“Science, abstract geometric art, and human disaster;” those are strange words to string together. On May 20th an EF5 tornado touched down and slashed across Moore, OK, killing 24 people and injuring 387. It is now estimated that 1,150 homes were destroyed with total damage estimated to be $2 billion. But really how do you measure the scars on human life that such a killer storm causes? Each one of those lives and each one of those homes holds a story of deep personal tragedy.
Among its “Pictures of the Week” this past week, NBC News features an eery satellite image of the tornado’s path. It was taken with the ASTER instrument on NASA’s Terra satellite. The image is so-called false-colored. It emphasizes the infrared, shown in red, where redness indicates vegetation. Gray areas indicate buildings and pavement. The twister’s path of destruction is the sharp brown streaks slashing across the image where all vegetation has been totally destroyed.
The picture is very strange and surreal. It appears like some kind of geometric abstraction. But really it’s the scientific abstraction that truly grabs us. Our minds connect this distant quantitative image with the hundreds of images that we have already seen from ground-based cameras of the human tragedy that unfolded on the ground. It’s very impersonal from space and very real on the ground.