Researchers made a very interesting discovery during the May 20th, 2013 Moore Tornado. This powerful supercell producing an EF-5 tornado sent shock waves upward into the ionosphere. That’s a pretty impressive feat considering all of our significant weather occurs well below 100km. The ionosphere is at 300km or basically where our Space Station orbits.

Weathersphere

Weathersphere

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These ionospheric variations are classified into concentric waves (circles originating outward from a center) and short-period oscillations (moving back and forth), similar to earthquakes. They are detected using GPS satellites and sensitive receivers.

3D schematic of how the waves propagated in altitude

3D schematic of how the waves propagated in altitude

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These waves traveled outward across the country for the next 7+ hours.

Maps of the total electron content perturbation component measured during the event.

Maps of the total electron content perturbation component measured during the event.

It’s important to distinguish that this phenomenon was caused by the supercell itself, not the actual tornado. Scientists are excited about this discovery and how ionospheric observations could provide information on meteorological events in the future. We are constantly learning new things in this field. If you would like to read the entire paper, you can find it here.  For a shorter press release summary, read here.

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