Jesse Ferrell

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Tornado Debris Balls and Aerial Drone Damage Videos

April 29, 2014; 8:18 AM ET

UPDATE 4/29: It was another crazy night last night with multiple strong tornadoes and some debris balls. Rainfall is also starting to be a problem, with 4-10 inches of rain causing flooding in much of the area.

The dreaded "UK" meaning "Unknown" showed up again last night. This means that the radar cannot understand what it's picking up - it's not rain, it's not insects or birds, it's not hail or snow. It's debris being lofted by a tornado near Louisville, Miss. (a "debris ball"):

UPDATE: Another aerial drone video is now available of the Vilonia, Ark., tornado damage here, and Brian has uploaded another one:

UPDATE: The NWS in Little Rock now has a web page up on the tornadoes. It looks like the supercell that tracked over 70 miles last night will be split into at least two tornado tracks, each about half of that (more to be determined later today).

ORIGINAL POST (Monday, April 28, 2014):

Deadly storms struck last night in Oklahoma and Arkansas. The tornadoes were well predicted (on a regional basis) up to a week in advance. What you never know is where exactly they will hit, but one supercell thunderstorm traveled over 100 miles, dropping a tornado for at least 70 miles last night:

At one point, you could see the "debris ball" on radar, and a 3-D slice showed the debris being carried up thousands of feet into the tornado:


This was a term basically unheard of five years ago, but now Dual-Pole NEXRAD radar has high enough resolution to pick out the debris (dirt, trees, cars, houses) lofted into the air by twisters, and the Correlation Coefficient product tags it as non-weather radar returns, confirming the horror. And now, one of the first aerial damage videos, taped before the TV stations could get their helicopters up, showing search-and-rescue in progress:

RELATED: Rage Against the Machine: Quadcopters vs. the FAA

This was shot by storm chaser Brian Emfinger, who had consulted with me back in December about the DJI Phantom drone, and I'm glad he was able to get a hold of one of these for the Spring 2014 chase season. I was quoted in this news story saying:

This kind of footage helps get out the word out (about the tornado destruction) in a compelling way that hopefully increases awareness of the disaster, ultimately leading to more donations to those in need. When coordinated and shared with emergency personnel, this type of video could even help in a search-and-rescue situation and could help the efficiency of National Weather Service storm surveys. As AccuWeather's Mike Smith says: "This Idea's Time Has Come."

If you missed the radar last night, here is what the impressive storm looked like on radar reflectivity, velocity, and correlation coefficient:

The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of AccuWeather, Inc. or


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About This Blog

Jesse Ferrell
Jesse Ferrell's WeatherMatrix blog covers extreme weather worldwide with a concentration on weather photos and Social Media.