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Posted on December 3rd, 2013

Our Changing Landscape – 2011 Joplin Tornado

In this monthly feature, we span the globe to examine Our Changing Landscape with time series of medium resolution RapidEye satellite imagery. The RapidEye archive dates back to late 2008 and already contains more than 4 billion square kilometers of data. This month, we look at the devastation caused by the 2011 Joplin, Missouri tornado and the recovery.

The RapidEye Constellation

RapidEye is a constellation of five 5-meter medium resolution satellites each offering five spectral bands of information. The RapidEye constellation offers a daily revisit time to every location on the planet with a huge footprint that is 77-km wide. The data is priced competitively with a base price of $1.28 per square kilometer for all five spectral bands – academics do receive discounts. RapidEye adds a fifth band, the red edge, to the ‘traditional’ multispectral set of blue, green, red and near-infrared (NIR). The additional spectral data available in the red edge band allows users to extract more useful land ‘information’ than can be from traditional 4-band imagery sources. When RapidEye imagery is ordered as a Level 3A Orthorectified product, images from multiple dates are extremely well registered, making it the ideal data source for Our Changing Landscape.

The 2011 Joplin Tornado

In every natural disaster, it is well, the disaster, that captures the headlines and is what ‘the public’ seems to focus on. Typically far less covered by the media and of less interest to the public is the recovery; which is by far the most important story to those who came out the other side of the disaster. The story is the same for one of the most powerful and destructive tornadoes in history, the EF5 that hit Joplin, Missouri on May 22, 2011. With that in mind, there have been plenty of stories written about the disaster itself, for instance this nice summary, so here we focus instead on the recovery.

Click on the image above to see an animation of 5-meter natural color imagery collected over Joplin, Missouri on April 28 and July 1, 2011, June 16, 2012 and September 7, 2013. In the July 1, 2011 image, you can clearly see the path of destruction left by the tornado and then in the subsequent images the recovery that continues to this day. (Images Courtesy: RapidEye)

A year after the tragedy in 2012, the recovery had made significant progress but of course not enough for the hundreds of families living in FEMA trailers still waiting on new homes. During the year, approximately 3 million cubic yards of debris had been removed, the remnants of the 8,000 plus structures that were destroyed in the town. The city issued more than 600 new home permits and almost 3,000 rebuild/repair permits during this time, a total of more than $310 million in construction projects. Other recovery landmarks included a slew of rebuilt small and big-box retails stores, a new hospital that can withstand 250 mile per hour winds, 3 of the 10 schools that were destroyed and countless new safe houses. There were ~500 ecstatic owner-animal reunions as well as an adoption event that found homes for 745 more of the homeless pets.

Here we are now two years out from the tragedy and the recovery continues. The new wind-resistant hospital is set to open in 2015 and some 80% of new homes in Joplin include a safe house. 75% percent of residences have been rebuilt and 90% percent of the impacted businesses are back open. All but 12 families displaced by the tornado have yet to leave FEMA trailers for permanent or longer-term housing. As of September, about $837 million had been spent on construction since the May 2011 tornado.

In the four images that accompany this article, you can see pre, post and recovery photos highlighting the path of the fateful Joplin tornado.

If you would like to find out more about using RapidEye for your academic studies, engineering projects or any landscape analysis, let us know at or (303) 993-3863.

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