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See the storms from space

As powerful storm systems continue to roll across the U.S. South this week, the GOES-13 satellite is busy keeping an eye on their progress to provide weather forecasters with imagery to help predict outbreaks of severe weather.

Seen here is an animation of imagery collected between 12:10 pm ET (1610 UTC) on Tuesday to 12:10 pm ET on Thursday. The deadly storms that killed at least 249 people on Wednesday afternoon and evening are clearly seen building up as daytime heating provides the convection, or rising air, that forms thunderstorms. The storm is the deadliest outbreak in nearly 40 years.


Typically, the storms wane at night as the temperature cools, but with this particular system, so much energy has come in from the Gulf of Mexico that it's allowing the storms to hold together overnight, Rob Gutro, a NASA spokesman, explained to me today in an email. "That's why there were tornados overnight in the central U.S."

To find the strongest storms in the imagery, look for the whitest clouds. Those typically indicate the highest thunderstorm cloud tops. "The higher the thunderstorm, the stronger it is," Gutro said, adding that research has shown the highest, thus coldest, storm clouds can produce heavy rainfall at rates of around two inches per hour.

The storms continued Thursday with the National Weather Service issuing short-lived tornado warnings for parts of New York, Maryland, South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida, according to the Associated Press.

The Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite, or GOES-13, monitors weather in the eastern half of the U.S. and is operated by NOAA. The NASA GOES Project at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. creates images and animations from the GOES satellite data.


John Roach is a contributing writer for msnbc.com. Connect with the Cosmic Log community by hitting the "like" button on the Cosmic Log Facebook page or following msnbc.com's science editor, Alan Boyle, on Twitter (@b0yle).