Texas explosion leaves footprint in the Earth and sky

The massive blast from a fertilizer plant in West, Texas imprinted an unmistakable signature underground and in the atmosphere.

Up to 15 people are feared dead and at least 160 injured from the explosion that leveled homes and businesses Wednesday evening.

Under the surface, the blast registered as a 2.1 magnitude earthquake according to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) website. The USGS said it shook houses 50 miles away.  It was initially classified as “Quarry Blast” due to its seismic effect.

The USGS revised the classification to simply “explosion”, commenting that the underground shaking was not a true indicator of the blast’s potency.

“[The 2.1] magnitude measures only the ground motion, not the air wave, so is substantially less than the true size of the event,” USGS said on its website.

A seismometer recording in West, Texas not only picked up the ground waves, but also the subsequent sound wave that resonated through the air.

(USGS)
(USGS)

So powerful was the explosion that a seismograph in Amarillo, Texas, over 400 miles away, detected it.

 

Skyward, infrared satellite imagery sensed a hot spot from the blast, as indicated by the yellow enhancement co-located with plant site.

(University of Wisconsin Cooperative Institute for Meteorological Satellite Studies, adapted by CWG)
(University of Wisconsin Cooperative Institute for Meteorological Satellite Studies, adapted by CWG)

The frightening video below provides a sense of the magnitude of the explosion (caution: one expletive is audible towards the end.)

Jason is currently the Washington Post’s weather editor. A native Washingtonian, Jason has been a weather enthusiast since age 10.
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David Streit · April 18, 2013