What is a satellite tornado?

April 13, 2015: You’ve likely heard or read about this term since the April 9th tornado outbreak in the Stateline: satellite tornado.  So, what is it?

A satellite tornado refers to a tornado that forms within the same severe thunderstorm of a much larger, more intense tornado.  The smaller tornado orbits around the larger tornado, much like a satellite does around a larger body in space.  The tornadoes are completely separate from the primary, massive tornado. The cause of satellite tornadoes is unknown at this time; however, if conditions were ideal enough to produce a large, violent tornado, then it seems reasonable that secondary tornadoes could form too.

Approximate paths of the EF-4 tornado and two satellite tornadoes

Approximate paths of the EF-4 tornado and two satellite tornadoes

So far, at least two tornadoes have been identified by the National Weather Service as being satellite tornadoes to the massive, devastating EF-4 tornado that hit near Rochelle, Ashton, and Fairdale on April 9th.  One was a weak EF-0 tornado that touched down briefly east of Lindenwood and I-39. The second was an EF-1 tornado that formed northwest of Kirkland, then moved to just north of the Boone Co. line.

The NWS is still investigating the damage from last week’s tornado outbreak, and more tornadoes may be identified, as well as additional tornadoes designated as satellites of the violent EF-4. This information may change a little, so we will keep the updates coming as we get them.

-Alex

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Posted under science, severe weather, tornado, weather

This post was written by Alex Kirchner on April 13, 2015

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