Wildfires in Northern California

October 9th, 2017 |

GOES-16 Shortwave Infrared (3.9 µm) images, with county outlines plotted in gray (dashed) and surface station identifiers plotted in white [click to play MP4 animation]

GOES-16 Shortwave Infrared (3.9 µm) images, with county outlines plotted in gray (dashed) and surface station identifiers plotted in white [click to play MP4 animation]

* GOES-16 data posted on this page are preliminary, non-operational and are undergoing testing *

GOES-16 Shortwave Infrared (3.9 µm) images (above) showed the “hot spot” signatures (black to yellow to red pixels) associated with numerous wildfires that began to burn in Northern California’s Napa County around 0442 UTC on 09 October 2017 (9:42 PM local time on 08 October). A strong easterly to northeasterly Diablo wind (gusts) along with dry fuels led to extreme fire behavior, with many of the fires quickly exhibiting very hot infrared brightness temperature values and growing in size at an explosive rate (reportedly burning 80,000 acres in 18 hours).

A comparison of nighttime GOES-16 Shortwave Infrared (3.9 µm) and Near-Infrared “Snow/Ice” (1.61 µm) images (below) offered another example of nocturnal fire signature identification — the bright glow of the fires showed up well on the 1-km resolution 1.61 µm imagery. Especially noteworthy was the very rapid southwestward run of the Tubbs Fire, which eventually moved just south of station identifier KSTS (Santa Rosa Sonoma County Airport; the city of Santa Rosa is located about 5 miles southeast of the airport. These Northern California fires have resulted in numerous fatalities, destroyed at least 3500 homes and businesses, and forced large-scale evacuations (media story).

GOES-16 Shortwave Infrared (3.9 µm, left) and Near-Infrared

GOES-16 Shortwave Infrared (3.9 µm, left) and Near-Infrared “Snow/Ice” (1.61 µm, right) images [click to play MP4 animation]

A toggle between 1007 UTC (3:07 AM local time) Suomi NPP VIIRS Shortwave Infrared (3.74 µm) and Day/Night Band (0.7 µm) images (below) provided a view of the fires at an even higher spatial resolution. Since the Moon was in the Waning Gibbous phase (at 82% of Full), it provided ample illumination to highlight the dense smoke plumes drifting west-southwestward over the adjacent offshore waters of the Pacific Ocean.

Suomi NPP VIIRS Shortwave Infrared (3.74 µm) and Day/Night Band (0.7 µm) images [click to enlarge]

Suomi NPP VIIRS Shortwave Infrared (3.74 µm) and Day/Night Band (0.7 µm) images [click to enlarge]

A closer VIIRS image comparison (with county outlines) is shown below.

Suomi NPP VIIRS Shortwave Infrared (3.74 µm) and Day/Night Band (0.7 µm) images [click to enlarge]

Suomi NPP VIIRS Shortwave Infrared (3.74 µm) and Day/Night Band (0.7 µm) images [click to enlarge]

A comparison of Suomi NPP VIIRS true-color and false-color Red/Green/Blue (RGB) images from RealEarth (below) helped to discriminate between smoke and cloud features offshore over the Pacific Ocean.

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]

===== 10 October Update =====

Suomi NPP VIIRS true-color and false-color images [click to enlarge]

Suomi NPP VIIRS true-color and false-color images [click to enlarge]

With the switch to southwesterly surface winds on 10 October, smoke plumes could be seen moving northeastward on RealEarth VIIRS true-color imagery, while the burn scars of a number of the larger fires became apparent on VIIRS false-color RGB imagery (above).

===== 12 October Update =====

Suomi NPP VIIRS true-color RGB images, with VIIRS-detected fire locations [click to enlarge]

Suomi NPP VIIRS true-color RGB images, with VIIRS-detected fire locations [click to enlarge]

A transition back to northerly winds on 12 October helped to transport the wildfire smoke far southward over the Pacific Ocean (above). Smoke was reducing surface visibility and adversely affecting air quality at locations such as San Francisco (below).

Time series plot of surface observations at San Francisco International Airport [click to enlarge]

Time series plot of surface observations at San Francisco International Airport [click to enlarge]

Suomi NPP VIIRS Aerosol Optical Depth values were very high — at or near 1.0 — within portions of the dense smoke plume (below).

Suomi NPP VIIRS true-color RGB image and Aerosol Optical Depth product [click to enlarge]

Suomi NPP VIIRS true-color RGB image and Aerosol Optical Depth product [click to enlarge]

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