The Beastly Blob That Ate Kansas (Not to Mention Missouri, Arkansas and Tennessee Too)

By Tom Yulsman | June 7, 2014 12:16 pm



The growth of a large system of thunderstorms called a “mesoscale convective system,” or MCS, is seen in this animation of infrared images from the GOES-13 weather satellite as the system moved across Kansas and into the Mississippi River Valley on June 5th, 2014. (Source: Cooperative Institute for Meteorological Satellite Studies)

Last Thursday I shared dramatic imagery of a massive cluster of thunderstorms that moved across a large portion of the Central United States. At the time, I knew the folks at the Cooperative Institute for Meteorological Satellite Studies would weigh in with more spectacular visualizations.

Now they have, so I thought I’d share some of them with you. But before I get into the details, I should note that the National Weather Service forecast is for continuing meteorological mayhem:

An active weather pattern is forecast to continue across the central Plains and into the Deep South with a stationary front in place through the weekend. Disturbances aloft, along with an abundance of moisture and instability in place, are expected to result in the development of multiple mesoscale convective complexes, or MCSs. These will be capable of producing localized flash flooding and severe weather.

Back to the imagery… The screenshot above is from a CIMSS animation showing last Thursday’s beastly blob — technically known as a “mesoscale convective system,” or MCS — as it blossomed over Kansas in the early morning hours of June 5th and moved into the Mississippi Valley.

As you watch the animation look for the colored letters and numbers that briefly flash on and off as the storm system moves east. These are color-coded reports of tornadoes (pink), severe wind gusts (blue), and hail (yellow).

In the screenshot above, also note the bristle-like pattern on the upper left periphery of the storm system. These are filaments of cirrus cloud (known as transverse banding) that formed in a portion of the storm system predominantly over Nebraska. They are indicative of a significant potential for turbulence at high altitudes. (Let’s hope no airplanes were flying through that area at the time!)


A screenshot from an animation of visible light images captured by the GOES-13 weather satellite shows the storm system as it moved to the east. (Source: CIMSS)

You can see the same cloud filaments in this animation of GOES-13 weather satellite images. This one shows the storm system in visible light instead of infrared. Also evident is a cloud-top texture that looks cauliflower-like.

Here, the energy of storm system updrafts has propelled moisture-laden air so high that it has punched right through the troposphere, the layer of the atmosphere closest to the surface, and up into the stratosphere. These are known as “overshooting cloud tops.”

The post from the folks at the CIMSS includes more imagery and animations covering other phenomena observed in this spectacular storm system, including gravity waves that propagate away from the overshooting cloud-tops, and thousands of lightning strikes. So if you’re a weather geek like me, make sure to check out their post here. And then come right back for this:

Sorry, but I just could not resist…

  • Uncle Al

    Fire-fighting tanker plane-bomb the system with finely dispersed Super-Slurper polymer to end its thermodynamic cycle. A DC-10 Very Large Airtanker carries 10,800 gallons of fire retardant. That much Super Slurper would solidify 3+ million gallons of water or goo more then 30 million gallons. Punch a big hole right through the storm, snuff its heat engine, end its convection cycle. You could dump more than once.

    A social advocate makes virtue of failure. The worse the cure the better the treatment – and the more that is required. Solving a serious problem unemploys those who tax-exempt advocate absence of workable solutions for it, and those who clan up afterward. Unknown Hazards versus guaranteed failure demand taking the risk-free route.

    • Tom Yulsman

      Say whuh?

      • Uncle Al

        A storm is a heat engine driving convection, feeding itself, with latent enthalpy of phase changes – water vapor, liquid water, ice. A gram of water vapor going to liquid water releases almost 600 calories/gram; add another 80 calories/gram to ice (hail). A hurricane is too big to snuff for the utter enormity of covering its underlain warm water even with a monolayer of dodecanol, shutting off evaporation.

        A tanker doing 210 knots ground speed does a statute mile every 15 seconds. A storm 100 miles across is traversed in 25 minutes. It is no big deal – and wholly economically justified – to sprinkle in 10 homes’ purchase price of sodium acrylate and snuff out the storm like a candle pinched between two wet fingers, avoiding $100 million in damages. Super Slurper polymers make excellent soil conditioners for retaining moisture in times of deep drought.

        America is become a nation of compassion-dependent girlies putting up candles, Teddy bears, and balloons celebrating failure instead of men forcing success. “Our children will live, Mr. Beale, to see that perfect world in which there’s no war or famine, oppression or brutality — one vast and ecumenical holding company, for whom all men will work to serve a common profit, in which all men will hold a share of stock, all necessities provided, all anxieties tranquilized, all boredom amused.”

        Save the drama for your mama. Get down and push. Everything can be solved. An engineer’s first obligation is to identify the real cause of a problem. He goes to a chemist for stuff, he makes the thing, marketing convinces the smartless, sales makes a profit, and the world is healed and happy. FUBAR that with one Beltway lobotomite legislatling a social advocate advocating rectal canthariasis.

        • Buddy199

          A day without Big Al is like a day without
          taking my cat’s meds. =)

  • Sara Llewellyn

    Well let’s put this in perspective.

    Let’s say that the Mississippi River has a flow rate of around..oh.. 2 million cubic feet per second. That’s about 14.9 million gallons..per second.

    The ‘atmospheric rivers’ such as those feeding rain storms in California have 20 times that.



ImaGeo is a visual blog focusing on the intersection of imagery, imagination and Earth. It focuses on spectacular visuals related to the science of our planet, with an emphasis (although not an exclusive one) on the unfolding Anthropocene Epoch.

About Tom Yulsman

Tom Yulsman is Director of the Center for Environmental Journalism and a Professor of Journalism at the University of Colorado, Boulder. He also continues to work as a science and environmental journalist with more than 30 years of experience producing content for major publications. His work has appeared in the New York Times, Washington Post, Audubon, Climate Central, Columbia Journalism Review, Discover, Nieman Reports, and many other publications. He has held a variety of editorial positions over the years, including a stint as editor-in-chief of Earth magazine. Yulsman has written one book: Origins: the Quest for Our Cosmic Roots, published by the Institute of Physics in 2003.


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