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.
Comments
Show Comments
Most Read Local

Heat Tracker

46
90-degree days year-to-date
Yearly Average
36
Record Most
67 (1980,2010)
Record Fewest
7 (1886,1905)
Last Year
24

At a Glance

Wed.

thunderstorms
75° /94°
Drop 20%

Thu.

partlycloudyday
74° /93°

Fri.

thunderstorms
76° /89°
Drop 40%

Sat.

partlycloudyday
69° /85°

Sun.

sunny_clear
67° /88°

Mon.

partlycloudyday
68° /92°
National Airport
Dulles
BWI

Right Now

D.C. Area Almanac

 
National
Dulles
BWI
Avg. High
 
Avg. Low
 
Rec. High
 
Rec. Low
 
Sunrise
 
Sunset
°F
 
 
°C
Next Story
David Streit · April 18, 2013

To keep reading, please enter your email address.

You’ll also receive from The Washington Post:
  • A free 6-week digital subscription
  • Our daily newsletter in your inbox

Please enter a valid email address

I have read and agree to the Terms of Service and Privacy Policy.

Please indicate agreement.

Thank you.

Check your inbox. We’ve sent an email explaining how to set up an account and activate your free digital subscription.