Day 14 of the Thomas Fire in Southern California

December 17th, 2017 |

GOES-15 Shortwave Infrared (3.9 µm) images, with surface station identifiers plotted in yellow [click to play MP4 animation]

05-17 December GOES-15 Shortwave Infrared (3.9 µm) images, with surface station identifiers plotted in yellow and State Highway 101 plotted in cyan [click to play MP4 animation]

The Thomas Fire (InciWeb | Wikipedia) began to burn around 0226 UTC on 05 December 2017 (or 6:26 PM Pacific time on 04 December). By 17 December, the fire had burned 270,000 acres — the third largest wildfire on record in California — and caused 1 fatality. An animation of GOES-15 (GOES-West) Shortwave Infrared (3.9 µm) images (above) showed the evolution of the thermal signature (or “hot spots”, as depicted by darker black to yellow to red pixels) during the 0200 UTC 05 December to 0215 UTC 18 December time period. Besides the largest Thomas Fire, other smaller and more short-lived fires could also be seen — especially early in the period, when the Santa Ana winds were strongest (05-07 December blog post). Thick clouds moving over the region later in the period either attenuated or completely masked the thermal signatures, even though the fire was ongoing.

GOES-16 began transmitting imagery (from its GOES-East position at 75.2º W) at 1630 UTC on 14 December — a comparison of GOES-15 and GOES-16 Shortwave Infrared (3.9 µm) during the 14-17 December period (below) showed that in spite of the larger GOES-16 satellite view angle (62.6º, vs 43.2º for GOES-15), the improved spatial resolution (2 km vs 4 km at satellite sub-point) and improved temporal resolution (images every 5 minutes, with no 30-minute gaps due to Full Disk scans) provided a more accurate depiction of the fire trends and intensities.

GOES-15 (left) and GOES-16 (right) Shortwave Infrared (3.9 µm) images [click to play MP4 animation]

GOES-15 (left) and GOES-16 (right) Shortwave Infrared (3.9 µm) images [click to play MP4 animation]

In a comparison of 250-meter resolution Terra MODIS true-color and false-color Red-Green-Blue (RGB) images (source) at 1853 UTC on 17 December (below), minimal amounts of smoke and a lack of clouds allowed a good view of the large Thomas Fire burn scar (darker shades of reddish-brown) on the false-color image.

Terra MODIS true-color and false-color RGB images on 17 December [click to enlarge]

Terra MODIS true-color and false-color RGB images on 17 December [click to enlarge]

During the first full day of the fires on 05 December, a toggle between comparable Aqua MODIS true-color and false-color images (source) revealed very thick smoke plumes drifting southwestward over the adjacent offshore waters of the Pacific Ocean (below).

Aqua MODIS true-color and false-color images, 05 December [click to enlarge]

Aqua MODIS true-color and false-color RGB images on 05 December [click to enlarge]

A toggle between 05 December Aqua MODIS and 17 December Terra MODIS false-color images (below) showed the northward and northwestward growth of the Thomas Fire burn scar.

Aqua MODIS (05 December) and Terra MODIS (17 December) false-color RGB images [click to enlarge]

Aqua MODIS (05 December) and Terra MODIS (17 December) false-color RGB images [click to enlarge]

Day 7 of the Thomas Fire in Southern California

December 10th, 2017 |

GOES-15 Shortwave Infrared (3.9 µm) images, with hourly surface reports plotted in yellow [click to play MP4 animation]

GOES-15 Shortwave Infrared (3.9 µm) images, with hourly surface reports plotted in yellow [click to play MP4 animation]

The Thomas fire began burning in Southern California around 6:30 PM local time on 04 December (blog post) — and on 10 December 2017, GOES-15 (GOES-West) Shortwave Infrared (3.9 µm) images (above) revealed that the fire showed little signs of diminishing during the nighttime hours, and in fact began to exhibit a trend of intensification around 05 UTC or 9 PM local time. However, toward the end of the day on 10 December, bands of  thick cirrus clouds moving over the fire region acted to dramatically attenuate the satellite-detected thermal signature of the fire complex. Although the Santa Ana winds were not as intense as they had been during the previous week, some strong wind gusts were still observed.

A sequence of 4 Shortwave Infrared images from Terra MODIS and Suomi NPP VIIRS (below) showed the westward and northwestward expansion of the fire during the 0637 to 2032 UTC period. The Thomas fire has now burned 230,000 acres, making it the fifth largest wildfire on record in California.

Terra MODIS and Suomi NPP VIIRS Shortwave Infrared images, with corresponding surface reports plotted in cyan [click to enlarge]

Terra MODIS and Suomi NPP VIIRS Shortwave Infrared images, with corresponding surface reports plotted in cyan [click to enlarge]

In a toggle between Terra MODIS true-color and false-color Red-Green-Blue (RGB) images at 1846 UTC (below; source) the true-color image revealed a broad plume of thick smoke being transported westward and northwestward from the fire source region, while the false-color image showed the areal coverage of the burn scar (which appeared as reddish-brown hues beneath the clouds) as well as locations of the larger and more intense active fires (brighter pink to white) that were burning along the northern to western perimeter of the burn scar.

Terra MODIS true-color and false-color images [click to enlarge]

Terra MODIS true-color and false-color images [click to enlarge]

A comparison of Suomi NPP VIIRS Visible (0.64 µm), Shortwave Infrared (3.74 µm) and Infrared Window (11.45 µm) images at 2032 UTC or 12:32 PM  local time (below) showed a well-defined thermal signature before the thicker cirrus clouds moved overhead from the south. A small cloud cluster (located just northwest of the fire thermal signature) exhibited a minimum infrared brightness temperature of -43ºC — if this cloud feature was indeed generated by the fire complex, it meets the -40ºC criteria of a pyrocumulonimbus cloud.

Suomi NPP VIIRS Visible (0.64 µm), Shortwave Infrared (3.74 µm) and Infrared Window (11.45 µm) images, with surface reports plotted in cyan [click to enlarge]

Suomi NPP VIIRS Visible (0.64 µm), Shortwave Infrared (3.74 µm) and Infrared Window (11.45 µm) images, with surface reports plotted in cyan [click to enlarge]

The fire was producing very thick smoke, in addition to deep pyrocumulus clouds (top photo taken around 1945 UTC or 11:45 AM local time):

Shown below is a photo taken at 2045 UTC or 12:45 PM local time, from a commercial jet flying into Santa Barbara (courtesy of Henry Dubroff/www.pacbiztimes.com).

Photo of Thomas Fire pyrocumulus [click to enlarge]

Photo of Thomas Fire pyrocumulus [click to enlarge]

===== 11 December Update =====
 

Suomi NPP VIIRS Day/Night Band (0.7 µm), Near-Infrared (1.61 and 2.25 µm), Shortwave Infrared (3.75 and 4.05 µm) and Infrared Window (11.45 µm) images [click to enlarge]

Suomi NPP VIIRS Day/Night Band (0.7 µm), Near-Infrared (1.61 and 2.25 µm), Shortwave Infrared (3.75 and 4.05 µm) and Infrared Window (11.45 µm) images [click to enlarge]

A toggle between Suomi NPP VIIRS Day/Night Band (0.7 µm), Near-Infrared (1.61 and 2.25 µm), Shortwave Infrared (3.75 and 4.05 µm) and Infrared Window (11.45 µm) images at 1035 UTC or 2:35 AM local time (above; courtesy of William Straka, CIMSS) demonstrated how different spectral bands can be used to detect nighttime fire signatures. The maximum infrared brightness temperature on the 4.05 µm image was 389 K (115.9ºC or 240.5ºF). Note that the recently-launched JPSS-1/NOAA-20 satellite also carries a VIIRS instrument.

GOES-15 Shortwave Infrared (3.9 µm) images (below) showed that once the thicker bands of cirrus clouds moved northwestward away from the region, a more well-defined thermal signature became apparent.

GOES-15 Shortwave Infrared (3.9 µm) images, with hourly surface reports plotted in yellow [click to play animation]

GOES-15 Shortwave Infrared (3.9 µm) images, with hourly surface reports plotted in yellow [click to play animation]

A 7-day sequence Nighttime and Daytime composites of Suomi NPP VIIRS Shortwave Infrared (3.74 µm) images (source: RealEarth) is shown below — it illustrates the spread of the Thomas Fire from 05 December to 11 December. Hot infrared pixels are black, with saturated pixels appearing bright white.

7-day sequence Nighttime and Daytime composites of Suomi NPP VIIRS Shortwave Infrared (3.74 µm) images [click to play animation]

7-day sequence Nighttime and Daytime composites of Suomi NPP VIIRS Shortwave Infrared (3.74 µm) images [click to play animation]

Wildfires in southern California

December 5th, 2017 |

GOES-15 Shortwave Infrared (3.9 µm) images, with hourly surface plots [click to play MP4 animation]

GOES-15 Shortwave Infrared (3.9 µm) images, with hourly surface plots [click to play MP4 animation]

GOES-15 (GOES-West) Shortwave Infrared (3.9 µm) images (above; also available as an animated GIF) showed the rapid development of wildfires driven by strong Santa Ana winds in Southern California on 05 December 2017. The fire thermal anomalies or “hot spots” are highlighted by the dark black to yellow to red pixels — the initial signature was evident on the 0230 UTC image (6:30 PM local time on 04 December), however the GOES-15 satellite was actually scanning that particular area at 0234 UTC or 6:34 PM local time. The Thomas Fire (the largest of the fires) advanced very quickly toward the southwest, nearly reaching the coast.

Nighttime image toggles between Suomi NPP VIIRS Shortwave Infrared (3.74 µm) and Day/Night Band (0.7 µm) data at 0904 UTC and 1044 UTC (below) revealed the large fire hot spots, along with the extensive smoke plume that was drifting over the adjacent nearshore waters of the Pacific Ocean. With ample illumination from the Moon (which was in the Waning Gibbous phase, at 95% of Full), the “visible image at night” capability of the VIIRS Day/Night Band — which will also be available from the recently-launched JPSS-1/NOAA-20 satellite — was clearly demonstrated.

Suomi NPP VIIRS Shortwave Infrared (3.74 µm) and Day/Night Band (0.7 µm) images, with plots of surface reports [click to enlarge]

Suomi NPP VIIRS Shortwave Infrared (3.74 µm) and Day/Night Band (0.7 µm) images, with plots of surface reports [click to enlarge]

Suomi NPP VIIRS Shortwave Infrared (3.74 µm) and Day/Night Band (0.7 µm) images, with plots of surface reports [click to enlarge]

Suomi NPP VIIRS Shortwave Infrared (3.74 µm) and Day/Night Band (0.7 µm) images, with plots of surface reports [click to enlarge]

A toggle between the two VIIRS Day/Night Band images (below; courtesy of William Straka, CIMSS) showed initial darkness resulting from fire-related power outages in Santa Barbara County to the north, and Ventura County to the south (in the Oxnard/Camarillo area).

Suomi NPP VIIRS Day/Night Band (0.7 µm) images [click to enlarge]

Suomi NPP VIIRS Day/Night Band (0.7 µm) images [click to enlarge]

This large wind-driven fire was also very hot — the maximum brightness temperature on the VIIRS 4.05 µm Shortwave Infrared image was 434.6 K or 322.6º F, which was above the saturation threshold of the VIIRS 3.75 µm Shortwave Infrared detectors (below).

Suomi NPP VIIRS 4.05 µm and 3.75 µm Shortwave Infrared images [click to enlarge]

Suomi NPP VIIRS 4.05 µm and 3.75 µm Shortwave Infrared images [click to enlarge]

In a comparison of daytime GOES-15 Visible (0.63 µm) and Shortwave Infrared (3.9 µm) images (below), the west-southwestward transport of smoke over the Pacific Ocean was clearly seen.

GOES-15 Visible (0.63 µm, top) and Shortwave Infrared (3.9 µm, bottom) images [click to play MP4 animation]

GOES-15 Visible (0.63 µm, top) and Shortwave Infrared (3.9 µm, bottom) images [click to play MP4 animation]

A more detailed view of the thick smoke originating from the 3 fires (from north to south: the Thomas, Rye and Creek fires) was provided by a 250-meter resolution Aqua MODIS true-color Red-Green-Blue (RGB) image from the MODIS Today site (below).

Aqua MODIS true-color RGB image [click to enlarge]

Aqua MODIS true-color RGB image [click to enlarge]

Immediately downwind of the Creek Fire, smoke was reducing the surface visibility to 1 mile at Van Nuys and adversely affecting air quality (below).

Time series plot of surface reports at Van Nuys, California [click to enlarge]

Time series plot of surface reports at Van Nuys, California [click to enlarge]

===== 06 December Update =====

Suomi NPP VIIRS Day/Night Band (0.7 µm) and Shortwave Infrared (3.75 µm and 4.05 µm) images [click to enlarge]

Suomi NPP VIIRS Day/Night Band (0.7 µm) and Shortwave Infrared (3.75 µm and 4.05 µm) images [click to enlarge]

The fires in Southern California continued to burn into the following night, as shown by Suomi NPP VIIRS Day/Night Band (0.7 µm) and Shortwave Infrared (3.75 µm and 4.05 µm) images (above; courtesy of William Straka, CIMSS). A large-scale view with Day/Night Band imagery revealed the extent of smoke transport westward over the Pacific Ocean.

GOES-15 Shortwave Infrared (3.9 µm) images (below) displayed the thermal signatures exhibited by the fires. Note the appearance of a new fire — the Skirball Fire — first appearing on the 1300 UTC (5:00 AM local time) image, just north of Santa Monica (KSMO). Although the Santa Ana winds were not quite as strong as the previous day, some impressive wind gusts were still reported.

GOES-15 Shortwave Infrared (3.9 µm) images, with hourly surface plots [click to play MP4 animation]

GOES-15 Shortwave Infrared (3.9 µm) images, with hourly surface plots [click to play MP4 animation]

A toggle between 250-meter resolution Terra (1911 UTC) & Aqua (2047 UTC) MODIS true-color images from MODIS Today (below) showed significant pyrocumulus development from a flare-up along the northeast perimeter of the Thomas Fire. The cloud plume only exhibited a minimum infrared brightness temperature of +5.5º C on the corresponding Aqua MODIS Infrared Window image, far above the -40ºC threshold assigned to pyroCumulonimbus clouds.

Comparison of Terra (1911 UTC) & Aqua (2047 UTC) MODIS true-color RGB images [click to enlarge]

Comparison of Terra (1911 UTC) & Aqua (2047 UTC) MODIS true-color RGB images [click to enlarge]

===== 07 December Update =====

Suomi NPP Day Night Band Imagery, 3-7 December 2017, over southern California

RealEarth imagery of the Day Night Band over 5 days (one image each night from 3 through 7 December), above, shows the evolution of the fire complex (Imagery courtesy Russ Dengel, SSEC). Similarly, a closer view of daily composites of VIIRS Shortwave Infrared (3.74 µm) imagery (below) revealed the growth and spread of the Thomas Fire from 04-07 December.

Suomi NPP VIIRS Shortwave Infrared (3.74 µm) image composites [click to enlarge\

Suomi NPP VIIRS Shortwave Infrared (3.74 µm) image composites [click to enlarge]

In a toggle between Terra MODIS true-color and false-color RGB images (below), the large burn scar of the Thomas Fire (shades of red to brown) was very apparent on the false-color image.

Terra MODIS true-color and false-color images [click to enlarge]

Terra MODIS true-color and false-color images [click to enlarge]

Flooding in Southern California

January 9th, 2018 |

1-minute GOES-16 Infrared Window (10.3 µm) images; with hourly reports of surface weather type plotted in yellow [click to play MP4 animation]

1-minute GOES-16 Infrared Window (10.3 µm) images; with hourly reports of surface weather type plotted in red [click to play MP4 animation]

An onshore flow of moisture (MIMIC TPW) in tandem with forcing for ascent with the approach of an upper-level low and a surface cold/occluded front brought heavy rainfall and some higher-elevation snowfall (NWS LOX/SGX | WPC) to much of Southern California on 09 January 2018. To help monitor the event, a GOES-16 (GOES-East) Mesoscale Sector was positioned over the region, providing images at 1-minute intervals. “Clean” Infrared Window (10.3 µm) images (above) showed the colder clouds associated with periods of moderate to heavy rainfall. Some of this precipitation fell over burn scar areas from wildfires that occurred in December 2017 — including the Thomas fire, which was the largest on record for the state of California — resulting in numerous mud/debris slides that caused at least 17 fatalities, destroyed/damaged hundreds of homes, and closed many streets and highways.

GOES-16 “Red” Visible (0.64 µm) images (below) showed some of the features which helped produce heavier rainfall and snowfall during the daylight hours on 09 January.

1-minute GOES-16

1-minute GOES-16 “Red” Visible (0.64 µm) images; with hourly reports of surface weather type plotted in red [click to play MP4 animation]

The circulation of the upper-level low was easily seen on GOES-16 Mid-level Water Vapor (6.9 µm) images (below).

1-minute GOES-16 Water Vapor (6.9 µm) images; with hourly reports of surface weather type plotted in red [click to play MP4 animation]

1-minute GOES-16 Water Vapor (6.9 µm) images; with hourly reports of surface weather type plotted in red [click to play MP4 animation]

===== 10 January Update =====

Suomi NPP VIIRS True-color and False-color RGB images [click to enlarge]

Suomi NPP VIIRS True-color and False-color RGB images [click to enlarge]

On the following day, a toggle between Suomi NPP VIIRS True-color and False-color Red-Green-Blue (RGB) images from RealEarth (above) showed (1) the large burn scar from the Thomas Fire (shades of reddish-brown), and (2) snow cover in the higher terrain (darker shades of cyan) on the False-color image. The True-color image revealed sediment from runoff flowing into the nearshore waters from Santa Barbara to Oxnard (shades of brown to light green).

A closer look at the Thomas Fire burn scar was provided by 30-meter resolution Landsat-8 False-color RGB imagery (below), which showed thin filaments of muddy sediment just offshore, as well as fresh snow cover (shades of cyan) along or immediately adjacent to the northeastern edge of the burn scar (in the Hines Peak area). On 10 January, the fire was listed as 92% contained (100% containment was declared on 12 January).

Landsat-8 False-color RGB image [click to enlarge]

Landsat-8 False-color RGB image [click to enlarge]

===== 11 January Update =====

Suomi NPP VIIRS True-color images on 10 January and 11 January [click to enlarge]

Suomi NPP VIIRS True-color images on 10 January and 11 January [click to enlarge]

A comparison of Suomi NPP VIIRS True-color RGB images on 10 January and 11 January (above) showed that sediment was flowing farther offshore from the Thomas Fire burn scar area.

Farther to the south, offshore sediment transport was also seen in the San Diego area (below).

Suomi NPP VIIRS True-color image on 11 January [click to enlarge]

Suomi NPP VIIRS True-color image on 11 January [click to enlarge]