After a powerful EF-4 tornado barreled through the farming community of Fairdale, Illinois, on April 9, 2015, homes were transformed into chaotic piles of wood, trees were left coated with tufts of insulation, and cars were strewn about like a child’s toys.
As seen from space, the aftermath of a tornado has a very different look. The Operational Land Imager (OLI) on Landsat 8 acquired this image of northern Illinois on April 10, 2015. Evidence of the Fairdale tornado appears as a line of damaged vegetation and disturbed soil scrawled across the agricultural landscape. Since Landsat 8 has a spatial resolution of 15 meters (49 feet) per pixel, individual houses are difficult to distinguish in such imagery. Whole towns appear as small patches of gray. To make it easier to distinguish the tornado track from surrounding fields, this false-color image combines shortwave infrared, near infrared, and green light (OLI bands 7-5-3). Living vegetation appears green and fallow or newly planted farm fields are shades of brown.
The satellite view makes clear how unlucky the 150 people of Fairdale were. The tornado track fades away just a few kilometers (mile) northeast of Fairdale, suggesting the community nearly escaped severe damage. The town of Rochelle, in contrast, was far enough south of the tornado to avoid its wrath. According to news reports, two people were killed in Fairdale, 20 people were injured, and 70 homes were destroyed.
Records of historical tornado tracks show that EF-4 and EF-5 tornados (the most potent) are uncommon in northern Illinois, but they do occasionally occur. The map above, based on data from the NOAA/National Weather Service’s Storm Prediction Center, shows the location of all the major tornados that have affected northern Illinois between 1950 and 2014. EF-5 tornados are shown in white, EF-4 are pink, and EF-3 and below are shades of purple. (Note: The 2015 April 9 event was not included in the NOAA database and was digitized using the Landsat scene.)
NASA Earth Observatory images by Joshua Stevens, using Landsat data from the U.S. Geological Survey and tornado track data from the NOAA National Weather Service Storm Prediction Center. Caption by Adam Voiland.