A prescribed burn in Montana, as viewed from GOES-15, GOES-16 and GOES-13

January 2nd, 2018 |

GOES-15 (left), GOES-16 (center) and GOES-13 (right) Shortwave Infrared (3.9 µm) images, with plots of hourly surface reports [click to play MP4 animation]

GOES-15 (left), GOES-16 (center) and GOES-13 (right) Shortwave Infrared (3.9 µm) images, with plots of hourly surface reports [click to play MP4 animation]

A prescribed burn the SureEnough fire — in central Montana was viewed by GOES-15 (GOES-West), GOES-16 (GOES-East) and GOES-13 Shortwave Infrared (3.9 µm) imagery on 02 January 2018. The images are shown in the native projection for each of the 3 satellites.

Due to the improved spatial resolution of the GOES-16 3.9 µm Shortwave Infrared band (2 km at satellite sub-point, vs 4 km for GOES-15 and GOES-13) and the more frequent image scans (routinely every 5 minutes over CONUS for GOES-16), an unambiguous thermal anomaly or fire “hot spot” was first evident on GOES-16 at 1707 UTC, just southeast of Lewistown (station identifier KLWT). The GOES-16 fire thermal signature was also hotter (black pixels) compared to either GOES-15 or GOES-13.

Chesapeake Bay effect snow in North Carolina

January 1st, 2018 |

Suomi NPP VIIRS Day/Night Band (0.7 µm) and Infrared Window (11.45 µm) images at 0710 UTC, with plots of 07 UTC surface reports [click to enlarge]

Suomi NPP VIIRS Day/Night Band (0.7 µm) and Infrared Window (11.45 µm) images at 0710 UTC, with plots of 07 UTC surface reports [click to enlarge]

Suomi NPP VIIRS Day/Night Band (0.7 µm) and Infrared Window (11.45 µm) images (above) showed a well-defined Chesapeake Bay “streamer” cloud  at 0710 UTC or 3:10 AM local time on 01 January 2018. This cloud feature resulted from the flow of unusually-cold air over the relatively warm water of the bay — a process identical to that which produces the more common “lake effect” cloud bands. With the benefit of ample illumination from a Full Moon, the “visible image at night” capability of the Day/Night Band was vividly illustrated (and a VIIRS instrument on the JPSS series of satellites — including the recently-launched NOAA-20 — will provide similar imagery).

During the subsequent daylight hours, 1-minute Mesoscale Sector GOES-16 (GOES-East) “Red” Visible (0.64 µm) images (below) showed the Chesapeake Bay streamer cloud moving southward. Note that this cloud produced light snow as far south as Currituck, North Carolina (KOTX) from 14-15 UTC or 10-11 AM local time. It is possible that some light snow also occurred across a portion of the Eastern Shore of Virginia and the Outer Banks of North Carolina, but verification is not possible due to the scarcity of surface observation sites in those areas.

1-minute GOES-16

1-minute GOES-16 “Red” Visible (0.64 µm) images, with hourly surface reports plotted in yellow [click to play MP4 animation]

Time series plot of surface weather conditions at Currituck, North Carolina [click to enlarge]

Time series plot of surface weather conditions at Currituck, North Carolina [click to enlarge]

Lake Michigan Mesovortex

December 31st, 2017 |

1-minute GOES-16

1-minute GOES-16 “Red” Visible (0.64 µm) images, with hourly surface reports plotted in yellow [click to play MP4 animation]

GOES-16 (GOES-East) “Red” Visible (0.64 µm) images (above) showed a well-defined mesoscale vortex (or “mesovortex”) moving southward across southern Lake Michigan on 31 December 2017. The default western GOES-16 Mesoscale Sector provided images at 1-minute intervals. This feature was responsible for brief periods of heavy snow at locations such as South Haven, Michigan KLWA (beginning at 1455 UTC), Benton Harbor, Michigan KBEH (beginning at 1625 UTC) and La Porte, Indiana KPPO (from 2055 to 2115 UTC).

Comparisons of POES AVHRR/Terra MODIS/Suomi NPP Infrared (10.8 µm/11.0 µm/11.45 µm) and Visible (0.86 µm/0.65 µm/0.64 µm) images along with an overlay of the corresponding Real-Time Mesoscale Analysis (RTMA) surface winds (below) provided views of the mesovortex at 1522 UTC, 1714 UTC and 1852 UTC, respectively.

POES AVHRR Infrared (10.8 µm) and Visible (0.86 µm) images at 1522 UTC, with 15 UTC RTMA surface winds [click to enlarge]

POES AVHRR Infrared (10.8 µm) and Visible (0.86 µm) images at 1522 UTC, with 15 UTC RTMA surface winds [click to enlarge]

Terra MODIS Infrared (11.0 µm) and Visible (0.65 µm) images at 1714 UTC, with 17 UTC RTMA surface winds [click to enlarge]

Terra MODIS Infrared (11.0 µm) and Visible (0.65 µm) images at 1714 UTC, with 17 UTC RTMA surface winds [click to enlarge]

Suomi NPP Infrared (11.45 µm) and Visible (0.64 µm) images at 1852 UTC, with 19 UTC RTMA surface winds [click to enlarge]

Suomi NPP Infrared (11.45 µm) and Visible (0.64 µm) images at 1852 UTC, with 19 UTC RTMA surface winds [click to enlarge]

During the preceding nighttime hours, a comparison of Suomi NPP VIIRS Infrared (11.45 µm) and Day/Night Band (0.7 µm) images at 0729 UTC along with an overlay of 07 UTC RTMA surface winds (below) showed in spite of patchy thin cirrus clouds over the region, ample illumination from the Moon (which was in the Waxing Gibbous phase, at 96% of Full) enabled a signature of the early stage of mesovortex formation to be seen on the Day/Night Band (DNB) image. Ice crystals within the thin cirrus clouds were responsible for the significant scattering city light signatures on the DNB image.

Suomi NPP VIIRS Infrared (11.45 µm) and Day/Night Band (0.7 µm) images at 0729 UTC, with 07 UTC RTMA surface winds [click to enlarge]

Suomi NPP VIIRS Infrared (11.45 µm) and Day/Night Band (0.7 µm) images at 0729 UTC, with 07 UTC RTMA surface winds [click to enlarge]

As an aside, it is interesting to note that ice could be seen in the nearshore waters of Lake Michigan — both in the western part of the lake, off the coast of Wisconsin and Illinois, and in the eastern part of the lake off the coast of Lower Michigan. The lake ice appeared as darker shades of cyan in the 250-meter resolution Terra MODIS false-color (Band 7-2-1 combination) Red-Green-Blue (RGB) image from the MODIS Today site (below).

Terra MODIS true-color and false-color images over southern Lake Michigan [click to enlarge]

Terra MODIS true-color and false-color images over southern Lake Michigan [click to enlarge]

Mixed-phase stratiform clouds in an arctic air mass

December 28th, 2017 |

AWIPS screen capture of GOES-16 Cloud Top Phase (top left), Near-Infrared

AWIPS screen capture of GOES-16 Cloud Top Phase product (top left), Near-Infrared “Snow/ice” (1.61 µm, top right), Cloud Phase brightness temperature difference (8.5 – 11.2 µm, bottom left) and “Clean” Infrared Window (10.3 µm, bottom right) images [click to enlarge]

An AWIPS screen capture showing GOES-16 (GOES-East) Cloud Top Phase, Near-Infrared “Snow/ice” (1.61 µm), Cloud Phase brightness temperature difference (8.5 µm11.2 µm) and “Clean” Infrared Window (10.3 µm) images on 28 December 2017 (above) was provided by Dan Baumgardt and Dave Schmidt (NWS La Crosse) — they were inquiring as to the why the 1.61 µm Snow/Ice imagery appeared bright across southern Minnesota (suggesting cloud tops composed primarily of supercooled water droplets), where light snow was being reported at a number of locations. Note that the Cloud Top Phase product also indicated that much of the stratus cloud deck over that same region was either Supercooled (light green) or Mixed (dark green).

An animation of GOES-16 Snow/Ice (1.61 µm) imagery (below) showed that the high reflectance (brighter white) signature of the lower-altitude stratiform cloud deck persisted across southern Minnesota into western Wisconsin and northern Iowa during the daylight hours, along with widespread surface reports of light snow. In contrast, higher-altitude clouds composed predominantly or entirely of ice crystals exhibited a darker gray appearance (since ice crystals, as well as surface snow cover and frozen lakes/rivers, are strong absorbers of radiation at the 1.61 µm wavelength).

GOES-16 Near-Infrared "Snow/Ice" (1.61 µm) images, with hourly surface-observed precipitation type plotted in yellow [click to play MP4 animation]

GOES-16 Near-Infrared “Snow/Ice” (1.61 µm) images, with hourly surface-observed precipitation type plotted in yellow [click to play MP4 animation]

In the corresponding GOES-16 “Clean” Infrared Window (10.3 µm) animation (below), much of the aforementioned lower-altitude stratiform cloud layer exhibited cloud-top infrared brightness temperatures in the -10 to -20 ºC range across far southern Minnesota into northern Iowa, with colder -20 to -30 ºC values seen in the more northern and eastern portion of the stratus cloud.

GOES-16 "Clean" Infrared Window (10.3 µm) images, with hourly surface-observed precipitation type plotted in yellow [click to play MP4 animation]

GOES-16 “Clean” Infrared Window (10.3 µm) images, with hourly surface-observed precipitation type plotted in yellow [click to play MP4 animation]

Plots of rawinsonde data (at 12 UTC on 28 December) from Aberdeen, South Dakota and Chanhassen, Minnesota (below) showed that the temperature profiles within the low-altitude cloud layers were close to isothermal, with air temperatures generally in the -16 to -22 ºC range.

Rawinsonde data from Aberdeen, South Dakota [click to enlarge]

Rawinsonde data from Aberdeen, South Dakota [click to enlarge]

Rawinsonde data from Chanhassen, Minnesota [click to enlarge]

Rawinsonde data from Chanhassen, Minnesota [click to enlarge]

So how could snow be falling from stratus clouds whose tops appeared be be composed of supercooled water droplets? A journal article titled “Vertical Motions in Arctic Mixed-Phase Stratiform Clouds” demonstrated that in-cloud glaciation can and does occur below the supercooled liquid cloud top in an arctic air mass. This example certainly shows that in an arctic air mass, mixed/supercooled cloud above snow or ice cloud is possible, particularly in temperatures between -20 ºC and -30 ºC — and cloud phase classification for operational decisions must sometimes look beyond the examination of single-band satellite imagery (or even derived products such as Cloud Phase).

Thanks to Mike Pavolonis (NOAA/NESDIS/CIMSS) and Jordan Gerth (CIMSS) for their insightful explanations regarding cloud phase — and thanks to the NWS La Crosse staff for bringing this interesting case to our attention!