Contrails off the coast of Southern California

April 23rd, 2018 |

As pointed out by NWS San Diego, an interesting pattern of contrails formed off the coast late in the day on 23 April 2018. A comparison of GOES-16 (GOES-East) “Red” Visible (0.64 µm), Near-Infrared “Cirrus” (1.37 µm) and “Clean” Infrared Window (10.3 µm) images (below) showed signatures during the daylight hours — Visible images revealed contrail shadows being cast upon the low-altitude cloud tops at 0142 and 0147 UTC — with an Infrared signature persisting after sunset. These contrails were likely caused by military aircraft performing training exercises, since chaff was seen with radar in that same area on the previous day.

GOES-16

GOES-16 “Red” Visible (0.64 µm, left), Near-Infrared “Cirrus” (1.37 µm, center) and “Clean” Infrared Window (10.3 µm, right) images [click to play animation | MP4]

A better post-sunset signature was seen on a NOAA-15 Infrared Window (10.8 µm) image at 0212 UTC (below). A comparison with the corresponding GOES-16 “Clean” Infrared Window (10.3 µm)  image displayed a significant northwestward GOES-16 displacement due to parallax — and the 1.1 km spatial resolution of AVHRR data resulted in a clearer contrail signature.

NOAA-15 AVHRR Infrared Window (10.8 µm) and GOES-16 ABI

NOAA-15 AVHRR Infrared Window (10.8 µm) and GOES-16 ABI “Clean” Infrared Window (10.3 µm) images [click to enlarge]

The pattern of contrails could also be followed after sunset using GOES-16 Low-level (7.3 µm), Mid-level (6.9 µm) and Upper-level (6.2 µm) imagery (below).

GOES-16 Low-level (7.3 µm, left), Mid-level (6.9 µm, center) and Upper-level (6.2 µm, right) Water Vapor images [click to play animation | MP4]

GOES-16 Low-level (7.3 µm, left), Mid-level (6.9 µm, center) and Upper-level (6.2 µm, right) Water Vapor images [click to play animation | MP4]

The GOES-16 Water Vapor weighting function plots (below) displayed a bi-modal distribution for all 3 spectral bands, with peaks near 300 hPa and 500 hPa. The absence of a distinct contrail signature on the 6.2 µm imagery suggests that these features were located closer to the 500 hPa pressure level.

GOES-16 Water Vapor weighting functions, calculated using rawinsonde data from San Diego CA [click to enlarge]

GOES-16 Water Vapor weighting functions, calculated using rawinsonde data from San Diego CA [click to enlarge]

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