On April 27, 2014 a ferocious tornado tracked over 41 miles (66 km) through north central Arkansas, leaving sixteen people dead and 400 – 500 homes destroyed in the approximately half-mile wide track. The tornado was reported to have been on the ground for about an hour – from 7:06 p.m. to 8:06 p.m. local time (0006 UTC to 0106 UTC). The National Weather Service (NWS) reported the tornado reached an F4 rating, which means winds were between 166-200 mph (267 – 322 km/h).
This tornado, which blew through the towns of Vilonia and Mayflower about 10 miles northwest of Little Rock, was the deadliest tornado to hit the state since May 15, 1968, when an F4 tornado killed 35 people. The intense April 2014 outbreak also spawned tornadoes in Nebraska, Iowa, Missouri and Oklahoma, and also caused wind damage and severe flooding across the southeast and Mid-Atlantic states.
The Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) aboard NASA’s Aqua satellite flew over the Little Rock region and captured a true-color image on April 28, after the tornado had passed and clouds had cleared. The city of Little Rock can be seen just southeast of the center of this image as a sprawling gray area, with gray lines (major highways) extending from the center. To the northeast, a small fishhook shaped blue lake can be seen, with another gray circle to its northwest. These are Lake Conway and the town of Conway, respectively. In the green forest east of Lake Conway a tan line can be seen running to the northeast. This is the tornado track, where the winds ripped down trees, buildings and everything else in its path. The track appears tan due to the tan color of the exposed soil.
The track can be seen more clearly in the higher resolution image; however, MODIS was designed to monitor broad swaths across the Earth’s surface each day, not to collect extreme high resolution data. The best resolution of 250 m (820 ft) per pixel allows the tornado's track to be visible, but does not offer a great deal of detail. For a closer look at the ground, other instruments can be used. On May 6, NASA’s Earth Observatory website offered a closer look at the damage from the Advanced Land Imager (ALI) and aerial photography. These can be viewed at: http://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/IOTD/view.php?id=83612