On the Role of Urban and Vegetative Land Cover in the Identification of Tornado Damage Using Dual-Resolution Multispectral Satellite Imagery

Monday, 15 December 2014
Darrel Kingfield, Univ. of Oklahoma/CIMMS & NOAA/National Severe Storms Laboratory, Norman, OK, United States and Kirsten de Beurs, University of Oklahoma, Geography and Environmental Sustainability, Norman, OK, United States
It has been demonstrated through various case studies that multispectral satellite imagery can be utilized in the identification of damage caused by a tornado through the change detection process. This process involves the difference in returned surface reflectance between two images and is often summarized through a variety of ratio-based vegetation indices (VIs). Land cover type plays a large contributing role in the change detection process as the reflectance properties of vegetation can vary based on several factors (e.g. species, greenness, density). Consequently, this provides the possibility for a variable magnitude of loss, making certain land cover regimes less reliable in the damage identification process. Furthermore, the tradeoff between sensor resolution and orbital return period may also play a role in the ability to detect catastrophic loss. Moderate resolution imagery (e.g. Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS)) provides relatively coarse surface detail with a higher update rate which could hinder the identification of small regions that underwent a dynamic change. Alternatively, imagery with higher spatial resolution (e.g. Landsat) have a longer temporal return period between successive images which could result in natural recovery underestimating the absolute magnitude of damage incurred.

This study evaluates the role of land cover type and sensor resolution on four high-end (EF3+) tornado events occurring in four different land cover groups (agriculture, forest, grassland, urban) in the spring season. The closest successive clear images from both Landsat 5 and MODIS are quality controlled for each case. Transacts of surface reflectance across a homogenous land cover type both inside and outside the damage swath are extracted. These metrics are synthesized through the calculation of six different VIs to rank the calculated change metrics by land cover type, sensor resolution and VI.