Severe thunder storms formed over the midwestern United States on May 4, 2003, and spawned dozens of tornadoes that swept through parts of Kansas, Missouri, Arkansas, and Tennessee, leaving a wake of destruction and killing as many as 35 people. Eighty-three tornadoes were reported, according to an official with the Federal Emergency Management Agency, but the official count has not yet been confirmed. Pierce City, MO, was among the locations hardest hit. Residents of the small town in southwestern Missouri report that almost every structure in the town—houses and businesses alike—were flattened in a span of about 30 seconds by the tornado that roared through there.
After forming late in the day over southeastern Kansas and Missouri, the line of thunder storms moved quickly eastward. Much of the damage appears to be along the Kansas-Missouri border. One official with the National Weather Service estimates that the storm that ripped through Pierce City was at least a Category F3 tornado—packing winds between 158 and 206 miles per hour. Eastern states have been put on alert as the storm system moves toward the southern states, bringing the potential for more tornadoes to occur in Kentucky, eastern Tennessee, and northern Georgia.
The image above was acquired by the NOAA GOES-12 satellite on May 4. The time series animation shows cloud tops of the storm system forming over southeastern Kansas and Missouri and then moving eastward as night falls.
Image and animation courtesy Jesse Allen, NASA Earth Observatory; GOES data courtesy Dennis Chesters, NASA GSFC