
Damage to a local church building near Mayfield, Kentucky, Dec. 13, 2021. Credits: Timothy “Seph” Allen, NASA Disasters
Damage to buildings near Mayfield, Kentucky, Dec. 13, 2021. Credits: Timothy “Seph” Allen, NASA Disasters