Satellite Analysis of Feb 3rd Alabama Tornado Producing Storms (author: Coley Chapman)

On February 3rd, 2022 a large thunderstorm originating in Mississippi crossed into west Alabama. During the storm, 3 EF-2 tornadoes touched down within an hour and a half, and later two EF-0 tornadoes touched down. The most destructive and largest of the 5 was the Forkland- Sawyerville Tornado, touching down at 1:38. It caused 8 injuries and unfortunately 1 fatality.

The storm that caused the tornado can be seen in the following surface analysis map from the national weather service. This surface analysis map shows the temperature in red numbers and then the dew point in green numbers, and the closer the two the more humid the air is. In this surface analysis map taken at 12 pm, we can see a warm air mass coming up from the Gulf of Mexico and meeting a much cooler air mass on land. This meeting creates a cold front (lined in blue on the map) that can be a catalyst for intense thunderstorms.

Beyond just surface analysis maps, we can also see this same moist air mass coming up from the Gulf of Mexico in a water vapor image from GOES-16. GOES-16 is a geostationary satellite that is constantly pointed at the eastern United States. It has an imager that is capable of isolating different wavelengths, or bands, of information. Band 10, shown below, corresponds to the IR energy emitted from low-level water vapor. As the image gets brighter, it corresponds with more humid air.

Another notable feature of the GOES-16 Satellite is the ability to zoom in on a small section of the viewable area and acquire data that is both higher resolution and faster to update. GOES-16 Features two of these Mesoscale Imagers, and during the Alabama tornadoes on February 3rd, both were used to track the storm with new images coming in every minute. In the image below, I have superimposed the two images on top of each other to show the entire viewable area at the time the largest tornado touched down. This technology showcases the ability of satellites to help people in need on the ground with real-time updates.