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
Staff Writer, Spaceflight

Elizabeth Howell, Ph.D., is a staff writer in the spaceflight channel since 2022. She was contributing writer for Space.com (opens in new tab) for 10 years before that, since 2012. Elizabeth's reporting includes an exclusive with Office of the Vice-President of the United States, speaking several times with the International Space Station, witnessing five human spaceflight launches on two continents, working inside a spacesuit, and participating in a simulated Mars mission. Her latest book, "Why Am I Taller?", is co-written with astronaut Dave Williams. Elizabeth holds a Ph.D. and M.Sc. in Space Studies from the University of North Dakota, a Bachelor of Journalism from Canada's Carleton University and (soon) a Bachelor of History from Athabasca University. Elizabeth is also a post-secondary instructor in communications and science since 2015. Elizabeth first got interested in space after watching the movie Apollo 13 in 1996, and still wants to be an astronaut someday. Mastodon: https://qoto.org/@howellspace