Posted on February 1st, 2022

Our Changing Landscape – 2021 Western Kentucky Tornado

In this monthly feature, we span the globe to examine Our Changing Landscape with a time series of medium-resolution PlanetScope satellite imagery. The PlanetScope constellation dates back to 2016 and collects hundreds of millions of square kilometers of 4, 5 and 8-band 3-meter imagery daily! In January we checked out the site of boat wreck off the coast of Russia, and for the February edition of Our Changing Landscape we head back to the United States to check out the site of a tragic tornado that struck western Kentucky in December.

Click on the image above to see an animation of 3-meter natural color PlanetScope imagery collected over Mayfield, Kentucky on December 12 and 18, 2021. In these before and after images, the track of the December 10, 2021 tornado is apparent as it travels through the image from the southwest to the northeast, leaving a trail of destruction in its wake. The now infamous collapsed candle factory can be seen in the southwest of the image just above the red date labels. Having looked at many PlanetScope images following natural disasters, this is by far the most stark and disturbing destruction we have seen to date. Our heart goes out to all those impacted by this tornado in the Midwest and beyond. (Images Courtesy: © Planet 2022)

The PlanetScope Microsat Constellation

PlanetScope is a constellation of more than 240 microsats (as of January 2022) referred to individually as Doves. Each Dove is able to collect up to 20,000 square kilometers (sq km) per day of 3-meter (m) 4-band multispectral (i.e. blue, green, red and near-infrared [NIR]) imagery; and newly launched SuperDoves collect 8-band multispectral adding in valuable red-edge spectral data. Across the constellation, PlanetScope is archiving more than 200 million sq km of medium-resolution imagery a day, making it the go to source for daily imagery over most locations. This massive archive dates back to 2016, offering the most complete and continuous record of spatial data on the planet since the start of the constellation’s ongoing launch schedule. Collecting 3-meter multispectral imagery is the equivalent of ‘high-resolution’ multispectral data imaged by a 75-centimer (cm) satellite (as this satellite would feature 75-cm panchromatic and 3-m multispectral), making PlanetScope an extremely competitively priced option at just $1.80 per sq km. With well registered images and nearly daily collections of most locations, PlanetScope is the ideal imagery source for this current-events focused series, Our Changing Landscape.

The 2021 Western Kentucky Tornado


While December tornadoes are not rare in the United States as cold weather moves in from the north and meets warm, humid area from the Gulf of Mexico, what occurred on the night of December 10, 2021 in the Midwest was historic. Spawned by a particularly moist and violent storm system, at 8:49 PM CST a large supercell formed over Woodland Mills, Tennessee moving northeast along a 250-mile (402-kilometer) track through western Kentucky and southwest Ohio. Along the way, the massive and powerful tornado reached EF4 strength with maximum winds of 190 miles per hour (306 kilometers per hour) and killed at least 77 people in Kentucky. Our PlanetScope animation focuses on the town of Mayfield, Kentucky which made international headlines for the collapse of a candle factory where 8 workers died. With that said, it is time to turn our attention to the 3-meter PlanetScope archive to get a sense of the destruction caused by the 2021 Western Kentucky Tornado in the town of Mayfield and surrounding areas.

If you would like to find out more about using 3-meter PlanetScope imagery for your academic studies, engineering projects or any landscape analysis, let us know at [email protected] or (303) 993-3863.

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