The trans-Atlantic flow of moisture and strong winds

January 14th, 2015
SSEC RealEarth™ Infrared satellite image featured on NBC Nightly News

SSEC RealEarth™ Infrared satellite image featured on NBC Nightly News

The SSEC RealEarth geostationary satellite infrared (IR) image composite shown above (which was first sent out via Twitter by Stu Ostro of The Weather Channel…thanks Stu!) was featured on the NBC Nightly News on 14 January 2015 (link) because it illustrated a vivid example of the trans-Atlantic flow of moisture from a disturbance off the US East Coast to a rapidly-deepening storm approaching the British Isles (surface analysis maps | water vapor images with surface analyses).

A sequence of hourly geostationary satellite water vapor channel image composites (below; click to play animation) showed that there was a clear trans-Atlantic connection in terms of middle to upper tropospheric moisture/clouds, and a comparison of the 20 UTC water vapor image with the corresponding MIMIC Total Precipitable Water product indicated that there was a lower to middle tropospheric moisture connection as well. This type of long and narrow fetch of TPW is often referred to as an “atmospheric river”.

Geostationary satellite water vapor image composites (click to play animation)

Geostationary satellite water vapor image composites (click to play animation)

Another interesting point brought up during the NBC Nightly News segment was the recent presence of unusually strong trans-Atlantic jet stream winds, which has allowed aircraft flying from New York City to London to set record times in terms of conventional passenger aircraft (such as the 08 January flight of British Airways 114). Note the strong dry-to-moist (darker blue to white to green color enhancement) along the northern edge of the trans-Atlantic water vapor image moisture feed: such a moisture gradient often coincides with the axis of a strong jet stream. AWIPS images of water vapor imagery with overlays of MADIS cloud-tracked and water-vapor-tracked winds (below; click image to play animation) showed many high-altitude wind vectors in the vicinity of the jet stream moisture gradient with speeds in the 150-160 knot range (with 175 knots seen on the previous day).

Water vapor images with MADIS atmospheric motion vectors (click to play animation)

Water vapor images with MADIS atmospheric motion vectors (click to play animation)

Did weather play a role in the crash of AirAsia Flight 8501?

December 27th, 2014
SSEC RealEarth fade between the regional map and the 23:00 UTC MTSAT-2 10.8 µm IR image

SSEC RealEarth fade between the regional map and the 23:00 UTC MTSAT-2 10.8 µm IR image

During the northwestward flight of AirAsia 8501 from Surabaya, Indonesia to Singapore, contact was lost with the aircraft over the Java Sea (likely east of the island of Pulau Belitung) on 28 December 2014 (late 27 December UTC time). Using the SSEC RealEarth web map server site, a fade between the regional map and the MTSAT-2 10.8 µm IR image at 23:00 UTC is shown above. The satellite image revealed that there were clusters of deep convection (thunderstorms with very high, very cold cloud tops) over the middle portion of the flight path.

COMS-1 10.8 µm IR channel images (click to play animation)

COMS-1 10.8 µm IR channel images (click to play animation)

COMS-1 10.8 µm IR channel images (above; click to play animation; also available as an MP4 movie file) indicated that the coldest cloud-top IR brightness temperatures were in the -80º to -85ºC range (violet color enhancement) with these thunderstorms. The location of Surabaya, Indonesia (station identifier WARR) and Singapore (station identifier WSSS) are annotated on the images; the last point of contact (at 23:24 UTC) was approximately within the circle drawn just to the left of the center of the images, when the aircraft was flying at an altitude of 32,000 feet (9.75 km) over the Java Sea. There were reports from various media sources that the pilots had requested to divert their flight path and climb to a higher altitude to avoid adverse weather conditions not long before contact was lost.

The corresponding COMS-1 0.675 µm visible channel images (below; click to play animation; also available as an MP4 movie file) showed evidence that there were some overshooting tops associated with these thunderstorms.

COMS-1 0.675 µm visible channel images (click to play animation)

COMS-1 0.675 µm visible channel images (click to play animation)

——————————————————————–

MTSAT-2 10.8 µm IR channel image (click to enlarge)

MTSAT-2 10.8 µm IR channel image (click to enlarge)

Given that there was a long gap in available COMS-1 images (between 23:00 and 23:45 UTC), a closer view is shown using the 23:32 UTC MTSAT-2 10.8 µm IR channel (above) and 0.675 µm visible channel images (below). A circle is again drawn near the center of the MTSAT-2 images to denote the approximate location of final radar contact with the aircraft at 23:24 UTC — and the intended final destination of Singapore (WSSS) is labelled in the upper left corner of the images. Similar to what was seen in the COMS-1 images, the coldest cloud-top IR brightness temperature in the area at that time was -81.4ºC, and there was evidence of overshooting tops in the near vicinity on the visible image. (Note: due to the far southern location just below the Equator, the flight region on the 22:00 COMS-1 image was actually being scanned around 22:07 UTC, while on the 22:32 UTC MTSAT-2 image the flight region was being scanned around 22:39 UTC).

MTSAT-2 0.675 µm visible channel image (click to enlarge)

MTSAT-2 0.675 µm visible channel image (click to enlarge)

A nearby rawinsonde report from Pangkalpinang (station identifier 96237 on the MTSAT-2 images) showed that the aircraft cruising flight level of 32,000 feet was near 300 hPa (9750 meters above ground level), where the air temperature was -29.3ºC and winds were from the west-southwest at 16 knots (below). The tropopause appeared to be around 100 hPa (at a height of 54,265 feet or 1654 km), with an air temperature of -86.5ºC — close to the coldest cloud-top IR brightness temperatures seen on the COMS-1 and MTSAT-2 IR images. Moisture was abundant throughout the atmospheric column, with a Total Precipitable Water value of 52.4 mm or 2.1 inches.

Pangkalpinang, Indonesia rawinsonde report

Pangkalpinang, Indonesia rawinsonde report

MTSAT-2 water vapor image derived atmospheric motion vectors from the CIMSS Tropical Cyclones site (below) showed that upper-tropospheric winds over the flight region (located at the far top center portion of the images) before, during, and after the flight time were generally southwesterly to westerly in the 15-30 knot range.

MTSAT-2 6.57 µm water vapor channel images with upper-tropospheric atmospheric motion vectors

MTSAT-2 6.57 µm water vapor channel images with upper-tropospheric atmospheric motion vectors

Deep convection is not uncommon in this region during this time of the year, when the Intertropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ) migrates southward during the Southern Hemisphere summer season. The presence of warm sea surface temperatures along with abundant Total Precipitable Water over western Indonesia (below) helps to create an environment that is favorable for the growth and maintenance of large thunderstorms.

Global image of Sea Surface Temperatures on 27 December

Global image of Sea Surface Temperatures on 27 December

25-27 December MIMIC Total Precipitable Water product (click to play animation)

25-27 December MIMIC Total Precipitable Water product (click to play animation)

For an additional detailed meteorological analysis of this event, see the Weather Graphics site.

===== 30 December Update =====

Map of AirAsia Flight 8501, and location of initial debris (credit: New York Times)

Map of AirAsia Flight 8501, and location of initial debris (credit: New York Times)

On the third day of the search, aircraft debris and bodies of passengers were discovered about 66 miles southwest of the last known coordinates of AirAsia Flight 8501 (above). The prevailing ocean current in the Java Sea (below) may have displaced some of the debris southwestward from the actual crash site.

Map of ocean currents (credit: Columbia University Earth Institute)

Map of ocean currents (credit: Columbia University Earth Institute)

The Indonesian Bureau of Meteorology, Climate, and Geophysics (BMKG) released their meteorological analysis of the AirAsia 8501 crash on 31 December.

Mountain wave clouds over southern California

December 21st, 2014
GOES-15 6.5 µm water vapor channel images click to play animation)

GOES-15 6.5 µm water vapor channel images click to play animation)

AWIPS images of 4-km resolution resolution GOES-15 (GOES-West) 6.5 µm water vapor channel data (above; click image to play animation) showed the development of a patch of mountain wave or “lee wave” clouds immediately downwind of the higher elevations of the western Transverse Ranges in southern California on 21 December 2014.  These clouds developed in response to strong northerly winds interacting with the west-to-east oriented topography (12 UTC NAM 700 hPa wind and height). As seen on the plotted surface reports, at Sandberg (station identifier KSDB) the highest wind gust was 52 knots or 59 mph  at 17:42 UTC — and later in the day there also a peak wind gust of 87 mph at Whitaker Peak and 86 mph at Montcito Hills. In addition, there were isolated pilot reports of moderate turbulence in the vicinity of the mountain wave cloud at 20:21 UTC and 23:06 UTC;  farther to the east there was a pilot report of moderate to severe turbulence at 01:27 UTC.

A comparison of 1-km resolution MODIS 6.7 µm and 4-km resolution GOES-15 6.5 µm water vapor channel images around 21:00 UTC (below) demonstrated the advantage of higher spatial resolution (and the minimal parallax offset) of the polar-orbiter MODIS imagery for more accurate location of the mountain wave cloud.

MODIS 6.7 µm and GOES-15 6.5 µm water vapor channel images

MODIS 6.7 µm and GOES-15 6.5 µm water vapor channel images

At 20:42 UTC (below), the coldest 1-km resolution POES AVHRR Cloud Top Temperature value associated with the mountain wave cloud feature was -69º C (darker red color enhancement), with the highest Cloud Top Height value being 14 km or 45,900 ft (cyan color enhancement)., which is actually colder and higher than the tropopause on  the 12 UTC rawinsonde report at Vandenberg AFB. The highest elevation in the western portion of the Transverse Ranges where the mountain wave cloud formed is Mount Pinos at 8847 feet or 2697 meters, so it appears that a vertically-propagating wave developed which helped the cloud reach such a high altitude.

POES AVHRR Cloud Top Temperature and Cloud Top Height products

POES AVHRR Cloud Top Temperature and Cloud Top Height products

At 21;20 UTC, a comparison of 375-meter resolution (projected onto a 1-km resolution AWIPS grid) Suomi NPP VIIRS 0.64 µm visible channel, 3.74 µm shortwave IR channel, and 11.45 µm IR channel images (below) showed that while the coldest cloud-top 11.45 µm IR brightness temperatures were around -60º C, the 3.74 µm shortwave IR temperatures were in the +5 to +10º C range — this indicates that the mountain wave cloud was composed of very small ice particles, which were efficient reflectors of solar radiation contributing to much the warmer shortwave IR brightness temperatures.

Suomi NPP VIIRS 0.64 µm visible, 3.74 µm shortwave IR, and 11 45 µm IR channel images

Suomi NPP VIIRS 0.64 µm visible, 3.74 µm shortwave IR, and 11 45 µm IR channel images

A 375-meter resolution Suomi NPP VIIRS true-color Red/Green/Blue (RGB) image from the SSEC RealEarth web map server is shown below.

Suomi NPP VIIRS true-color image

Suomi NPP VIIRS true-color image

Rapid cyclogenesis off the coast of Japan, with an aircraft experiencing severe turbulence

December 16th, 2014
COMS-1 6.95 µm water vapor channel images (click to play animation)

COMS-1 6.95 µm water vapor channel images (click to play animation)

McIDAS images of KARI COMS-1 6.95 µm water vapor channel data (above; click image to play animation; also available as an MP4 movie file) showed the tell-tale signatures — well-formed dry slot; distinct comma head — of rapid cyclogenesis for a pair of storms off the west and east coasts of Japan on 16 December 2014. An American Airlines passenger jet flying from Seoul, South Korea (RKSO) to Dallas/Fort Worth, Texas experienced severe turbulence at an altitude around 27,000 feet over the eastern portion of Honshu Island, Japan (media report); several passengers and crew members were injured (with some requiring hospitalization), forcing the aircraft to divert from its course and turn back to make a landing at Tokyo Narita airport (RJAA). The turbulence encounter likely occurred near the center portion of the red square which was drawn on the images whose times were within about 30 minutes of the 10:35 UTC turbulence encounter  (FlightAware track log) — note the development of a “transverse banding” signature along the western edge of the southern storm comma head feature (10:00 UTC image).  After the multi-layered clouds of the comma head departed, lee waves or “mountain waves” could be seen downwind of the high terrain of Honshu Island. It should also be noted that the flight path was in the left exit region of an intensifying upper-tropospheric jet streak (250 hPa winds).

In the Turbulence Risk product shown below, the blue to violet colored areas are the Tropopause Fold Turbulence Product (an algorithm developed at CIMSS which uses geostationary water vapor channel data). These colored areas identify the sections of the upper-tropospheric air mass boundaries that are the most likely to have turbulence. However, it does not attempt to show all areas of turbulence. The transverse band formation over Japan was a signature of intense instability along the jet stream axis, which was probably the cause of the major turbulence event for American Airlines Flight 280.

Turbulence Risk product

Turbulence Risk product

A dry slot exhibiting much warmer brightness temperatures (brighter yellow to orange color enhancement) was seen with the more southern of the two storms, which became the dominant system as it moved northeastward and rapidly intensified from a central pressure of 998 hPa at 06 UTC to 971 hPa at 18 UTC (below). The storm was forecast to produce a large area of hurricane-force winds over the far northwestern Pacific Ocean.

MTSAT-2 6.75 µm water vapor channel images with surface analyses at 06, 12, and 18 UTC

MTSAT-2 6.75 µm water vapor channel images with surface analyses at 06, 12, and 18 UTC

An AWIPS image of MTSAT-2 water vapor channel data with overlays of the NWS Ocean Prediction Center surface analysis and Metop ASCAT scatterometer winds showed surface wind speeds as high as 55 knots (63 mph) with the southern storm and 53 knots (61 mph) with the northern storm at 11:48 UTC (below). During the day wind gusts as high as 81 knots (93 mph) were reported at the Izu Islands south of Tokyo Bay.

MTSAT-2 6.75 µm water vapor channel image, with Metop ASCAT scatterometer surface winds and surface analysis

MTSAT-2 6.75 µm water vapor channel image, with Metop ASCAT scatterometer surface winds and surface analysis