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Deadly Alabama tornado 'supercell' spotted in satellite imagery

The severe storms in Alabama this week are visible even from space.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's GOES East satellite captured an animation of a "supercell" creating a large tornado in central Alabama, near Brent and Centerville. "In the 16-second timelapse, you can see the lightning that accompanied the storm during March 25," NOAA tweeted (opens in new tab) Friday (March 26).

Earlier Friday, several tornadoes touched down in the state, killing at least six people and leaving effects for local populations across the state ranging from no power, to torn-down houses, to downed trees, according to the New York Times (opens in new tab).

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This view of devastating storms over Alabama as seen by the GOES East satellite on March 26, 2021. (Image credit: NOAA)

The National Weather Service has reported several tornadoes in Alabama, including one that touched down near Birmingham and migrated more than 100 miles (160 kilometers) to the northeast, the Times added. The Huntsville branch of NWS forecast "strong to severe storms" later Friday night and also again on Saturday night. "Cooler and drier to start next week," the service (opens in new tab)added in a tweet Friday.

Satellites are commonly used to help forecasters map and predict severe weather and ideally, to create early warning systems to keep local populations safe amid rapidly changing weather forecasts. Astronauts on the International Space Station sometimes supplement satellite observations with their own photography, as time permits, although no tweets about the Alabama storm have appeared yet from the Expedition 64 crew.

Back on the ground, NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center – near Huntsville – sent any employees on-campus to work from home, although most were likely at their living quarters anyway due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

"Marshall started an orderly dismissal of employees & on-site operations at noon today due to weather," Marshall tweeted (opens in new tab) around 12:45 p.m. local time. "Check for status updates in case there are further changes to the center's status. All employees should check with their supervisors & check their email for more info. Stay safe!"

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Elizabeth Howell, Ph.D., is a contributing writer for Space.com (opens in new tab) since 2012. As a proud Trekkie and Canadian, she tackles topics like spaceflight, diversity, science fiction, astronomy and gaming to help others explore the universe. Elizabeth's on-site reporting includes two human spaceflight launches from Kazakhstan, and embedded reporting from a simulated Mars mission in Utah. She holds a Ph.D. and M.Sc (opens in new tab). in Space Studies from the University of North Dakota, and a Bachelor of Journalism from Canada's Carleton University. Her latest book, NASA Leadership Moments, is co-written with astronaut Dave Williams. Elizabeth first got interested in space after watching the movie Apollo 13 in 1996, and still wants to be an astronaut someday.